Confronting Evil in Broad Daylight
As many of you know, I am currently on vacation, sitting in a peaceful corner of northeast England watching the hills, the sheep, and the ponies. And yet I still have one eye on the news from the US, and what I see breaks my heart, makes me angry, and fills me with disgust.
I read the news in disbelief on Friday night—news that St. Paul’s Church, Charlottesville, filled with peaceful counter-protesters conducting a prayer service, was surrounded by an angry white mob carrying torches. I saw the picture of the clergy on Saturday morning (my dear friend the Rev. Elaine Thomas front and center) standing arms-linked and singing “This Little Light of Mine” feet away from heavily armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists screaming hate against black people and Jewish people. I read the horrifying news that a crowd of people was injured and Heather Heyer killed by a hate crazed person inflicting terror on the crowd, the city, the nation. And I watched in disgust as the President of the United States could not bring himself to clearly and unequivocally condemn neo-Nazism and white supremacists, claiming that there are two sides at fault. There are not, in fact, two sides. There is simply no moral equivalency here.
On one level, it seems surreal that this is happening in the US in 2017. On another level, it makes awful sense—this is the fruit of the racism that is seared into this country’s soul—our original sin. The fruit of the sin of racism that those of us who are white have, to varying degrees, pretended is not really an issue any more. Or is an issue we can just shake our heads over, feel badly about, and carry on with our business. And, as the Southern Poverty Law Center can attest, the scourge of anti-Semitism, an evil perpetuated in some corners of Christianity, has been on the rise in the US for some time. With the current administration in place, these twin evils have found their voice, feel empowered to speak, to march in broad daylight, faces uncovered, spewing vitriol.
So, what is our response? Well, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, we look to Jesus and we pattern our response on him: we see the One who consistently crossed social barriers demonstrating that, in God, there is no “in” group or “out” group, the One who exposed evil and hypocrisy wherever he saw it (and nothing made him madder than self-satisfied religious folk who abused others in the name of God), the One who consistently lifted up the oppressed and demonstrated special care for the vulnerable, the One who died to dismantle the power of evil, hatred, division, and violence. We must name what we are seeing as evil and make no peace with it, whatever the consequences may be (I am speaking of peaceful resistance—violence is not the way of Christ). We must speak out—to be silent is to be complicit. We must find ways to support, be allies of, those targeted by this evil: black people, Jews, Muslims, immigrants—actually, pretty much anyone who isn’t white.
Those of us who are white need to get out of our comfort zones and do some soul searching about the myriad ways we are part of, we perpetuate, a system that privileges us over others and we need to begin the hard work of dismantling that system. We must all, as our Baptismal vows proclaim, “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves” and “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” As I have said before, these vows are not nice additions to our Sunday morning services, they are not something we can pick up and put down when it is convenient, they are the core of the Gospel and the call we all share.
Over the past year, we at St. Peter’s have been having conversations about race and racism, we have had a “whites confronting racism” workshop and a film series about race and racism, and we will continue to engage in this work—the need has never been clearer. We will continue to speak up, to name, to resist evil. We will continue to find ways to seek and serve the oppressed and the vulnerable. We will continue to proclaim the radical love of God in Jesus Christ through which we are all one and in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, black nor white. We will pray for all of God’s children: for peace, for an end to hatred and violence; for strength and courage to face the evils that lie within our own hearts and within our world; for the love that Jesus lived to live in us.
My fellow disciples, though I am not physically with you right now, I am holding you in prayer, and I look forward to being with you soon. May God grant us grace, strength, “wisdom, and courage for the living of these days and for the facing of this hour.”*
* Fosdick, Harry- God of Grace and God of Glory, #594 Hymnal 1982
Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post
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