In the aftermath of the horrendous attack in Charlottesville, Virginia there have been so many different responses; most of which are heartfelt and sincere. I, like everyone else, have been taking in all these responses, trying to make sense of it all. It is difficult to understand the division, the frustrations, all the opinions and politics involved in the tweets, Facebook posts, news coverages and reports we have seen these last few days. It is difficult because there are strong opinions anywhere you look. Some responses want to place blame and dish out responsibility, others want to express rage and hatred and still others just want to use another awful event for political posturing. Through it all my stomach has churned and my mind has raced asking the question “what do I think about it all”. More importantly, As a Christ follower, how should I respond. I feel it is important to highlight certain truths about this event that help me in my response.
#1. Any tragedy should be met with large amounts of compassion and love. If your first response to the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of many others is to defend your political stance or attack any specific group, you have lost sight of the compassion of Jesus. A mother lost a daughter, a father will never get to hug his baby girl again. Our hearts should break at the loss, pain and heartache that many people will continue to feel for a long time. Jesus showed us this time and time again. When he witnessed, experienced or even came across a tragic event, he responded with compassion and love. The gospels highlight how Jesus was “moved with compassion” many times. One in particular I would like you to see. It’s in Luke 7. Jesus didn’t stop and say, “now what Synagogue did they attend? Did they tithe? Was this young man doing something he shouldn’t have been? No Jesus saw a widowed woman in pain, suffering the loss of her future, her protection, provision and most importantly, her only son, and His response was compassion.
#2. The organizers of the Unite the Right rally were there to do more than protest the removal of a statue. I have seen many prominent figures write about the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and how all this would have been avoided if the city didn't mess with the statue. It would be ignorant to believe this was the cause of the rally. It might have been the cause of the time and place, but the statue removal was merely an excuse to gather. If you have followed the alt-right media, and language, you know. Many participating in the rally marched to the Rotunda chanting, “You will not replace us.” The white supremacist joining the rally shouted phrases like “blood and soil,” “Charlottesville is our city now.” On their own website they have posted an article recounting the rally. “While greater numbers in and of itself warrants celebration, there’s something much more significant at work here and we realized it in Charlottesville. We are no longer afraid.” No longer afraid to be vocal, blatant and open about their belief in white supremacy. Only an ignorant person would make this about a statue. It is about the belief that one “Race” (which is simply subjective and rather silly to call white people their own race) is superior to another. This rally was about the belief that one person is inferior to another simply because of how they look. The Unite the Right Rally was just another step in the open racism, bigotry and white supremacy movement. When Christians, or any other well meaning group of people, try to make what happened about a statue they are missing the larger picture.
#3. We should be quick to condemn the white supremacist movement. Most christians that I interact with are white americans. It is my responsibility as a white american to vocally deny any notion that God supports a white supremacist movement. Our nation has literally fought in wars to combat the notion that one one color is better than another. World war II showed us what the silence against racism and bigotry can produce. We have seen the horrors and atrocities committed when an entire group of people are treated as less than human. There is certainly not “multiple sides” when it comes to an alt-right, white supremacist ideology and beliefs. If there was any truth to their beliefs, Jesus Himself would be considered less than human, being a middle eastern Jew. Every christian should be quick, concise and clear in joining the majority of Americans in condemning this movement.
