“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking…” – Ghandi
I’m heartbroken about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday.
I’m incredulous at the photos of hoards of white men with raised torches, clenched fists, angry eyes and hateful sneers.
In college I did an extensive research project on the KKK. As I forced myself to experience yesterday with open eyes and unprotected heart, letting myself witness the travesty and feel the full weight of what was unfolding, the images and the news stories coming out of Charlottesville hit me one by one.
“They didn’t even cover their faces this time,” I whispered last night, the images in front of my blurred by my tears. These men were so bold, violent, brazen and enabled that, unlike the KKK members who famously wore white hoods to hide their identities, men in Virginia yesterday stood with unhidden faces and naked depravity, unabashed and unashamed.
“Who hurt you?” I want to ask them, as I wondered what perceived hurt they were avenging, and how they thought their hate would “make America great again.”
The hate and racism that had lurked beneath our country for decades as a silent, smoldering underbelly flipped upside down and became front-and-center news yesterday. The thing is — when the underside of a ship flips to the top, the ship sinks, right? When fish go belly-up, they die.
Hate, fear, violence, anger, bigotry, racism, supremacy have never made any country great. Civilizations based on decaying morals and depraved hearts can only stand to fall.
pa*tri*ot: A person who vigorously defends their country and is prepared to defend against its enemies and detractors.
Members of the AltRight have called themselves patriots.
I looked up that word today. To be a patriot means to bravely and fiercely defend your country against its enemies.
The “patriots” who gathered in Charlottesville yesterday aren’t defending the country against its enemies. They’re spewing violent threats and hateful speech against their own countrymen.
“Who do you think you’re defending Americans against?” I wanted to ask the angry men.
The men who gathered in Charlottesville yesterday are many things — sniveling and small-minded and mean-spirited and insular and arrogant and evil and ignorant and provincial and insecure and dangerous.
But they’re protesting their own countrymen, their fellow citizens, their peaceful neighbors, their brothers and sisters who have also been created in the image of God.
Which means the angry men in Virginia are not patriots. They’re not brave. They’re not strong.
They’re not fighting enemy combatants who threaten America’s peace and safety and freedom. They’re killing fellow citizens in not-so-friendly fire.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate…” -Nelson Mandela
I can’t wrap my mind around what causes a person — born into this world as an innocent child — and twists their heart and mind and instincts and perceptions into the men we saw yesterday. Men who base their entire identity on factors over which they had no control: namely, the color of the skin they were born with. And then spew hate against others who also had no control over the variable at stake: namely, the color of the skin they were born with.
How did those white men learn to stake their identity on their gender and the color of their skin? How did they come to believe that they deserve more because they were born with white skin and male genitalia? How did they come to believe that people who were born with other skin colors and opposite genitalia deserved to earn less, own less, speak less? How did these men come to believe that displacing tens of thousands of Native Americans was their God-given destiny, and that displacing people of other races and ethnicities now is their God-given duty?
“Who taught you to hate like that?” I wanted to ask the men who were hurling their fists in the air.
Is it our school’s white-washed history books that downplay the sins of the founding fathers and dismiss America’s sins against Native Americans, Africans and African-Americans, immigrants, refugees, women and ethnic minorities.
Is it the level of incivility to which our current political climate has devolved that gives people permission to be rude and hateful with impunity?
Is it machismo male culture which, like so many fraternities, demands outrageous (and, in some cases, egregious) acts in order to establish loyalty, confirm identity and prove belonging?
Is it our white Christian theology that instigated Manifest Destiny, aligned itself with a specific political party, gave equal weight to “American” and “Christian”, and claimed that because it is ‘blessed by God,’ America is the sun around which the rest of the world revolves?
Men who chant “Blood and Soil,” where did you learn to hate this much?
This morning as I sit with my grief and incredulity and questions, I want to ask not only, “How did we get here?” but “Where are we going?”
As human beings who are all created in the image of God, as fellow occupants of a beautiful (and exceptionally broken) planet, as a community established and infused by the Divine, it’s clear to me that in order to get to true Freedom, in order to find Harmony, in order to get Home, we need to navigate our lives and our words and our actions by the North Star — which is Love.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing of all is that many of the angry white men identify as Christians. Attend church. Believe in the Bible. And they claim to follow Jesus. But clearly, they are deceived.
Because Love calls us to break down barriers, not build them. Love calls us to embrace, not to exclude. Love calls us to advocate for others’ well-being more than our own. Love calls us to serve others, not to sacrifice them on the altar of personal interest. Love calls us to profess what’s true, not to perpetuate lies.
If our North Star is Love, we will find freedom and joy and life together.
People whose North Star is anger, racism, white supremacy, selfishness or greed, will not thrive in this life, nor find Home in the next.
This morning as I sit in silence, as I try to listen to Love, as I try to see a way forward — up out of the pit I feel we’re currently in, I wonder, “How can we have hope when what we saw yesterday smacks of a country devolving into despair?”
I’m encouraged by the words of Mandela, who said not only that people are taught to hate, but also that, “…if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The men in Virginia can — must — learn to love. They can learn from their own conviction, from their families, from their friends, from their pastors, from their fellow citizens.
Each of us needs to learn to love, too, because it’s so easy to forget. It’s easy to let one thought, one prejudice, one grudge, one hate, one aversion, one sideways glance begin to replicate again and again and again until it occupies space in our soul. That’s how cancer happens. That’s how hate happens, too.
We need to learn to love ourselves and our neighbors and our communities and our families and our friends and our enemies well.
We need to remind ourselves every day of what’s true about who we are and who we are meant to be.
And as we live out this truth for ourselves, we’ll also be setting and example to others who may have forgotten how to love, too.
Leaders like Lisa Sharon Harper and Traci Blacmon and Dr. Cornel West and Brian McLaren — and others who joined the counter-protest movement yesterday — have already set an example of how peace is stronger than violence, how love trumps fear, how justice shimmers like a diamond against the dark backdrop of bigotry.
Today, let’s let our hearts grieve. Let our eyes weep. Let our souls groan in this shared pain.
But let’s not give up in despair.
Let’s resolve together that this is not how — or where — the story ends. Hate doesn’t get the final say.
Let’s choose in every second, in every situation, that redemption is our story, and Love is our song.