Charlottesville, Trump And American Christians

Let’s just make this clear: the president of the United States (and yes, I didn’t capitalize “president” on purpose) has presented a narrative of the Charlottesville events sympathetic to white supremacists rather than those opposing racism. ‬

‪Let me say that again: the president of the United States has refused to condemn racists. The president has played racists as the victims and as “fine people.” ‬

‪The president is furthering the narrative that peaceful demonstrators (who had permission to be there) who opposed the removal of a confederate statue were attacked by the violent “alt-left” (who had no permission to be there).‬
‪But there are severe problems with this narrative.‬

First, there is no such thing as the “alt-left”. Trump made it up to create a false equivalency. Instead, there were white supremacists and those opposing racism. Yes, there are some violent leftist protesters now know as “antifa” and their violence must be condemned, but they’re not really the focus of the narrative. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Most estimate that there were maybe a couple dozen antifa protestors compared with 500 or so white supremacists and around 1,000 or so peaceful anti-racist protestors.‬

Second, despite claims to the contrary, the White Supremacist protests were not about the statue removal. It was billed as a “Unite the Right” rally and, as a whole, the so-called “alt. right” has never shown a particular interest in Southern issues. In fact, they chanted “Soil and Blood” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us” while wearing swastika armbands, making it clear that this was not about statue removal. It was about white supremacy. Now you tell me how chants against the Jews apply to the removal of a Confederate statue without the common denominator of white supremacy.‬

‪Trump’s narrative knowingly minimizes the blatant racism of the white supremacists and presents them as the victims while trying to cast blame on others.‬

Many people I know are frustrated that Trump is receiving so much blame for these abhorrent events. After all, he wasn’t there and he’s just asking that we all get along, right? Let me tell you why I think that bucket is full of holes and dripping disrepute all over our democracy’s good shoes.‬

‪They wore his hats. They literally chanted “Heil Trump”. David Duke asserted that the protests were fulfilling Trump’s promises (Duke made no pretense that the protests were about the statue). Richard Spencer is giddy the the president’s comments condemning “both sides”. Trump not explicitly condemning white nationalists, white supremacists, racism, and the “alt. right” is Trump condoning all those things. And that’s exactly what the white supremacists have heard; even while many conservatives try to explain the whole thing away. The damage is done.‬

‪Trump doesn’t have empathy. OK, we should stop asking him to bring the country together because he has made it clear that he wants to foster confusion and produce conflict. We should stop asking him to bring peace because, he has no interest. It’s fine to let him be himself. ‬

‪But it’s not fine to pretend that this president has a moral compass. And we have to admit that many just don’t care. It’s not fine to deny that Trump has continually fanned the flames of racial tension. For example, he declared himself the “law and order” candidate. If you’re unfamiliar with the racially charged weight of that term, I recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or watch Netflix’ 13th for more context. Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions are among his closest advisors. You might not think Sessions is a racist, but Corretta Scott King sure did.‬

And as if all this weren’t enough, some high profile “evangelical” leaders have publicly praised Trump and the way he handled the Charlottesville situation.‬

‪It is time for Christians to publicly condemn this man. It is past time. 81% of white evangelicals supported this man and retains a good chunk of that support, even though his overall popularity is the worst of any president at this point in his term. ‬
‪At least Esau got a bowl of stew. Judas got thirty pieces of silver. Many Christians in America have settled for a Supreme Court Justice. ‬

Don’t Let Your Theology Stop You From Taking Action

The other day I wrote about my initial reaction to the Charlottesville White Supremacist gathering. The time has come for the Church in America to lead the way I facing our race problems head-on. 

Our country was founded on racist ideals that were then woven into the fabric of our culture. Charlottesville is an anomaly only in the sense that the racism many cling to behind closed doors was on display for the world to see. The hoods were gone but the hate remained.

And too often, American Evagelicalism has either abetted the racist programs of our country (think Jim Crow or the “War on Drugs”) or turned a blind eye (which, of course, is just another form of approval).

While some claim that their theology leads them to hate (White Supremacy often bills itself as a form of Christian expression even though it is clearly not.), others’ theology might not lead them to active hate but to passive indifference or to even critique those who do speak and act out. Let me explain.

I was once part of a church that was invited to a multi-church prayer gathering for the city. Our elders declined to participate because it was not only being headed up by the Methodists, but a woman pastor. I don’t know if they thought that God somehow wouldn’t hear our prayers if we said them in the same setting as a woman pastor or what, but we did not participate in the gathering and I’ve thought about it many times since. I wish we had participated.

