On Friday, August 11, I followed the news of torch bearing white supremacists descending on the campus of UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Like many, I was deeply alarmed because night time marches by torch bearing white men are a sinister reminder of Ku Klux Klan marches. Our fears were justified because the next day we saw white supremacists, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis show up with weapons, clearing looking for a conflict. Some of them carried assault rifles and guns, and wore camouflage. They were so heavily armed that some mistook them for National Guard troops. These white supremacists marched yelling Nazi-era slogans and phrases like, “You will not replace us.”
Counter-protesters were on the scene to declare that such racism and hatred have no place in the United States. As tensions escalated between the two sides, violence erupted and then turned deadly. 32-year old Heather Heyer was killed and many more were injured after a car driven by one of the white supremacists rammed into a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the racist groups.
The events of Charlottesville serve as a reminder that although we have made progress as a nation towards fully embodying the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence, we have a long way to go. The presence of so many hate-filled racist groups in Charlottesville demonstrate that there are some in our nation that are so filled with fear and resentment that they would undo the progress achieved through the struggle and sacrifices of those who shared Dr. King’s dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’"
At this moment in our nation’s history, Christians and churches cannot remain silent in the face of evil. We cannot be so “heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.” We must speak out against the sin of racism and declare that it is contrary to God’s will for his people. Everyone is equally valuable in the eyes of God. No exceptions. God’s love and grace are freely offered to all people. Not just some people. This is what Christians believe: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
This is what United Methodists believe:
We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. (United Methodist Social Principles)
Now is the time when we must witness to these beliefs and embody them. We must embody them in acts of love and compassion to the people, community and city around us. We must embody them in how we vote. We must embody them in what we buy or don’t buy. Racism is not in the distant past of our great nation. It is not something that we can look back upon as an evil perpetrated by our ancestors. It is still among us and it seeks an opportunity to fester and grow. We cannot assume that progress towards the dream that we “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) will just naturally happen. It will happen because we strive for it. It will happen because we refuse to let the sin of racism spread its tendrils into our communities. Let us remember the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (people) to do nothing.”
Grace and Peace,