What Do We Do?
That’s the question that I’m hearing at this point. What do we do, as followers of Jesus, as we process the hatred and violence that erupted in Charlottesville on August 12? I have a number of suggestions.
First, we must recognize the reality and danger of the racial hatred that is coming from groups that are defending white supremacy in our culture. We cannot be naïve about this. According to the FBI, these racial hate groups proliferated in reaction to the last president. According to these group’s leaders’ open statements, they are feeling emboldened under our current president. We can no longer ignore this re-emerging evil that our fathers and grandfathers fought to defeat during the last World War. For years, a question has been: “Why wasn’t Nazism have been stopped in the 1930s, before it became a threat to all of humanity?” Aren’t there similarities in our nation today? We must resist this out-in-the-open racial hatred.
Second, the stories about Jesus make it clear that violence has no place in the social and religious change that he was teaching. As followers of Jesus, we must fight the evil of racial hatred in a way that is non-violent. We must speak: that racial hatred has no place in our community. We must act: reaching out and building bridges, getting to know others who are “different from us.” From these relationships, God the Holy Spirit will build local communities of people that are open and diverse and loving. This is the starting point for the healing of our nation.
Third, the stories about Jesus make it clear that Jesus was especially welcoming and invitational to those who were oppressed; those were relegated to the margins by those with power. This is very hard for those of us who are able to exercise influence within “the system.” In particular, those of us who are white must recognize what is called white privilege. Most of us don’t even recognize it – in the same way that a fish doesn’t recognize water! In a nutshell, this is the effect of white privilege: in most cases, when it comes to first impressions, a person with white skin is given the benefit of the doubt while a person with dark skin is looked at with suspicion. It is good that we are finally listening to people of color who are telling what they have experienced for years. As painful as it is, we who are white must acknowledge white privilege, to repent of our role in this (even when we haven’t even known our role!), and to work to repair damage that has been done.
Fourth, in the stories about Jesus, it is striking how often he surprises both his supporters and opponents – when they are locked into polarities – with a path forward that the two sides haven’t thought of! As followers of this Jesus, we must resist simplistic thinking. We must resist taking one side and blaming “the other.” The struggle that has come out into the open transcends political parties and partisan positions. The Biblical word for this is “humility.” Humility is a close second to love as the most important traits of a faithful follower of Jesus.
I want to share a brilliant description of humility, from a recent column by David Brooks – even though the word he uses is “modesty.” (And, if I may point this out, notice what an example of bridge-building this represents: a Jewish editorial columnist who is describing what is classical Christian theology, and even quoting a Danish Lutheran theologian!)
“In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set. It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems. Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths — between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity. There’s always going to be counter-evidence and mystery. There is no final arrangement that will end conflict, just endless searching and adjustment.
“Modesty means having the courage to rest in anxiety and not try to quickly escape it. Modesty means being tough enough to endure the pain of uncertainty and coming to appreciate that pain. Uncertainty and anxiety throw you off the smug island of certainty and force you into the free waters of creativity and learning. As Kierkegaard put it, ‘The more original a human being is, the deeper is his anxiety.’”
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These are some preliminary thoughts towards an answer to the question, “What do we do?” as we fight against the evil of racial hatred. I’m eager to continue our conversations.
One final preliminary thing. This is not something we can do on our own. We can only do it with God’s empowerment. As theologian David Lose puts it: “[W]e…need to proclaim the Gospel clearly and compellingly, the Gospel that in Jesus’ cross and resurrection we discover that God’s love is, in fact, for all; that God is working in us and with us and through us to make this world a more just and equitable place; that God will grant us courage and grace sufficient to meet the challenges of the day; and that when we stand with and for those who suffer or are persecuted, we encounter God in a powerful and palpable way. Because the amazing thing about the Gospel is that, unlike instruction or good advice, it creates in us the ability to do what God would have us do and be the persons God calls us to be.”
Blessings to you followers of Jesus!
Pastor Andy Ballentine