The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia knew that trouble was coming, and the bishops had asked its clergy to be prepared, with their prayers and presence, ahead of a Unite the Right event scheduled for this weekend. By the end of Saturday, a woman who had come to counter the White supremacists’ message had been killed by a man who had driven from Ohio to join the rally, and two state troopers had died as their police helicopter crashed while monitoring the scene over Charlottesville.
The videos of torches carried amid Nazi slogans on Friday night, and of Saturday’s violence, shocked the nation. Some were also shocked by the equivocation of the president, who failed to condemn the Nazi sentiments and White supremacy when he spoke of the situation in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon, choosing instead to speak of violence “on many sides. On many sides.”
The Revd William Peyton, Rector of St Paul’s Memorial Church, which was briefly besieged as it held a prayer vigil Friday night, spoke to the BBC on Sunday morning. His interview begins a little over a minute into the program.
Peyton described the “chilling” sight of vans full of people arriving in Charlottesville for the Unite the Right event prepared for violence, carrying clubs, shields, wearing helmets, and giving Nazi salutes as they walked towards the park. Asked, then, about the president’s response, Peyton said, “I was here, I saw the people coming. There was one side that intended violence, there’s no question about that.” He was disappointed that the president had failed to call out the white supremacy behind the violence as un-American; something he said was “not an accidental omission.”
Episcopal bishops and faith leaders across the country have spoken out and named the dangerous racist ideology behind Saturday’s violence. In an article published by the Huffington Post, the Rt Revd Jake Owensby, Bishop of Western Louisiana, addressed the issue head-on:
For Christians, such ideas are appalling. We are all God’s children. In Christ we are all sisters and brothers. Every human being possesses infinite dignity, and it is our right, duty and privilege to respect each person we meet as God’s beloved. Everyone is equal before God. Everyone should be equal under the laws of the land.
He said that some had criticized his comments on social media.
Still others insisted that the protestors were protecting Southern heritage. Ostensibly, they were referring to the pretext under which white supremacists sought to seize the day: removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Nazi flags and salutes have nothing to do with Southern traditions. If they do, then I renounce my own Southern heritage. Additionally, I will support the rights of those who argue reasonably and peaceably against the statue’s removal, even though I disagree with them. This in no way prevents me from denouncing the hate of white supremacy.
Racism is a sin.
Another display of bigotry and hatred. Another act of domestic terrorism. And another example of the collective failure of our nation to expend the moral and political capital needed to stop our spiral into racial and violent madness.
Now more than ever, we need people of good will to speak out clearly and courageously against the disturbing tide of white supremacist rhetoric that wants to divide and prevent us from coming together. Too often in our nation’s history, people of goodwill have chosen to remain silent in the face of bigotry, refusing to risk having unpleasant conversations that might disturb colleagues, friends and the ones we love.
All too often, we prefer maintaining a tenuous “peace” with bigots rather than doing the harder work of telling the truth and committing to a justice that leads to reconciliation.
We cannot make peace with hatred. We cannot let injustice go unchallenged…anywhere, anytime.
Let me be perfectly clear: Violence and extremism in the guise of racial identity or racial pride are as sinful and twisted as violence and extremism committed in the name of God. The tragic events in Charlottesville today, and the hatred that fueled them, grieve the heart of God. All of us need to repent of the racism that still flourishes in our nation.
Together, we join with all people of conscience and goodwill to pray, in the words of our Prayer Book, that God would “take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth.” …
The Rt Revd Dr Edward J. Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma, also condemned the racist violence, and wrote of the responsibility of Christians to speak into the divide.
I fear that we have lost the desire to live in community. I fear that the world has been telling us far too loudly, and for far too long, that our primary desire above all else should be promotion of self-interest. I fear that the opinion that the ends justify the means, has resulted in a common message that whatever course of action we see fit to use to accomplish our goals can be justified: dishonesty, hatred, violence, etc.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I write to you today to remind you that the world doesn’t have the final say! We have the ability and the power to change the trajectory in which we find our world and society. Through the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and will make a difference.
