I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. You may have heard of it.
You may have seen my city on the news or on your Twitter feed after several white nationalist and white supremacist groups converged on our downtown park to protest the potential removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. You likely have seen the images of confederate flags and swastikas, protesters and counter-protesters, fist fights and arrests, and videos of carnage. I have watched the evil of white supremacy playing out on my local library steps and hate on a street I’ve driven hundreds of times. My family is weeping in lament to learn that protesters have wielded clubs and even a car against other human beings, fueled by their ideology.
As a citizen of Charlottesville, I want to publicly state my disgust and condemnation of the rally that occurred to champion white supremacy. Aside from condemnation of their ideology, my husband and I and our church simply will not give them our attention. And we will also not be one-day activists who aren’t interested in faithful, gritty work in this community.
We will instead be Christians. We will continue to give the gospel issue of racial division our full attention. We will call white supremacy what it is: sin. We will continue building real relationships with brothers and sisters in our community and in our own church who represent, alongside us, the beautiful diversity of God's kingdom. We will continue partnering with our friends of various races as we seek to meet needs in our city. And my husband will preach the gospel from the pulpit as it’s meant to be preached—for all people.
This is the gospel that has made me a Christian, the gospel that tells me all are made in the image of God but only One stands supreme—Jesus Christ. He teaches me to love others, not celebrate myself or fight for my rights, not love selectively or with favoritism. He teaches me to try to understand others and to honor them, not to honor myself. He teaches me that His Kingdom is the country and people to which I belong, and that this Kingdom is formed by every nation and people group.
We need Christians being Christians not only in Charlottesville but all across our nation. Being a Christian in the face of racial hatred begins with Christ’s church falling to its knees in lament and confession and asking for his Spirit to move us toward Him and toward one another. May we do this corporately as we gather. Help us, Lord, to understand our union with You and with all who are Yours! Help us to love our enemies–those who spew hatred–and remember they need Your grace just as we do.
It’s time for us to stop believing and repeating the worn phrase that we’ve moved beyond racism because we’ve moved beyond Jim Crow. If Charlottesville shows us anything, it begs us to see reality. We have failed one another in so many ways, some have ignored what they haven’t wanted to see, some among us are disheartened and weary from ongoing injustice, but our God offers us repentance and restoration, both individually and collectively, as we acknowledge our racial sins before Him and before one another.
Let me acknowledge mine to you. I have received benefit from educational, social, and economic systems that I've assumed all could enjoy if they simply worked hard enough for it. I have lived ignorantly, failing to understand that my reality is not the reality of others and shrugging it off when some have tried to explain otherwise. I have not called out racist jokes or words for what they are. I have desired a multiethnic church while also expecting people of different races to adjust to my preferences for church expression. I have not spoken up about injustice, I have not tried to understand different perspectives, and I have been fearful of those who are different than me.
But, praise God, he does not leave us in our sin. Praise God that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion. He has convicted and is changing me, he is teaching me through his people, and I want more of his transforming work.
I want this for the Church as well, which is why I share: because God is able! He is able to make us tender toward others rather than angry and embittered. I do, however, think of Jesus' words to the crippled man who'd lay beside the pool for many years: "Do you want to be healed?" That seems a curious question, but I hear what Jesus is saying. Sometimes we are too content in our sickness. We don't want the healing because we don't want to have to really look at ourselves, confess, repentant, or forgive. We don't want to be uncomfortable; we just want Jesus to fix it.
I want us to live fully in the picture of what the gospel is and can do, specifically in the area of racial hositility and division. "For he himself is our peace who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-15). Church, we have hope to hold out, both for the white supremacist fighting from a place of anger and fear and for the victim of his hatred. We can have peace! We must not just believe this in theory, but we must show it and speak it in our relationships and our communities! Only as we humbly submit to his Spirit and to one another can this be so.
So let us lament the state of things. Let us confess what are some of the most uncomfortable things to talk about with one another: racial sins.
Let us hear how we’ve hurt one another and really listen, believing what our brothers and sisters are saying to us.
Let us pray for the hurting, including those whom we consider enemies.
Let us pursue and engage others of different races so that this listening and confession, restoration and forgiveness, can actually happen.
Let us serve together and stand together in our communities so that those who aren’t in Christ may know us and know Him by our love for one another.
I'm sorry for the hurt and pain this rally has caused my brothers and sisters of color. It comes as one in a long line of pains, so I am praying for your perseverance, and I look forward with you to the day when all injustices will be made right. May the Church be vocal in standing with you and denouncing white supremacy as evil.
Please know that there are faithful Christians trying to bridge the racial gap here in Charlottesville. People are trying to do something meaningful, which we believe is primarily building real-life, everyday relationships and having important conversations at that level. By the power of the Spirit, my hope is to be one of those people. Please pray for us in our city as we seek to love, understand, address, confess, and forgive.
Will you join us? In whatever places you live as a Christian, let us fall to our knees in lament, let us cry out for healing from the only place it can come, and then rise up with a weapon far greater than clubs and shields. Rise up and go with the pursuing, reconciling love of Christ!