Why I’ll Be in Charlottesville this Weekend

As you may have heard, there is a gathering of white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-nazis, and their allies this weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

There will also be important counter-demonstrations too. Local faith leaders sent out a call for 1000 clergy to stand with them, and I will be among them.

It wasn’t until my mid-40’s that I began to realize that what I called orthodox or Evangelical Christianity was deeply complicit with White Christian supremacy and White Christian nationalism. I wish I had seen this sooner, but I realize that many people spend their whole lives without coming to this realization, so better late than never, I suppose.

For me, the connection was made clear in stages. One pivotal moment came in a conversation with an African theologian, Mabiala Kenzo. We talked about how the contested term postmodern was related to the term postcolonial; both terms, in a sense, meant becoming “enlightened about the Enlightenment” by realizing how the project that began in 1452 with the Doctrine of Discovery led to  the conquistadors and colonialism, which led to land theft, enslavement, apartheid/segregation, and the whole constellation of social and spiritual maladies associated with whiteness – white supremacy, white privilege, and white fragility.

Exposing this theological connection between white Christianity and white supremacy is especially urgent now because Donald Trump, his Republican Party, and their media (Fox, Breitbart, etc.) have forged alliances with both white Christian leaders (Evangelicals like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, Pat Robertson, Rick Joyner, and Robert Jeffress) and with alt-right white nationalist organizers and media outlets. They are building momentum for an American future that many of us feel is not merely conservative; it is radically regressive and downright evil, seeking to return to the ugly American past of Jim Crow and American apartheid.

Christians like me believe that God’s dream is not for apartheid or racial supremacy; it is for harmony and equality. We believe that in Christ, all people are called to conciliation and mutual respect and service. We believe that the table of eucharist is the table of peacemaking. We believe that Dr. King’s still-accurate diagnosis that 11 am on Sundays is the height of segregation in America is a symptom of radical departure from the way of Christ.

It has been said that when you are used to privilege and supremacy, equality feels like discrimination, and that reality, I believe, lies behind much of the anger and fear of the marchers converging on Charlotte this weekend.

My friend Mark Charles often quotes Canadian leader Georges Erasmus,

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” (- Georges Erasmus, Dene Nation of Canada)

For us to build a better future together, we need to be able to tell the story of America’s (and the world’s) past, which includes an honest accounting of what white Christians have done to the Native Peoples, African slaves and their descendants, Jews, Muslims, and other non-white or non-Christian peoples.

For Christians who believe in the power of confession of sin, this should be a matter of honesty, integrity, and piety.

I wish we could simply ignore the Unite the Right groups gathering in Charlottesville this weekend. But I do not believe they can be ignored. They must be confronted in love, not returning insult for insult or anger for anger, but seeking to overcome evil with good.

I hope every preacher and Christian leader in America will speak out this Sunday and every Sunday about the gospel’s call to love of neighbor, no exceptions. Why would any Christian leader not do this?

As I witness the marchers this weekend, I will be praying for them with love in my heart – praying they will discover that the way of Christ is a way of service not supremacy, nonviolence not violence, and togetherness not apartness.

I will be praying for the many streams of the Christian religion – that it will discover the way of Christ, which is the way of life, which is the way of love.

I will be praying for our nation, and all nations, that we will let God’s dream take root in our hearts – a dream of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, a dream of sitting down at table together as neighbors, friends, and family, a dream of building bridges and healing wounds … of learning to tell the story of our past with honesty and humility, so that we can tell the story of a better future, and not only tell it, but make it come true, with God’s holy empowerment.