What We Saw in Charlottesville
August 13, 2017
Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Once again our nation’s demon of racism has reared its head, spewing hatred and inciting violence. What we saw in Charlottesville was unmasked and ugly, culminating in a deadly act of domestic terrorism.
But something else was also present in Charlottesville: the power of collective resolve and mobilized love.
Among the hundreds of people who took to the streets, stood firm in the face of evil, and did not respond in kind were members of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective (CCC). Established after the racially motivated murders in Charleston, the CCC’s mission is “to establish, develop, and promote racial unity within the faith leadership of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Region.”
For more than two years, CCC clergy and lay leaders have met monthly to strengthen friendships across racial lines; to highlight issues of race and social justice in their community; to promote strong relationships of accountability with law enforcement and community government; and to prepare themselves for the times when their united witness is needed.
Their witness was needed on Saturday, and they were ready. As white supremacists shouted words of hatred and violence, people of faith stood resolute in prayer and song. And the Episcopal Church was strong among their number: “Our purpose,” wrote the Virginia Episcopal bishops, “is to bear visible witness to the entirety of the beloved community in which people of all races are equal.”
I also give thanks for all in the Diocese of Washington and the communities we serve who are already working to meet this grotesque display of hatred with organized love. I’m proud to stand among you as we strengthen our resolve to work proactively for racial justice and prepare ourselves to stand firm in love wherever hatred rears its head. We, too, need to be ready for times such as this.
The Spirit of God is at work in our world and will prevail. The evil of racism is real, but it is not stronger than God’s love embodied in the lives of those committed to justice.
There is another important lesson here: there can remain no doubt that symbols carry tremendous power. It was chilling on Saturday to hear white supremacists chant the Nazi slogan, “Blood and Soil,” and to see them carry swastikas.
Likewise, the symbols and monuments of the Confederacy serve as touchstones and rallying sites for racial hatred. We must treat them accordingly. There are, in my mind, only two morally defensible options: either remove Confederate symbols and monuments or contextualize them with the truth of their origins and a broader narrative of our past to include the voices we’ve silenced and the stories we’ve never heard.
We cannot expunge the sin of racism from our past and present, but we can redeem it. And we must.