I’ve been on kind of an unintended hiatus from the blog lately for a few reasons. First off, my mom has been in and out of the hospital, and while she is definitely doing better, there’s been a lot of doctor’s appointments and other things she’s needed help with. Secondly, I’ve been working through the material I need to go through for the local pastor program in the United Methodist Church, which is extensive. Finally I’ve been doing some reading and research for a Sunday School class I’m teaching this Fall, and all of this in the scant free time I have after coming home from my full time job. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a ton of time left over for the blog, which I have missed a lot.
I’ll get back to the “Great Hell Smackdown of 2017.” I still have at least three entries I want to do in that series, but I had to take the time to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. If you somehow haven’t heard, here’s what happened.
A large group of Nazis decided to gather in Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m not going to legitimize them by calling them something like “white activists,” “alt right,” or even “white supremacists.” They’re Nazis, pure and simple. Friday night they held a large torch bearing rally at the University of Virginia. Once you got past the absurdity of using tiki torches in such a fashion, you realize the only things missing were swastikas, the SS banners, and a stand in for Hitler:
Do you still think they’re not Nazis? I mean yeah, the tiki torches kind of take away from the intimidation factor, but yup, they’re definitely Nazis. Anyway, I guess the Citronella finally ran out and the Nazis reconvened Saturday morning having exchanged the tiki torches for riot shields, SS banners, Swastika flags, and of course, the Confederate battle flag, which people constantly tell me stands for heritage not hate but keeps popping up alongside Swastikas and SS Banners, so whatever.
Saturday morning the Nazis were met by counter protestors. In the crowd were a few folks from the left wing antifascist group Antifa, and some fights broke out between some of these folks and the Nazis. Now look, I don’t care for Antifa’s methods, trying to incite violence is never the right way to go, but hey, at least they’re not Nazis. Also amongst the counter protestors were members of Black Lives Matter, several clergy men and women, students from UVA, and just everyday people who didn’t want to see hate flower in their community.
After a couple of tense hours the police finally managed to separate both sides and things seemed to simmer down a little. However, early in the afternoon a young man with a heart full of hate and malice drove his car directly into the crowd of counter protestors. He injured several people and killed 32 year old Heather Heyer, a paralegal who was in the crowd.
I’m not going to post the name or the picture of the Nazi that killed her. He doesn’t deserve any more fame than he’s already gotten. This young woman’s life was cut short by hate, the same hate that has become almost mainstream since the last election. Certain political forces in our country decided to stoke the fear and the hate of White Nationalism in order to win the election, and now it’s becoming clear that they’ve opened Pandora’s box and enabled hate and vitriol to claim more innocent lives.
This isn’t about “Southern Heritage.” That’s just an excuse people use in order to mainstream their message of hate. Trust me, I’m up there with the biggest Civil War Buffs of them all. I’ve been to the battlefields, I’ve read the books. This stopped being about “Southern Heritage” a long time ago. We had a war about it. A lot of people died, and the outcome was decisive. Time to move on. We also had a war with Nazis. A lot of people died. The Nazis exterminated millions of people just because of their ethnicity. In the end, the big bad Fuhrer that these guys idolize so much sat huddled away in his bunker next to his girl and took his own life like the coward he was. The outcome was decisive.
The Confederacy and the system of human bondage it stood for lost.
The Third Reich and the system of dehumanizing hate it stood for lost.
Hate will lose in the end.
I don’t know anymore.
I have a confession to make. I sat this afternoon and looked at the picture of the man who killed Ms. Heyer and I hated him. It was more than righteous anger, I hated him with every fiber of my being. I wanted vengeance to be visited on him for what he did.
And I realized in that moment that I was no better than he was. I realized in that moment that I had betrayed the promises I have made as a Christian. Hate has no place among the followers of Christ. Jesus himself said:
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:44).
But surely he doesn’t mean that we are supposed to reach out in love to these Nazis, right? Yes I’m afraid that’s exactly what he means. That’s the entire point of this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is prescribing a different way. The way of the world is to meet force with force, violence with violence, hate with hate, and anger with anger. We humans have been doing that throughout our entire existence, and it never seems to stop, it never seems to solve the problem.
Jesus is asking us to try something different, to try to stand up with subversive love. This is not meant to be weakness. Any old person can respond to anger with anger. It takes true strength to respond in love despite the actions of the other party. That doesn’t mean that you condone what they did. It doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for the weak and the oppressed. What it means is that when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is that you respond with love, grace, and forgiveness and try to break the cycle of hate.
Look, violence and hate will never produce lasting change. Folks like Antifa spraying raw sewage on Nazis isn’t going to change anybody. It just entrenches people in their own positions.
Only love, deep sacrificial love can change people. Jesus showed us that. Dr. King showed us that. Many people involved in the civil rights movement were badly injured or went to their death to show us that.
Heather Heyer shows us that.
Hate has no place. It doesn’t matter if it’s the hate of the Nazis or the hate directed to them. It is the people of love and grace who will triumph. Will you join me in working on that? Will you open your heart and mind to the Spirit to be directed on that path? Will we all have the strength it takes to be peacemakers?
Tonight I pray for all those in Charlottesville who have had their community up ended. I pray for those who are victims of hate and oppression. I pray for the family and friends of Heather Heyer. I pray for those who were injured. I also pray for those who harbor hate in their heart, that God can break the hearts of stone and show them a better way.
I pray for all of us.
So be it.