If I am having so hard a time formulating even a first sentence about Charlottesville, I can only guess the feat at hand for the sermon writer scrambling to pen something necessary and coherent and urgent and and and. And I hope it is every sermon writer – especially every white sermon writer. I hope it is every pastor and priest and preacher who stands before their congregation this morning and dares to speak truth to each person in each pew. Because if it is not, because if the realities of our national crisis and our struggle against racism and hatred and white supremacy is not explicitly on the pages and on the lips of each person who dares to proclaim the Gospel, to proclaim justice and truth, then what sin of omission do we have left to commit? What evil do we have left to confirm?
In his remarks to a nation reeling from a day of violence and death, President Trump committed that sin and confirmed that evil. He offered his position most succinctly when he said
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.
He does not call out the white supremacists or their organizations. He does not call it domestic terrorism. That repetition “on many sides” seeks to remove the weight of judgment upon the Right who came to fight for white supremacy. He only condemns “the egregious display.” He then fumbles about, speaking of “law and order” (that most Nixonian slogan of the Southern Strategy) and newfound economic prosperity, finally offering this bromide:
Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our god.
This truth is that the sin of nationalism is free to bare its teeth and bite who do not submit to it. This truth is that justice is ignored and denied. This truth is that the silence of the President to address the evil committed and entrenched within our nation speaks volumes about who he is and who and what he supports. Republican leaders are specifically calling on the President to address this evil and he has not.
This is sin, both secular and religious. Where our nation’s leader has sinned, our religious leaders cannot afford to. And we cannot afford to hear their silence. The German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller saw his sin and he saw his sin too late, when there was no one left to speak for him. We must speak out. And we must speak out now. We must all speak out. And we must resist this evil in real words and lasting actions.
And we must speak in unity. We cannot expect others to do it for us. With the decline of the Mainlines and the Protestant fragmentation into the pseudo-sect of “non-denominationalism,” individual congregations are now held to the greater standard to speak out. White congregations must confess again this very American sin, our original sin of racism, and renew their vows against it. We must confess that we have reaped and continue to reap the benefits of white supremacy. We must change our ways and a first step is widely confessing and denouncing in our churches racism and its real manifestations of violence and hate.
Where are the individual megachurch denunciations of this violence? Where is Acts 29’s condemnation of the hate in Charlottesville beyond a recycled post on their landing page from January that is a call to address racism? Will the Southern Baptist Convention hold true to its recent resolution and speak out? Will the sermons be there this week? Will the sermons be there next week? When and what? The stand against racism cannot be left to a single Sunday. It must be inculcated within the congregation and transform its body.
I see the ELCA, Episcopal Church, UCC, and other progressive Mainlines at the front. Where is the white Church in Charlottesville? Where are the white Christians? Because it is our duty to stand against racism and fascism and against those who preach and pray to a racist and fascist and nationalist god. We must listen to and stand with our brothers and sisters of color against this threat.
I have three friends that I know of, three trench theologians, in Charlottesville sending dispatches from the front. I speak and stand in solidarity with them. Countless clergy are there serving to fight hate and preach justice and peace. It is dangerous. They are fighting racism as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless other clergy fought it and have kept fighting it for decades. They will not allow the sin of omission to be committed. They are fighting. They are on the front lines.
[An earlier version of this post contained a quote misattributed to MLK, Jr.]
Will we fight, too? Will we speak the names of those black men and women who have been murdered? Will we speak for justice? Will we fight fascism and prevent this ugly turn of our country and President? Will we hold our elected leaders accountable? Will we hold our clergy and theologians accountable?
What will we say?