Evil ideas propagated by white supremacists and the violence their worldview instigates captured America’s full attention during riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, this last weekend. With more alt-right protests scheduled in the coming weeks throughout the country, tensions seem sure to increase and the prospects for civil public discourse in American society appear grim.
How can Christians in particular take meaningful action to neutralize insidious worldviews based on claims of racial superiority? How can we oppose this hate without being overwhelmed by despair or consumed by hate ourselves?
One notable example making headlines provides part of the answer. On August 14, Pearce Tefft from Fargo, North Dakota, wrote a heartbreaking open letter published by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead denouncing his son, Peter Tefft. Just weeks before, Peter had propagated his white supremacist views in the same paper, then participated in the Charlottesville demonstrations this last weekend with his fellow white supremacists. The letter by Pearce reads in part:
I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son’s vile, hateful and racist rhetoric and actions. … Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer. I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home. Then and only then will I lay out the feast.
While surely most of us don’t have relatives who marched with white supremacists in Charlottesville, perhaps we have friends, family, or fellow church members who can sympathize with alt-right or white nationalist ideologies. They may not act on these tendencies in the same way as Peter Tefft, and disowning them may not be required. But we should be prepared to engage in challenging conversations with these individuals.
As their friends or relatives, we hold sway with them that other voices for truth never could. Our words, however difficult to enunciate, remain the most likely to make a difference. Ultimately, we too should be willing to take matters to the same degree if necessary to reconcile these people to God and their fellow human beings.
Will local congregations be prepared to follow the biblical model of church discipline over the sin of racism? Are families ready to speak hard truths to their prodigal sons to the extent that the Teffts did?
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus lays out how to confront a brother or sister in Christ ensnared in sin. This process begins with one-on-one interactions, and progressively larger groups of people if the matter goes unresolved. If the sin is serious enough – which could conceivably include racism – the whole church body is instructed to treat the unrepentant person “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” essentially meaning a non-Christian.
In this case, if a Christian is effectively removed from communion with the church, the approach of evangelism as noted by IRD President Mark Tooley would become especially relevant. “Evangelism is the church’s central purpose, which includes in that witness, if it is comprehensive, a vision for civilization where all are accorded dignity,” Tooley wrote on August 14.
Hopefully few of us will need to go to the lengths that the Tefft family felt compelled to go in order to free those within our sphere from the influence of radical racial hatred. But as we examine our own hearts for any stain of racial prejudice, may we become conduits of God’s grace for racial reconciliation in Charlottesville and beyond.