So let’s pretend that you’re a white man living, say, in West Texas, and you’ve got some friends over for a few beers and conversation on the front porch. The womenfolk are cooking dinner in the house, while you and your buddies are outdoors solving the problems of the world. Or maybe you’re a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, a retired coal miner in West Virginia, a former steel worker in Ohio who’s trying to support his family with less, or a trucker in Tennessee whose mind is usually quite alone with this thoughts, or a group of retirees in Florida who are just sure they have all the answers to life’s questions. Where is your head right now about current events?
As these people survey the carnage of #Charlottesville, there is likely a certain unity among their thinking, and it sounds a lot like this, “Well, what did you expect?” The reading of history by Donald Trump’s white Christian supporters includes a number of “losses” ― some deeply personal ― as years of efforts to right wrongs have ticked along. Nobody likes to lose, but this particular mindset is umbrage-gone-to-seed, a form of deep-seated resentment that produces contempt of a violent nature. For example, in the zero-sum game of competition for limited jobs, where the activity is tilted in any way to correct cultural wrongs, there will be winners and there will be losers. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a highly visible example to them. A great many white people resent the slogan and consider the group racist and a hate group for its outspoken disdain for police officers ― typically white police officers ― who’ve shot and killed black citizens regardless of the justification or lack thereof. To these people, simply saying “it’s not” racism or hatred isn’t good enough. They are unconvinced.
This is the tragedy of the weekend’s events, for honest condemnation of violence is hard when you see it as inevitable and based on a false and biased reading of history. And what’s truly astonishing to me is that most, if not all of these people profess Christianity as their faith, having completely overlooked admonishments like this one in I John 4: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” As my friend and pastor of Lee Park Church in suburban Charlotte Chris Justice said this weekend, “If you claim supremacy based on your race, you are not a Christian,” adding ”The only thing we, as Christians, have supremacy in is Christ!”
This is the real evil in the events of the weekend, and talking about it this way may be the best thing we can do to soften the hard line that separates people in this country, the one exploited by Donald Trump in selling his brand of politicking to the public in 2016. Mr. Trump is already running his 2020 campaign, so there’s little likelihood he would disturb his base now by totally denouncing the white supremacists he himself has emboldened. Besides, there is nothing like a good old-fashioned race war to deflect attention from what is really class warfare underway in the U.S. The rich have done a terrific job of taking money from the poor and blaming it on anything or anybody other than their own greed. What better way to hide that than in the chaos of a grassroots summer of violence over race.
If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then all who participated in bringing this madness to the surface are friends with the madness itself. This undeniable truth is offered for the consideration of each and every person who considers themselves members of the political right. If you sleep with evil, you will certainly get at least some it on you, for no unequally yoked partnership moves in two directions at the same time. The correct word for that is hypocrisy. When you choose to express the hidden motives of self-pity and payback in your quest for improving your lot in life, you have already crossed a moral line in the sand, one put there by the Lord you’ve followed all your life in Jesus Christ.
Author, speaker, activist, and public theologian Brian McLaren participated in the anti-racism protests in Charlottesville and provided a compelling and detailed account of his observations. He also offered a message to Christians:
We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed – grievously, tragically, unarguably failed – to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves. Congregations of all denominations need to make this an urgent priority – to acknowledge the degree to which white American Christianity has been a chaplaincy to white supremacy for centuries, and in that way, has betrayed the gospel.
Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today returned from an overseas trip just in time to witness #Charlottesville. He wrote:
So, as a white evangelical, part of a demographic category who disproportionally supported President Trump, let me start by saying this movement is antithetical to the gospel. It is an abomination to all that we stand for, and it must be condemned on every level of leadership in the Church. There is no room for waffling. We cannot sit in silence hoping this will pass.
But how does one do that when the congregation is silently nodding their heads in the other direction? The church has failed miserably by teaching what I call The Gospel of Self and not the words of mercy, justice, and the acceptance of turning the other cheek taught by the One we serve. We’ve forgotten the words quoted in Matthew: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We’ve far too many Evangelical leaders scattering in the name of worldly prosperity and the lust for power that seems to always be at the root of heretical Christianity. It’s amazing to me that those who preach self-sufficiency are so capable of the expression of self-pity when it comes to so-called losing out on the prosperity, security, and pleasures that the world provides. When you believe and preach that the Bible is a self-help manual to improve your lot in life, you’ve crossed into the very real downstream likelihood of “depart from me, for I never knew you.”
President Trump initially responded to #Charlottesville by calling it “an egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” In so doing, Trump acknowledged the misdirected anger of these white Christians, but he also justified it by making the case that they have a point, that their views of BLM and immigration aren’t racism but rather a valid reaction to offenses against them. In so doing, he’s validating their self-pity and their irrational fear that more will be taken from them in the future, if they don’t respond today.
Those who oppose this demonstration of hatred and violence by the right need only be consistent in their condemnation and let universal disdain do its work. Instead, I’ve seen way too much “I told you so” among those who represent the opposition, as if their war against the cultural rigidity of the right gives them a special place from which to criticize. But being right and taking a position of self-righteousness in human relations are two very different matters, for one simply states facts while the other lords it over others. Waving the white privilege flag during heated emotional displays is like the bullfighter taunting the bull. It can only produce an over-the-top, inappropriate response from which counter protestors cannot entirely escape culpability.
Those who argue that there really aren’t “sides” to matters of race don’t do an effective job of deconstructing history or presenting their arguments in such a way that can be understood by all. If life demands that some win and some lose on the path we all must trod, then so be it. But to shut others up while refusing to acknowledge self-interest in your own position is indefensible, and that’s our current conundrum.
If you believe in the miracle of creation and in the miracle that is America, please examine your own heart, for neither expresses a single degree of racial preference. That is but a human trait, and that, my friends, is our real enemy.
Overcome it we must, ’lest we all be swept away by its corruption.