How are we to respond, as Christians, in a way that condemns these actions, but does not contribute to the rhetoric of hate? We will need to rediscover the deep roots of non-violence embedded in the gospel and the Jesus Movement: non-violence that calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute others, to refuse to fight evil with evil, but to overcome evil with good.
Anger, even righteous, thirst-for-justice-anger, may be too volatile in this particular moment in time to be effective, especially if it escalates the situation. What we may need to do is to refocus and re-immerse ourselves in the powerful love of the vulnerable Jesus of Nazareth.
The Rt Revd Marianne Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, described how her colleagues in Virginia had come prepared to do just that.
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.”
You can read the full statements at the link for each message. More may be added as they are published or come to our attention.
Featured image: via Episcopal Diocese of Virginia on Facebook.
UPDATED to include:
…For a seminary committed to the Gospel, we read the events of Charlottesville 2017 through the lens of the Gospel. We see the sinfulness of humanity—we see the persistence of conspiracy theories, hatred, and paranoia that forms the basis of the white supremacist worldview. We see the persistence of sin. For all of us who imagined that the victory of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was enduring and secure, Charlottesville 2017 is a cruel reminder that just below the surface racism is seeking to “take the country back again.” We see the tragedy of suffering, where we trust the Crucified Christ is present. And we see the Church seeking to witness to a Gospel that rejects any ideology that denies the full humanity of all. …
On Saturday afternoon we looked to television and computer screens to inform us of the developing tragedy in the South. To do so without reflecting on the same behavior and attitudes in our own towns here in Central Pennsylvania would be shortsighted. As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers. We vow to embrace the dignity of every human being. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation in the name of Jesus. And this work is vital in our own neighborhoods and our own hearts.
And, though not an Episcopalian, Brian McClaren writes
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.
The Rt Revd Gretchen Rehberg, Bishop of Spokane, writes
We might wish we could ignore what is happening out of the (totally false) belief that “we don’t act or think that way here.” But, I cannot, we cannot. We have these same idols of white supremacy and racism in our own beloved Washington and Idaho.
The Rt Revd Mark Hollingsworth, Jr, Bishop of Ohio, borrows from the Pledge of Allegiance to write
In the United States of America there is no “white nation,” there is only “one nation.” In the United States of America, there is no place for “white nationalism” or any other such limited nationalism. Our national indivisibility is not gained by exclusion or derision or violence. Those are not the characteristics of a nation under God; rather they are manifestations of the power of evil.
A nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, will stand up against the power of evil that strives through hatred and the violence of words and actions to separate us from one another and from God. A nation under God will abide no supremacy but the supremacy of love. A nation under God is one whose citizens will hold one another and our elected servants accountable for a liberty and justice available to all, indeed that unite us as one.
It is our vocation as Americans and as Christians, in the face of violence, degradation, and fear, to work and pray for the unity for which Jesus petitioned God, in our own nation and around the world. It is our vocation as Americans and as Christians to stand with courage, to speak with love, and to hold ourselves and one another accountable for the liberty, security, and justice for all that God dreams for all of God’s children.
No one should be surprised by what happened in Charlottesville. In our current political climate, so-called white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and the overt racism of the KKK have been empowered and emboldened to spew hatred publicly and without shame. Sadly, some counter-protesters allowed themselves to be baited and responded to the violence with violence. There is no moral equivalence, however. White nationalists and white supremacists holding hateful, racist positions armed themselves and came to Charlottesville to instigate violence and hatred. They succeeded.
I was thankful for the clergy who were present in Charlottesville, including my colleagues in the Diocese of Virginia, The Right Reverend Shannon Johnston, The Right Reverend Susan Goff, and Right Reverend Ted Gulick. They went to Charlottesville to pray, to evidence that authentic Christianity has no place for the kind of hatred peddled by white supremacists and white nationalists. They were resolute, calm and overtly non-violent.
It needs to be stated without equivocation that racism, the tenets of white supremacy, white nationalism, Nazism and similar ideologies cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus or the Christian faith. Those who claim Christian identity while holding these types of views can only be viewed as heretics and in error.
And from across the Atlantic, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, reflects on “Trump, Charlottesville, and the American Dream”.