Responses to My Posts on Charlottesville

... have ranged from furious to beautiful. On the beautiful side - singer-songwriter Jamin Krause sent this song.
(Thanks, Jamin!)

On the more furious side ...

You lost my attention when you used the phrase, "white-privilege".
You have no credibility with me when you turn as racist as those you condemn.


I appreciate this note as well. If the writer of this note is still paying attention (I hope so!), I'll offer this brief explanation of white privilege.

Imagine in Charlottesville if several dozen black or Latino men showed up dressed in camo several hours before the permitted rally, each carrying multiple assault weapons and handguns, and established themselves in the rally area. Do you think they would have been allowed to serve as private "security" for a protest, with fire power that local authorities said exceeded their own?

But white heavily armed militia showed up and did this very thing.

Then, a few hours after they showed up, scores more heavily armed white people showed up, including many carrying Nazi flags. When the police announced a state of emergency and sought to clear the area, a group of these white men started pushing against the police. (You'll see it in this video - pardon the profanity, etc.)

Just imagine if black or brown people had pushed against the police. The point is that white people can get away with things in a white majority context that people of color can't.

Or watch this video of a white supremacist melting back into a crowd of protestors, and realize that people of color can never, ever do that.

Contrast what you see there with this, where officers humiliate a 20 year old black female college student for the crime of running a stop sign:

White privilege shows up in many other ways, too. If you are open to learning about it, here is a helpful site.

One more thing. White privilege does not mean that every white person is equally privileged. In fact, as I'm sure you know, many white people are terribly underserved and experience poor health care, inadequate education, unacceptable protection from crime, and unacceptable help with unemployment, drug addiction, etc. They are left behind along with their neighbors who are black, brown, etc. because they are poor. My colleague the Rev. William Barber is organizing a "poor people's campaign" to help bring all willing poor people together - along with allies who aren't poor - so that together we can create better opportunities for everyone.

I hope you are still paying attention, and I hope that makes some sense of what I said.

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In a time when Nazis and White Supremacists seek legitimacy …

... It's terribly important for Christians to grapple with ways that our ugly interpretations of Scripture have fueled dangerous, hateful, bigoted fires. One of the New Testament books most often used for nefarious purposes is John's Gospel. Adam Thomas addresses a key issue here.

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Clergy & Church Leaders: It’s Time.

It's actually past time.

It would have been good if Christian churches had taught Christians beginning in 1492 that loving their newly discovered indigenous neighbors meant not committing genocide, land theft, colonization, enslavement, rape, and other crimes against humanity, not to mention treaty violations, the Trail of Tears, and continuing daily acts of racism and humiliation.

It would have been good if Christian churches had taught white Christians before 1619 that if you love your African neighbors, you don't enslave, torture, rape, buy, sell, humiliate, degrade, whip, or kill them, nor do you separate their families and treat them like 3/5 of a person, at best.

It would have been good if Christian churches after the Civil War had taught white Christians that disciples of Christ must oppose the KKK, Jim Crow, White Supremacy, lynchings, and all the other acts of terrorism they committed against African Americans in the South and in the North.

It would have been good if, after the assassination of Dr. King, the majority of Christian churches around the country had begun to build relationships between racially segregated churches and denominations ... relationships that would have undermined racism and increased solidarity through fellowship, mutual service, and joint mission.

It would have been good if churches taught people that the way we treat the alien and the refugee, including the undocumented farm workers and their children, is the measure of our love for Christ.

But none of these things happened then. And as a result, Charleston happened - and Charlottesville. Standing Rock happened, the most recent in a long line of atrocities and insults against Native Peoples. Multiple killings of African Americans by police, mass incarceration, hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others happened - and continue to happen. On top of all that, enough people in enough states voted to elect a president who shows complete tone-deafness to these problems, no, worse, who shows he's on the wrong side of all or nearly all of them ... and one of our nation's two primary political parties continues to support him strongly.

All of these realities demonstrate the failure of the white Christian church to teach its members the most basic, the most elemental, the most essential element of the teaching and example of Christ: love for everyone, no exceptions ... and not just love expressed in word, but love expressed in deeds of kindness, service, sacrifice, and justice.


So now, it's time for us to do what should have been done long ago.

A group of us have begun working on a plan, a tool kit, and a training process to help us do know what should have been done long ago. We will be unveiling that tool kit in the coming months.

