I’ve been thinking how to express the emotional turmoil in me regarding Charlottesville. I initially thought that I could write something combining lectionary readings from August 6 (Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob wrestling with the unnamed man) and August 13 (Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus walking on water).
I would have written that Charlottesville should force us to confront racism’s poison and how it permeates so much of our life as community. We need to do more than have conversations on race. We need to wrestle with racism’s affect on incarceration, economic policy, gun laws, healthcare, public education, and … well you may get the idea… racism touches almost every part of our public institutions and practices.
Reflecting on the images from Charlottesville, I would have added that we cannot succumb to fear. We cannot let our innate primal response freeze, flee, or fight seize us. Rather, we have to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus: gratitude, generosity, tolerance, justice, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and love. Those bind us together as a healthy community and give us resilience when we must face trials that sometimes present existential challenges.
However, based upon the reports of Tuesday’s press conference in which the president voiced his support for the alt-right, white supremacists, and white nationalists I am stunned and shocked. Not that he surprised me. His tepid response on Saturday signaled his position. Rather, he had no hesitation to display his support for them.
The president wrote off every person of color. He dismissed the faith of non-Christians and ignored the history of antisemitism. He denied the humanity of every LGBTQ person. He relegated women to a second class status. He openly embraced white, overwhelmingly male, conservative Christians and validated their grievances rooted in white privilege and Christendom.
By his statement, as a person of color, I have no legitimate standing in this country, despite being born here.
August 15 will be a stain upon our history. On this day a President of the United States openly endorsed hate. He accepted and validated the repugnant evil of Nazism.
In one sense I’m fortunate. I’m one of tens of millions of people whose relationship with Trump is that he is our nation’s president. I can continue to oppose his positions and denounce his leadership. I believe those who serve the president as his appointees and serve as government officials have a different dilemma. My question to them: “How can you keep your personal integrity and still serve this president?” I specifically ask the vice-president, “Do your Christian values allow you to remain in office?” My question to the White House staff and the cabinet, “Do you believe Trump is fit to continue serving as president?” My question especially to the GOP: “Have you had enough? Are you going to remain at this president’s side to pursue your agenda and in the process wear the spreading stain or will you finally take strong steps to rebuke the president publicly and collectively?”
When demonstrators appear in public brandishing swastikas, Confederate flags, and assault rifles, they are not peaceful protesters. Those symbols intentionally provoke anger and fear. They provoke violent reactions.
One of the conference ministers from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Kelly Gallagher, was in Charlottesville and wrote a blog post bearing witness to the event. It was passionate, frightening, powerful, and sad. Clearly, though, some of the demonstrators who gathered to protest taking down the Robert E. Lee statue were seeking to provoke the counter-demonstrators. Rev. Gallagher wrote, “While there were those protesting the White Supremacists who were not committed to non-violence, the violence began when one of the hate groups intentionally plowed through the group of clergy as we stood on the steps of the park. There were many ways around us – we were a small, unarmed group and they had guns, shields and sticks. But they chose intentionally to climb the steps and push through our group. This was without provocation and without thought to another way. Other groups moved forward to protect us before that could happen again.”
The president was wrong. He was wrong for his false equivalence. He was wrong for endorsing white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis.
When I read the news early yesterday evening, the first thing I said was, “He’s toast.” Though damaging, it will take a majority of the cabinet to determine that he is unfit for office or the majority of the House to impeach him and two-thirds of the Senate to convict him in order for him to be removed from office. Despite his statement, I don’t think either of these will happen. However, whatever he says or proposes from now on has to be viewed with suspicion and skepticism. We can (or at least me) no longer believe he will act on behalf of all people in this nation as yesterday peeled away the thin veneer which covered his racist views which he publicly displayed for years as he led the overtly racist birther movement against President Obama.
Ironically, this Sunday’s lesson from the gospel is Matthew 15:10-28. I can’t ignore a part of that lesson in which Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (18-20)