#4. Hate cannot be overcome with more hate, evil will never be defeated with evil. Love is the only thing that will change a heart. You do not have to look far in the bible to find strong commands to resist hatred and pursue love. 1st John 2:9-17, Ephesians 4:31, Proverbs 8:13-25, Psalms 97:10 are just a handful of passages that express this sentiment. Reason, logic and debate are good. Discussion, conversations and engaging in dialogue is imperative. But in the end, it is acts of love that change a person’s heart. Isn’t that what we want? For hearts to be changed? For someone who is filled with hurt, hate and arrogance to have a change of heart? Is that not the goal of many activists and advocates? If only we could embrace and live out the belief that all peoples’ are created equal and deserve respect and decency. That will not happen unless a heart is changed. A racist grandpa does not magically become accepting of his black neighbor, a homophobic preacher does not all of the sudden treat the gay community with kindness unless a heart is changed. And no argument, no well written manifesto, no facebook rant, no creative video, no article, no well meaning logical explanation, no passionate debate will ever change their mind, until the heart is first moved. Oh how I wish we could see and understand this truth. The heart must be moved, it must be reached, it must be carefully and intentionally catered to before the mind is ever prepared to change. We saw the opposite of this in Charlottesville. The Antifa group along with anti-protest protesters were there with the goal of opposing the alt-right by any means, including violence. What did they accomplish? By no means did they cause the murder of Heather Heyer (see #5) but what good did they accomplish? Did they change any minds, convict any viewers, convert any nazis? Not that I saw. It was a battle. Two sides dug in their trenches willing to fight to the end. This didn’t lead to change - it led to violence. So let me ask you, what have you done to reach the heart of the person you disagree with? What have you done to extend love to those you would label “the enemy”? You see, many of us could pinpoint the last debate we engaged in. Many of us could locate the last article we posted, the last convincing video we shared with someone - but very few can illustrate an act of love towards those they disagree with. I guess arguing is much easier (and seemingly safer) than action. Jesus always engaged in pursuing the heart of an individual before challenging them to change their mind. Even with difficult religious hypocrites, Jesus attempted to reach their hearts. This is why Jesus’ followers will be known by the way they love one another. We must be committed to showing love to one another, regardless of opinions and disagreements. Maybe that means leaving a bigger tip to someone you might not like, maybe it means giving up your spot in line to someone you wouldn’t normally help, maybe that means going out of your way to consider others as more important than yourself - whatever it may be, acts of love and grace are effective in changing the heart. And when a heart is changed, the mind is soon to follow.
#5. No one person, group, party or president led James Alex Fields Jr. to drive his car into a group of people. The decision to murder another human being is one that comes from evil itself. It is what Paul referred to in Romans as a depraved mind. A mind that has been given over to self and sin. A mind that is deprived of truth and goodness, decency and morality. In his head, he must have thought what he was doing was, in some way, noble. Maybe it was getting back at “That group” he hated. Maybe he thought “they” deserved it. Yes you can point to the rhetoric of the president and his cabinet, yes you can point to the hate and evil encouraged in the alt right movement, yes you can point to the division and anger of the Atifa groups and anti protestors, yes you can point to the tearing down of historical monuments and the attempt to eradicate certain parts of history that is offensive, yes you can point to the media and the bias and tilted coverage, yes, yes, yes! Any one side can pick their line of arguments and debate to the bitter end. But ultimately, it is the evil of sin that James Fields Jr. chose. It is the ugly result of a depraved mind. It is the sad and tragic reality of the world that we live in. And it is what breaks my heart. Truly James’ words ring true “And when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death”. While many Christians are quick to argue politics, defend their personal views and try and convince other Christians who have opposing views that “their view is the correct one and everyone would be better off if they would all agree with them” - we have missed the evil that is at play here.
My heart still is uneasy and saddened by what we saw. My mind is still scattered and there are many things left to discuss. But I pray that we, as Christians, will be slow to speak and quick to understand. I pray that we will seek wisdom and show it by our good behavior and deeds. I pray that we seek peace, gentleness, reason and mercy. I pray that we never let being comfortable keep us from doing what is right.
Some scattered thoughts:
- For all my friends who are upset about the tearing down of statues: A quick history lesson will show that this is not an uncommon thing (whether right or wrong). Also, most of my friends who oppose the tearing down of monuments are big supporters of smaller government and letting the states decide what they want to do. Well, Charlottesville did decide. The leaders of the city legally decided to remove the statue. Whether you like the decision or not, isn't that the process you want? States to have the freedom to choose? Why does it bother you so much?
- To the Neo-Nazi: The images that came out from that night are horrendous. And while many people think our nation has taken steps backwards in Racism and bigotry - I am encouraged at the reaction of the majority of the population. The majority of America was appalled. And that is good. The nation saw that this type of racism and hatred is still alive and trying to kick and the majority of America was disgusted. And that is good. The alt right might think this was a step forward for them, I think it just showed everyone how awful, backwards and wrong they are.
- To the Christian: Please, please, please, read, listen and think. Inequality, racism, bigotry; these are all things that we must be adamantly opposing. I agree that how and where will very for every person, but we must all be working towards creating more peace, embracing diversity and change, and cultivating communities that are loving towards everyone.