But right now, in light of Charlottesville, here are four preliminary steps, something you can do in the next two weeks ... something you can decide upon right now, without any committee's permission or authorization.

  1. If you don't have a personal relationship with at least 3 pastors of 3 different races, make the call now and set up a lunch or dinner. Bring them together. Learn their names and stories. Find out how they're doing. Tell them you want to work with them to make sure the clergy or your town or neighborhood or city start doing what should have been done years, decades, and centuries ago.
  2. If you don't have a personal relationship with at least 3 faith leaders of 3 different religions, make the call now and set up a lunch or dinner. Do the same thing with them as you did with Christian clergy who differ from you in race. Let them know you've got their back.
  3. At your first meeting, just get to know each other. Maybe devote a 2nd and 3rd meeting to deepening those relationships. But soon - we don't have much time - ask them if they'd be willing to form a team with you, a team of spiritual leaders who will work together for the common good of all people - whatever their race, religion, gender, class, politics, etc. Tell them that the Charlottesville clergy got organized to face the white supremacists. Tell them that clergy in other cities have gotten organized to promote care for the environment and safe housing and drug-free neighborhoods and better schools and fair pay and fair lending. Tell them that you believe your little circle of new friends could bring together many more to do the same.*
  4. After you've done those 3 things, go to your church leadership board, bishop, or whomever you report to. Explain to them that you feel called, not just to be the chaplain of a church, but to be a representative of Jesus Christ in the community. That's going to take some time. So ask them if they would support you could devote 20% of your time to this important work in the year ahead, after which you can reevaluate. If they say no, reduce your work hours to 40 and devote some of your free time to these activities.

*Obviously, if a group like this already exists, join it. Groups like PICO, DART, Faith in Public Life, Repairers of the Breach, and others are ready to help you.**

The good people at The People's Supper have prepared beautiful and helpful materials to assist you in bringing people together - for building relational bridges, for healing from trauma, and more. Check out their resources here.

If you need some added motivation, check out this map that shows you where hate groups are. They're organized. They're on the move. They've been emboldened by our president, his party, and his news media.

If people like us don't get organized and get moving, we can predict who will gain ground and who will lose ground in the months and years ahead. It's time.

** Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes' excellent book, Organizing Church, is a good place to learn more. (Here's an interview with Tim.) So is Michael-Ray Matthew's book Trouble the Water, and his podcast, Prophetic Resistance.) My new book should be of help as well: The Great Spiritual Migration. You may also be interested in the Convergence Leadership Project.

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What I Saw in Charlottesville

Available here.

And below ...

As I wrote last week, I accepted an invitation from the Charlottesville clergy to come to their city the weekend of the Unite the Right rally, to join them in witness against white supremacy, Neo-naziism, racism, and associated evils, which are counter to both the Christian gospel and American democracy.

Free speech is a protected right and we were not protesting against the rally's right to speak; rather, we were using our right to free speech to bear witness for a better message of conciliation and peace, and we were supporting the clergy of Charlottesville to stand against the incursion of white supremacists like Richard Spencer.

Here are some initial reflections based on my experience - on the white supremacists and their message, on the clergy and faith community, on the other anti-racism protestors, on the police, and on next steps.

On the White Supremacists, Neo-nazis, and their allies: First, I was impressed by their organization. They showed up in organized caravans of rented white vans, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles, and then quickly lined up with flags and started marching. I don't know what app they were using, but it worked. (After the state of emergency was declared, the organization seemed less effective, with more confusion and milling around.) Second, they were young. The majority, it seemed to me, were in their twenties and thirties, mostly men, but a few women. I was told by one protestor that many of the older leaders were retired military.

Many came dressed in white shirts and khaki pants, reminding me of office workers or WalMart employees. Many wore helmets and carried hand-made shields. They looked like they came expecting to fight, threaten, and intimidate. Some came in paramilitary garb, heavily armed. They carried an assortment of flags - mostly confederate, many representing their respective organizations, with a surprising number of Nazi flags. I'm 61, and before this weekend, I've never seen a single Nazi flag carried proudly in the United States. This weekend I saw many.

As has been widely reported, their chants included "You will not replace us," "Jews will not replace us," "White lives matter," and the like. Their use of torches Friday night and slogans like "blood and soil" were clearly intended to evoke the KKK and Naziism. There was a good bit of "hail Trump" chanting with Nazi gestures.

