A week ago Nazi-sympathizers, white nationalists, KKK members, and other racist groups, many of them armed, rallied for a tiki-torch march through the heart of Charlottesville, followed by protests in the streets the following day. I seriously doubt that anyone reading this column would align themselves with the groups I just mentioned. This is the easy part. The views espoused by such groups are diametrically opposed to our American values and our Christian values. Can we accept that statement as true? If you can’t, as a pastor, I would welcome a conversation with you.
That part is easy, right?
Yet, as soon as we step beyond that statement, we run into problems. Today a debate, with the President of the United States at the center of it, swirls around the violence of last weekend. The left also carried out violent attacks, the President said Monday; and indeed the fringes of the self-dubbed “antifa” movement have acted violently on more than one occasion. There were good and decent people on both sides of the events last weekend, the President also said (I’m a little more skeptical of that statement. My guess is that the decent folks who wanted to protest peacefully the removal of the Confederate monument headed home pretty quickly when they saw the hateful folks they would be marching with). In short, there is plenty of blame to go around, President Trump argues.
The problem with the president’s statement is that the instant you add “but” to the words, “White Nationalism and racism are bad,” the first part of the statement fades. So intense is the President’s distrust and dislike for the mainstream media and the left that he has put himself in the unfortunate position of appearing soft on racist groups and rhetoric. When David Dukes applauds your stance, it’s probably not a good thing.
On the other hand, in an interesting New York Times article Tuesday (see link below), conservative writer Guy Benson asked an intriguing and legitimate question, “Are we allowed to point out that left-wing violence is a problem and did probably contribute to what happened in Charlottesville and not be compared to Hitler?” He also goes on to say that everyone is too quick to offer “whatabout” responses that are unhelpful in any debate.
You know what “whataboutism” is, don’t you? It’s been around forever. I’ve even tried, unsuccessfully, to use it in arguments with Kathy (“Sure, I was wrong to do/say that, but what about the time you …”). “Whataboutism” is the belief that the OTHER side, whatever side that is, is also bad, and indeed there is almost always some truth in the “whatabout” argument. The problem is it gets us nowhere, leading Benson to conclude, “Round and round we go with this one-upsmanship of who’s worse, and that’s a really terrible way to argue.”
So, how do we get beyond it? Let’s start by remembering who we are and what we believe as Christians.
How about this? God has created every human being in God’s own image, with inherent and undeniable worth. John Wesley’s opposition to slavery, for instance, was not shaped by his political views but by his theology and anthropology that held every human being of equal worth before God. For Wesley, it all began with “For God so loved …” Therefore, racism and any sort of xenophobic view that holds one human being or group of less value than another is contrary to our Christian faith.
Closely related to that first truth is a second. If God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save it, then no person is beyond the redemptive reach of Jesus Christ. No one can be written off. Those folks who hold hateful views? Christ died for them, too. Do you know such folks? Their souls are important. Can you witness to them?
Martin Luther King, Jr., stated more beautifully than I ever can another essential belief: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that.” In those words, I believe we find the message of the cross and the heart of our faith and mission.
Events of our day make me admire all the more the amazing discipline of the non-violent Civil Rights marchers of a generation ago. They refused to meet violence with violence, leaving absolutely no room for whatabouting (I’ve now turned a noun that doesn’t exist into a verb that doesn’t exist).
Most of us will never march in the streets, but every one of us walks the streets of our communities every day, and in our walking and talking we reveal where we stand. Let us stand for love. Let us stand for peace. Let us stand with the victims of hatred. Let us stand with our hearts and arms open to others, especially those with whom we disagree.
So what about those other people who spit bile and hatred? Let no one doubt that you disagree. But when you speak, speak truth with love, because God loves even the people who refuse to love.