Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer will be eulogized today and her body will be laid to rest. She was killed, and 19 others were injured as they used their bodies to protect ministers and protesters who were standing up against Nazi and white supremacist terrorism. Two police officers, Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Trooper Berk Bates were killed as they were in route to protect counter protesters and to stop the powder keg of violence that erupted over the weekend on the streets of Charlottesville, VA.
For more reasons than I have the words to express, today is a day to mourn. As a Christian pastor, mourning and lamentation is at the heart of the Christian faith, as it is to many faith traditions. Mourning allows a much needed moment to pause, to sit with the weight and gravity of loss, and to cry out from the depths of our often crushed humanity to a God whom we believe hears and responds to our cries. Mourning is an essential marker of time and grief not only for personal pain and loss, but also to the heart of a nation that is tempted to look the other way in the face of deep spiritual wickedness.
We as a nation must mourn that we have lost the life of Heather Heyer to the malicious hands of white supremacist violence. And as we mourn her senseless and heinous murder and the white supremacist terrorism that conceived and produced her death, we must also mourn the complete and utter abandonment of moral leadership on the part of the President of the United States. Thus in Heather’s honor, I invite you to pause today for a time of lament and mourning:
We mourn and lament that it took the President less than one hour to attack the black CEO of Merck Pharmaceudicals for leaving his manufacturing council, but took two days for him to specifically denounce the white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK who incited the violence that killed Heather Heyer.
We mourn that within 24 hours of his highly scripted condemnation, he doubled down on the notion that “both sides” or that “many sides” were somehow to blame for the death of Heather Heyer.
We mourn today that the President of the United States, a man whose office is one to which many look for moral leadership in a time of division, pain and national crisis, would not even say the name of Heather Heyer in his press conference yesterday.
We mourn that instead he chose to defend the racist, white supremacist legacy of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and the agenda of the alt-right.
We mourn that when asked if he would visit the people who are mourning in Charlottesvill he instead proceeded to brag about how he owns the biggest winery in Charlottesville.
We mourn that this is not only a man who lacks a moral compass - he brazenly mocks any notion of morality.
We mourn that the president of the United States said that there were “good people” in a crowd of white men and white women carrying torches who shouted that “Jews will not replace us”.
We mourn that the President of the United States said that there were “fine people” in a crowd that chanted “blood and soil”, which was the battle cry of the Nazi movement.
We mourn that he said that there were “good people” in a crowd of white men and women with AK-47s, bottles of urine, Aryan nation flags, Nazi flags, and gas masks as they chanted “White Lives Matter”. There were “good people” among them, he said. There were “fine people”, he said.
Even as we mourn the loss of Heather Heyer, there is one thing that the President said that is profoundly true. There were indeed “good people” on the streets of Charlottesville this past weekend.
The good people were the ones who drove from DC and the surrounding area to provide medical care and support for the peaceful counter protesters assembled there who were bludgeoned and attacked by gun-toting supremacists. The good people gathered in a church on Friday, many of them clergy, from Christian, Jewish, Muslim who prayed together, sang together, loved one another and protected one another, even as supremacists with torches gathered all around them. There good people were the ones who asserted the moral vision and clarity to stand as patriots in the face of Neo-Nazi fascism to peacefully use their bodies to protect those who were under attack. The good people were the ones who held space for all that is good and just and to boldly proclaim that even in a country founded upon the notion that black bodies were not human bodies, that “black lives matter”. Though there were serious tactical mistakes in their attempts to curb the violence, the good people were the police officers, particularly the black, Jewish, Hispanic and Asian officers, who stood having racial insults and epithets hurtled in their faces. Truly the good people were the local and national leaders of both parties that immediately and unequivocally condemned the attacks and the racist beliefs that fueled them.
There were indeed good people in Charlottesville over the weekend. There were indeed fine people. Those good people were attacked because they dared to challenge the racists that have been emboldened by the replacement of our nation’s first black president by its first “birther” president. Nineteen of those truly good and fine people who were on the street this weekend have now been injured. And now one of them is gone. So with her family and with a heart-broken nation, we weep with those who weep and we mourn with those who mourn.
Jesus says, “blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” My fear is that after a day of mourning, we will return to business as usual in our country by assuming that white supremacy is but a handful of torch carrying Neo-Nazis in khakis. It would be a blessing if people of all parties, colors and backgrounds actually seized upon this moment to commit to lives not just of condemning the racist acts of a few, but by committing to dismantling the racism and structural violence in each of us and in our country. That would be a blessing.