Before and after the event, I have been checking a number of white supremacist websites and Facebook pages related to Unite the Right leaders and identified participants (a deeply disturbing experience) . The unabashed racism, the seething hatred, the chest-thumping hubris, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny, the shameless desire to harm their opponents, the gushing love for Trump, Putin, and Stalin, of all people ... they speak for themselves. I was struck by how often the term "balls" comes up in their posts: these seem like insecure young men who are especially eager to prove their manhood, recalling election season bragging about "hand size."

Speaking of size, I haven't been able to find any estimate on crowd size. I would guess around a thousand white supremacists, and I would guess that the total number of anti-racism/anti-facism protesters was equal or greater.

On the clergy and faith community response: I have participated in many protests and demonstrations over the years, but I have not seen the faith community come together in such a powerful and beautiful way as they did in Charlottesville. Brittany Caine-Conley and Seth Wispelwey deserve a lot of credit, as do the Congregate C-ville team they coordinated. I hesitate to name groups represented, as I will forget someone - so please forgive me in advance. But I met UCC, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian, Lutheran, Baptist (Alliance), Anglican, Presbyterian, and Jewish faith leaders, and the Quakers were out in large numbers, wearing bright yellow t-shirts. I met Catholic lay people, but I didn't meet or see any Catholic priests. Two Episcopal bishops were present, and they had encouraged priests of their diocese to be involved. Along with those of us who participated in an organized way, it was clear that many ad-hoc groups of Christians and others came to protest, some with signs, some giving out water and snacks to anti-racist protestors.

Black, white, Latino, and Asian clergy worked and stood side by side; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others marched, prayed, and sang as allies.

The courage of the clergy present inspired me. In public gatherings and in private conversations before Saturday, participating clergy were warned that there was a high possibility of suffering bodily harm. A group of clergy (pictured below) walked arm-in-arm into the very center of the storm, so to speak, delaying entry to the park as they stood, sang, and kneeled. (Lisa Sharon Harper shares her reflections here.) This symbolic act took a great deal of courage, and many who did so were spat on, subjected to slurs and insults, and exposed to tear gas. I hold them in the highest regard.

Other clergy and faith leaders (I was among this group) marched to a park, participated in a rally, and then dispersed to several locations, including a Methodist church a block from Emancipation Park, where we helped medics, sang and held signs as a message to white supremacist and Nazi marchers, and provided water and other support to anti-racism protesters.

When the rally was disbanded by the police, many of us responded to reports of skirmishes and sought to de-escalate tensions. When the white supremacist terrorist driver ran into anti-racism protestors, many of us were nearby, and we ran together to the scene where we ministered to the injured and supported their loved ones. Many of us helped at the parks that were designated as "safe spaces" for anti-racism protestors, and we provided pastoral care - asking people if they were OK, listening to their stories, assisting them with finding medics, and offering them encouragement. At least a dozen times, protestors said to me, "Thanks so much to you clergy for being here." Our presence meant something to them.

I come from a tradition that doesn't normally use vestments, but I was glad that clergy garb made faith leaders visible in this circumstance.

On the other Anti-Racism Protestors: Along with Congregate C'ville, there were other groups protesting the message of white supremacy and Naziism. I was deeply impressed with the Black Lives Matter participants. They went into the middle of the fray and stood strong and resilient against vicious attacks, insults, spitting, pepper spray, tear gas, and hurled objects. It's deeply disgusting to see BLM be vilified on Fox News and other conservative outlets after watching them comport themselves with courage in the face of vile hatred this weekend.

There were several anti-fascism groups whose exact affiliations were not easy to ascertain. I was moved by one young woman from one of these groups at the scene of the killing. She stood on a milk crate and shouted (this is a paraphrase): "People, this is hard. This is heartbreaking - to see our neighbors lying in the street, severely injured. But we must realize what's at stake when Nazis and white supremacists want to take control of our country. We must not be intimidated, but be more committed than ever to stand against them." There was no call to violence or revenge; only a call to resilient resistance.

I was also deeply impressed by UVA students I met. The group of young men and women that stood up to the torch-carrying marchers on Friday night had amazing courage. Their fellow students, their parents, and all of us, should be proud of these young leaders.