Many churches who consider themeselves theologically conservative allow their concern for theologically purity to lead them to criticize the very churches that are often at the fore of confronting vital social issues.

Years ago, for some reason, many so-called theological conservatives adopted the phrase “Social Justice Warrior” as a perjorative term. Many theological conservatives expressed the concern that to care about social justice was a slippery slope to abandoning the Gospel itself. Concern for social justice has often been equated with being “liberal” (which is to be understood again, as a perjorative term). Therefore, many otherwise well-intentioned theological conservatives have distanced themselves from things like fighting for civil rights.

Of course there have been liberal churches whose cultural agendas have been coupled with trips to the edges of orthodoxy. But it’s wrong to equate a concern for social concerns with abandoning orthodoxy. And, also of course, many churches on the right have coupled theological concerns with inaction, which, in its worst forms is also complicity.

The question becomes whether our pursuit of theological clarity will cage us in or propel us out. Don’t let your concern for theological purity prevent you from speaking out against evils and partnering with those doing so as well. Even if they have different theological views. 

Praying with a Methodist doesn’t all of the sudden mean I don’t have theological disagreements with Methodism, it means I think our cooperation is vital. Linking arms with someone on one issue doesn’t mean we agree on every issue, nor must it. But let’s stop believing that we just because we don’t agree on every issue, we can’t cooperate on any issues.  

I know that some willl hear what I’ve said as Brent no longer believes theology is important. He’s some kind of liberal universalist. That’s not true. Theology is immensely important. And we have some vital in-house disagreements. But what family doesn’t. I’m saying that I know the dangers of allowing theological concerns to prevent partnerships with other currents of the stream because I’ve been there.

I want my theology to breed love and I want to live love. I want a faith for the good of others through the glory of God. I want to humble myself to learn from other faith traditions. And I want the Church in America to stand in the gap for the oppressed. I want us to stand against systemic racism. I want us to fight for civil rights. I long for us to be the ones to care for widows and orphans; to love and serve the poor, the immigrants and the disenfranchised. 

I want us to find the balance of valuing our theological differences while working together for Shalom.

Events like Charlottesville are teaching us that we can’t wait.

The Charlottesville Clarion Call

‪I am among the privileged. I have never worried about discrimination. I have never had to even think much about racism. Growing up, I didn’t even know what Jim Crow was or how recent it was (or that in many ways still in practice). I didn’t understand the systemic racism that has fueled our country. I didn’t understand how things like the GI Bill, HOAs, freeway/infrastructure placement, and the War on Drugs were designed to further the racist agenda. ‬

‪In case you haven’t seen the news, white supremacists (many with machine guns) have staged protests in Charlottesville, chanting things like “White Lives Matter” and “Soil and Blood”. If you think that the views on parade (with tiki torches) in Charlottesville are “fringe”, you need to understand our history a bit deeper.‬ and the current displays in Charlottesville are a clarion call. We cannot ignore racism any longer.

‪For too long, the “church in America” has either openly or with complicity helped perpetuate this racist agenda, when in fact, our faith calls us to stand with the oppressed. I don’t know what it means or what it looks like but we must take the lead in fighting racism and I don’t know what it means or looks like but White Evangelicals must be at the front of the line. Otherwise nothing will change. ‬

‪It’s past time we faced this issue head-on. Our God not only stands with the oppressed but calls us to do so as well. Our Savior lead with love, service and compassion, laying down His own life for His enemies. I have been wondering a lot lately: would I stand in between people and white supremacists with machine guns? Would I put myself in harm’s way so that other may know the love of God? I worry that the time when I need to answer those questions may be sooner than I’d like.‬

‪The church’s role is to upend systems of injustice and inequality, not perpetuate them. Christians must regain a subversive voice and practice the civil disobedience of love, pursuing equality in more than word. ‬

‪I am deeply troubled by the brazenness with which racism is on display these days but I know that being troubled is not enough. My heart breaks for those who are made to live in fear and subjugation. My heart breaks for those who hate others because of the color of their skin. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to move forward. I can condemn racism on my blog but what can I do in real life? I don’t know, but I want to find out.‬

‪Will you pray with me and for me? Would you help me understand the things I don’t? I don’t know what any of this means other than I can’t remain silent. How can Christians in America (how can *we*) walk in the humble confidence (in the face of evil) that the Light is winning? How can we make the hollow words of our founding fathers “liberty and justice for all” a reality? How can we dismantle systemic powers of racism and oppression?

‪I look forward to your thoughts.‪

“The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.”‪
(Psalm 9:9-10)
‪There are plenty of resources on this topic but here are some that I have found to be eye-opening:‬

What resources have helped you on this journey?