We spent much of the weekend observing the protest and counter-protests in Charlottesville, gobsmacked at the horrific spectacle of white nationalists marching in ostensible opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee but actually in grudgingly-admitted shifting social landscape of our country. Peter Cvjetanovic, outed via the process of “doxing” via social media as the frothing-with-rage torch-wielder that has become a vitriolic icon of bigotry overnight, casually explained he was a white nationalist but not a racist: “White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
Let’s consider that for a moment: “We just want to preserve what we have.” What does that look like? Why does it sound a stone’s throw away from what I hear in churches that regularly affirm themselves in verbiage as a welcoming place, when the old days of health and vigor and attendance are spoken of with wistfulness and an attachment to a return to those days as the only accepted form of progress?
We have to confess the sin of hatred and racism and bigotry, in its many forms but one consistent flavor: it’s a bitter, implacable feeling of assigning blame for change and societal alteration to anyone and anything that can be identified as other. As a white, cisgender male, I’ve consciously and unconsciously taken advantage of tremendous privilege on this front my entire life. As a gay and disabled man, I’ve learned a lot about otherness and discrimination since January.
That’s not this post, however, despite my desire to rail about it. That’s a story for another time.
I got home from church about 11 yesterday morning. I was frustrated. I opened up Google Images and dove through the pictures of Charlottesville on Saturday. And I started playing a game with the close-up photos of the story.
You can quickly play a game of looking for over Christian Imagery.
Check this out. The three organizers of Saturday’s rally. What’s around Heimbach’s neck?
I found steely resolve in the images of clergy gathered in counter-protest. I found myself deeply, gravely disturbed by the crosses and crucifixes on flags, around necks, carried high and occasionally alit by a marching population of racists.
Outrage is the appropriate response to this, as Christians. It’s possible to be physically peaceful and empowered by righteous anger at the same time, and now is the time to carry that banner if there’s ever been one.
The image at the top of this post is intentionally provocative. It took me a long time to embrace Christianity as something I wanted for myself and the world because of grievous mistrust, because of the appropriation of both faith and culture as hyper-effective weapons of hate.
And it’s still happening. The voices are getting louder. Last week, we were assured our 45th president had God’s permission to wage war, if it came to that. Those gathered in proclamation of hatred in Charlottesville on Saturday surely believed God was behind them, if not in their pockets.
What do we do next? Proclaiming love isn’t working. I refuse to be made an agent of hate by this.
What’s the best outcome we might be able to hope for, a month, a year, a decade out? Is prayer our only option? Because today, it doesn’t feel like enough.