The Charlottesville Nazi march over the weekend has sparked different responses from our president Trump all the way down to the church. Trump at first stated that he condemned violence on “all sides” and then he changed his mind to condemn exclusively the fascist marchers, only to change his mind Monday to revert to his initial “all sides” statement. This obviously triggers a lot of internet anger. As a theological educator, my interest is the response of white churches. Here’re some typical responses from the white churches. The samples I’ve seen are taken directly from what I’ve seen. There might be others. First, there’s the “all sides” response where people would mix the fascist violence with all violence. Second, there’s what I call the “pie in the sky” response where people like John Piper would say that there’ll be no slavery in heaven, citing scriptural evidence. Third, of course, there’s the “let’s get along and unite” response which appeals to the Body of Christ. Fourth, of course, there’s the “let’s stay quiet in hope this rubbish will go away” response. Fifth, some have voiced out in complete opposition to the Nazis, denouncing them unequivocally. I find responses 1 to 4 insufficient. Here are the reasons.
Regarding the first response of “all sides,” it’s simply a lie. While I don’t condone violence, we can’t simply equate both sides to be the same. It’s stupid to do so. The fascists showed up in assault rifles and battle fatigue. They were clearly there to incite violence. In fact, one was heard talking about using deadly force to make sure their people could march wherever they pleased. Chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews can’t replace us” were clearly a call for genocide. The display of weapons should represent imminent threat to carry out the call. Based on one witness on the ground, very few anti-fascist protesters carried weapons while virtually all the fascists carried things they could use as weapons whether they were bats, flag poles, or assault rifles. It’s like comparing a bunch of peasants with sticks and stones with an army with modern weapons (which is essentially what it was). One account from a synagogue member tells of someone looking initially to target the synagogue only to change his mind by driving a car that killed the girl Heather Heyer. There’s no “all sides” when one side is a bunch of violent marchers who claim to be Nazis.
The second response is also inadequate. The “pie in the sky” approach is basically saying that our hope is in God whose future for humanity abolishes all injustices. Sure, as Christians, we believe that. That IS indeed a Christian hope, but is this the time to theologize in such a high and mighty tone? While the white Christian can sit back and theorize, people of color fear for their lives. This Saturday, I’ll be going to a chalk art festival nearby, and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “What if a white supremacist shows up and incites trouble with my family?” I’m not the only one to think about this. My Mexican friend who plans to get together with us at the festival coincidentally thinks like this too. This is something most white Christians don’t experience unless they walk through the so-called “bad side of town.” Well, we experience this everywhere we go. I experienced this growing up in the South. Telling people about that future hope sounds great, except it’s like telling a rape victim that there’ll be no raping upon Christ’s return. Oh, okay, we all know that, BUT WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO TO ELIMINATE SEXUAL ASSAULTS RIGHT NOW? There’s a time for theoretical discussion, but in crisis such as this, my concern is what will happen today and tomorrow in REAL TIME. Surely, there’ll be plenty of “amen’s” in white churches in response to Piper’s tweet, but among believers who are people of color, there’s only painful groaning and sighs of anger or frustration. Now isn’t the time to pontificate. The pie in the sky needs to stay in the sky because we simply can’t eat it on earth.
The third response is absolutely inadequate. It’s the kumbaya “let’s get along and unite” approach. Make no mistake about this, there’re two sides to this event: those who marched to eliminate all non-whites and those who resisted. There’s no “let’s get along and unite” and put aside our differences. The difference is between dire injustice and a fight for justice. As such, the church needs to fight against injustice and fight for justice. You can’t put aside differences like that. The injustice being touted is such a stain that we can call it the original sin of America: slavery of black people. To unite around that or any sort of racist ideology is to go against the very Body of Christ to which we belong. And if we believe that Christ had died for the church, then racist ideology is the direct offense to the cross. Such an ideology is essentially anti-Christian that can only come from the anti-Christ. Those who post stuff or preach sermons about getting along without denouncing and deconstructing the sin of racism have essentially compromised their faith to the degree of picking the side of injustice.
The fourth response is also highly inadequate. It’s the “let’s stay quiet in hope this rubbish will go away.” If we ask white pastors who take this approach how they really feel, they would tell us that racism is not right, but they won’t say it on the pulpit. The very thing happened in Hitler’s Germany. We know what happened to the Germany church during that time. The “evangelical church” had lost all credibility. History will be the judge of our pulpit at this moment. Silence is in fact a very popular approach. The fact Trump’s entire business advisory council had disbanded and defected over the events in Charlottesville but none of his faith advisory council has quit thus far says a lot about the state of Christianity in America. Perhaps our (mostly white) Christian leaders on his board enjoy the view from Trump’s spiritual sinking ship a bit too much. Whatever the reason, their silence is deafening. When they do speak as in the case of Jerry Falwell Jr., they become the president’s lying mouthpiece. So, do CEO’s from big corporations have more integrity than our big-name Christian leaders? From statistics, this seems to be the case.
The fifth response is vocal denouncement of the Nazis. I’m thankful to hear my own pastor making strong denouncement through his preaching of scripture against such injustices in America. His voice is a minority voice among white pastors. Why? It’s simple. The backlash requires a man with backbone of steel. If you don’t believe me, just look at another local pastor Judah Smith’s video on this topic and the backlash he faces on social media. I’d never thought for once that denouncing Nazis who deservedly lost a world war can be so hard for Christian leaders. When denouncing evil becomes difficult in a faith community, the faith community has lost its collective conscience.
Based on what I said above, we’re only left with one appropriate response. We need to pick the side of justice and speak out against injustice. Silence is complicity. Neutrality in the face of evil is itself evil. Are we going to continue to normalize, justify or tolerate Nazis marching in our streets, threatening our people of color we call Christian brothers and sisters? It isn’t a political issue. It’s a theological issue. It’s a human issue. White pastors, you can do better. You must!