When white supremacy is on the march, Satan rejoices. This is all the more reason that followers of Christ should unite in the face of such evil, particularly when it lands in your backyard.
It is highly doubtful that anyone is ever really prepared for their hometown to become the next front in this battle. Yet, it happens; and, unfairly, cities like Charlottesville get linked with the racist imagery that emanates from white power rallies. Now, it’s Shelbyville’s turn.
This quiet Southern town in Tennessee, which is a meandering hour or so south of Nashville, is perhaps most famous for being the Tennessee Walking Horse capital of the world. It is home to a healthy business community and a strong agricultural industry. It is a picturesque setting that is more appropriate for a feature film than a frontline.
Bedford County, of which Shelbyville is the county seat, has a historic past. At one time, it was Tennessee’s largest county, both in terms of area and population. During the Civil War, Shelbyville itself was a bastion of Union support, which surely dismays the neo-Confederate fanfic purveyors who are gathering there this weekend. Of course, that assumes they know the history of the area which, in my dealings with racists, extends them far too much credit.
Since explorers first set foot on the shores of what would become our nation, we have been marred by racist ideology. Whole economies were set up on the premise that one race should enslave another. Even institutions that may have been well-meaning in their design were created from one particular racial perspective to the detriment of our brothers and sisters of color. Countless leaders and citizens have lost their lives simply reminding our nation that we were founded on a unique principle among governments: All men are created equal.
Yet that lofty ideal has never been fully attained. As we sit here in 2017, this country has certainly come a long way. But instances like Charlottesville this summer, and now Shelbyville, prove we have much further to go. I am convinced it is the church, and the witness of individual Christians, that will lead us there.
We must first recognize the evil of white supremacy in our midst and call it out for what it is. Dr. Randy Davis, the president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, bravely convened a multi-ethnic gathering of Baptist pastors this week to condemn the rally in Shelbyville. “This movement is evil. It is contrary to everything we are called to be as Christians,” he remarked.
It is worth noting the clarity with which Dr. Davis stated his belief. There is no equivocation to be found.
Too often, white Christians soften their rhetoric in the face of racism or disengage entirely in a shallow attempt to ignore it. That is the wrong approach. It is exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was speaking to in his statement, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Davis and the pastors he brought together are to be commended for their forthright leadership in this moment.
So, too, should the Southern Baptist Convention, even with our troubled past on this issue. In 1995, messengers to the SBC affirmed a resolution that rightly pointed out, “Racism profoundly distorts our understanding of Christian morality, leading some Southern Baptists to believe that racial prejudice and discrimination are compatible with the gospel.” This is saying, in effect, that remaining silent or shirking our responsibility to speak out forcefully gives white supremacy cover and leads fellow believers astray.
Moreover, we should speak not just for the sake of the church, but for the purpose of bettering the public square where, currently, white supremacy has gained a foothold in our politics. It has done so through the vehicle known as the Alt-Right Movement. While attempting to disguise itself as some form of political conservatism, this “movement” is nothing more than a scheme to peddle white nationalism. Sadly, some voters seem to be aligning with this political force. But, Christians should be active in our opposition to such an electoral virus. This summer, the SBC passed a resolution in a nearly-unanimous vote doing just that. The resolution decried, “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In the confusing and turbulent times we live in, these types of clear-eyed statements from church leaders and everyday gospel-abiding individuals are needed to pierce through the noise in the system so others can see our example and, more importantly, see Christ who unites us (Gal. 3:28). It is a challenge, no doubt. But the pursuit of real racial harmony is worth the cost. If we are truly committed to being doers of the Word (James 1:22), we will be compelled to see these wrongs, speak out against them, and act accordingly.
So as the forces of division and darkness descend upon Tennessee, let us pray for this moment and live out the diversity we will see in heaven. And what a remarkable contrast that will present compared to the white power rally which will display nothing but a homogeneity of hatred that is recognizable only to hell itself.