August 15, 2017

When White Supremacists Come To Town

Friends, many of you know that I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. We moved here from Texas nine years ago in order to plant a church, and we in fact returned a few weeks ago from a sabbatical in Texas to get back to the business of ministry in our city. And what a time to return: this past weekend was something our whole nation watched through images and social media. I had the privilege of writing a piece for the ERLC about our response here in on the ground. Please read it first and then continue with this blog post, which serves as a follow-up to the ERLC post.  

Part One: When White Supremacists Come To Town

Part Two: What Now in Charlottesville?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city that in a few horrendous hours has become synonymous with violence and hatred.
Photo taken by Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post of UVA students, counter protesting, who were surrounded by alt right marchers on the UVA campus
I desperately want to tell you that this isn't Charlottesville. And in some ways, it isn't. Many of the protestors you saw on the news came from outside of our city. They rallied around the issue of a Robert E. Lee statue potentially being taken down. However, this is Charlottesville and this is Virginia. We live in a place fractured by racial history and racial wounds. There is a reason the alt right has chosen to center their rallies here. We must acknowledge that racial sin has been under the surface in our city and our commonwealth all along, to its very inception. This is hopefully giving us the opportunity to address, confess, and acknowledge what we can no longer ignore. My prayer is that we seize it.

This is Charlottesville, but it isn't just Charlottesville. This is your town, too. Many people are praying for our city, and we are grateful for that. But don't miss this. Charlottesville is a mirror to your own cities and your own hearts. Let it be. Don't move on without acknowledging racial sin exists and is thriving. Pray for your own cities and your own hearts when you pray for Charlottesville.

As one of my African American friends said to me, "These people gathered together in one place to scream their hate. But they live somewhere, and many more do, and they express their hate to individuals in ways unseen by the media everyday."

This is a powerful opportunity for the gospel to be shared. We have a Savior who makes peace between God and man but also person with person. Ephesians 2 says the "dividing wall of hostility" is broken only through Christ. So, Christian, wherever you work and wherever you neighbor, what has happened in Charlottesville provides a wide-open opportunity to share the love, peace, and reconciliation that Jesus offers all people, because everyone is talking about it. Most of all, it is an opportunity to manifest that reconciliation.

Ask the question of your neighbors and co-workers, "How did you experience what happened in Charlottesville?" Listen carefully to the response, even--no, especially--if it's hard to hear or uncomfortable. Perhaps then you too will be asked and listened to. This is a moment of truth, Christian. Will we say and do what's right, or will we turn the other way, hoping racial issues will go away?

Our purpose is not to foment more anger. Our purpose is to showcase the love of Christ. I read Colossians 3, thinking of our response to violent anger and racial sin: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body."

This is going to happen again. The alt right has vowed to come back to Charlottesville and to take their ideology to other public places. Some disrupted a Charlottesville church service on Sunday morning, lifting their hands in Nazi salute. We need Christians everywhere calling white supremacy, violence, and hatred what it is: evil and antithetical to the gospel. We need to stand together on this. And we must know what God has to say about citizenship, race, and our oneness in Christ, as well as our unique distinctions that make up the Church, or as Scripture calls it, the "multicolored" wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). And we must be bold in speaking and doing what is right.

Finally, we should not be shocked by this. If we are shocked, we haven't been paying attention. If we are shocked, we don't know the depths of sin in this world. We shouldn't be shocked, but we should be grieved. Grieved enough to once and for all lose our apathy and be a part of God's healing in our nation.

What now in Charlottesville? Yesterday at churches all across our area, we grieved and mourned. It is tense still in our city today as I write this, or as a salesperson said to me, "It's as if everything is so uncertain." It is uncertain, but we're having conversations.
The evening after the rally in our downtown, members of our church gathered with our friends from our sister African American church in town to talk, join hands, and pray for God's will to be done in us and in our city. We invite you to pray for us what we prayed for ourselves: pray that we'd use this opportunity to honor Christ and one another. Pray for how the pastors and leaders in our community can lead others and how our church members can boldly share Christ. But also pray with us. Pray for repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Gather others, talk about these issues, and pray for God's Spirit to do a work in our nation and in our own hearts.