Not all of the groups shared a commitment to nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Dr. King. I saw a few groups of protestors who, like the Nazis and white supremacists, came with hand-made shields and helmets, and I heard reports that some of these groups used pepper spray on the white supremacists, who were also using pepper spray, sticks, and fists on them.

On the Police: Considering the number of guns present, it is amazing that no shots were fired, and the various police forces gathered deserve a great deal of credit for this. The local and state police had a huge challenge on their hands, and their task was very difficult. In my fields of observation, they did not seem present to intervene quickly when skirmishes broke out. They seemed to stay back in the background. Perhaps this was intentional and strategic for reasons I don't understand. Be that as it may, I couldn't help but think about the contrast between the hands-off way heavily armed white supremacists were treated by police in Charlotte and how unarmed African Americans in other demonstrations have been beaten and arrested around the country over the years ... or how unarmed Native Americans were treated at Black Rock a few months ago. That contrast is haunting, itself an expression of white privilege.

On Next Steps: The young age of many of the white supremacists and Nazis suggests two things to me: first, that young white people are being radicalized in America today, radicalized to the point of using the ISIS tactic of killing people with a car; and second, that this problem isn't going away fast - especially if radicalizing influences continue or increase their activities among younger generations.

What does this mean?

First, it means that white mothers, fathers, grandparents, wives, sisters,  brothers, children, and pastors need to speak up when their loved ones are being radicalized. Every white American family needs to realize that radicalization isn't simply something that happens in the Middle East - it is happening today, in Ohio and Kentucky and Florida and Virginia.

In addition, clergy around the country must prepare now for when an event like this comes to their area - which may be sooner than they think. (I understand that Richmond has already been targeted for another such rally in a few months.) Just as male mammals seek to "mark territory," these human groups seem determined to maintain their markers of white supremacy - namely, statues and flags associated with the era and culture of slavery. Their oddly ambiguous slogan "You will not replace us" seems to mean, "You will not replace our white supremacy."

All of us, especially people of faith, need to proclaim that white supremacy and white privilege and all other forms of racism and injustice must indeed be replaced with something better - the beloved community where all are welcome, all are safe, and all are free. White supremacist and Nazi dreams of apartheid must be replaced with a better dream - people of all tribes, races, creeds, and nations learning to live in peace, mutual respect, and neighborliness. Such a better world is possible, but only if we set our hearts on realizing the possibility.

We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed - grievously, tragically, unarguably failed - to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves. Congregations of all denominations need to make this an urgent priority - to acknowledge the degree to which white American Christianity has been a chaplaincy to white supremacy for centuries, and in that way, has betrayed the gospel. Our Christian leaders need to face the deep roots of white Christian supremacy that go back to 1452 and the Doctrine of Discovery, and before that, to the tragic deals made by 4th Century Bishops with Emperor Constantine, and before that, to the rise of Christian antisemitism mere decades after Jesus. This tense season of our history needs to be, quite literally, a come-to-Jesus moment for Christianity in America.

Along with this theological and spiritual work, we have very urgent practical work to do, including 1) pre-empting the continuing development of white supremacist and Nazi-Fascist groups through preventative measures, 2) building relationships among groups that oppose racism and Naziism - both religious and secular, 3) improving planning and coordinating among these groups, and 4) addressing the ways that white supremacists and Nazis are seeking to use us as foils to win over conservative people through fear and division (which is the strategy behind Unite the Right). What is needed in all these areas (and more) will be the subject of many future conversations.








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Charlottesville Aftermath: Don’t Just Tweet … Prepare

I'll be posting what I saw and experienced in Charlottesville soon, but for now, for all those who are concerned, here's my plea:

Don't just tweet, talk, complain, worry, or pray (do pray, but don't just pray) ... Prepare!

Prepare to become an agent of anti-racism. Prepare to become an agent of the beloved community. Prepare to be, in the words of St. Francis, "an instrument of peace," or in the words of Jesus, a blessed peacemaker.

Remember: peace doesn't just happen. It is brought into the world like music through well-tuned instruments. It is made real through people who are social poets (to quote Pope Francis), makers of peace.

If you want to get tuned up and trained, I can't think of a better place to start than this page of resources prepared by the clergy of Charlotte. It's excellent!

To get started, check this out - don't just oppose overt white supremacy; oppose covert white supremacy as well:

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