Charlottesville is about an hour away from me. I've visited several times, attended a few college basketball and football games, and I've even preached in a few churches in the area. So when I saw the recent pictures of a "protest" held around a statue of Robert E. Lee led by white nationalists, it was infuriating, but also scary. This was in my backyard. Dozens of men and women, both young and old, carrying torches of fire, crying out for white supremacy, and shouting nationalist statements. One look at the pictures of the protest would have immediately identified it as a kind of KKK rally, but there were no hoods among this crowd; there were no white robes or red crosses; no rifles or horses. Instead, the burning torches of fire carried by these protestors lit up their unashamed white faces in the night for everyone to see. History reminds us that this is no new phenomenon, as the seemingly immortal photographs of yesterday captured the faces of those who stood by at lynchings and participated in violent opposition to the Civil Rights sit-ins and marches. In an attempt to suppress the present discussion on race and racism, many people, Christians and non-believers neglect the racial issues of today by claiming that it isn't as bad as those previous periods in history, and therefore events such as this are largely ignored. To which I would say that some progress has indeed been made, but in light of the recent images taken last Saturday in Charlottesville and in addition to the images and videos taken of black bodies being slain by police officers, the anger displayed at Trump campaign rallies, and the presence of white nationalists in Washington DC just days after the election, this all points to the fact that racism's presence, even in its most explicit forms is still very much among us. White nationalism and white supremacy is not being resurrected, its being exposed. Want proof? Threaten to move a statue.
The protest was frustrating not only because of where it was - being so close to home, but because of why it was happening. The issue of whether or not confederate statues should be torn down or permitted to stay is another article for another day. I personally think that if confederate history is to be told in monuments and statues, more statues should be built that tell the entire story and point to the gruesomeness of slavery for which these lionized men fought. The narrative needs to be changed. I drive by several of my city's own confederate statues regularly; one is even across the street from my church and depending on the day, having to literally look up to these figures draws a sense of ire from within, especially before I worship a God who opposed many of their convictions. What's more is that there are people all around who would seek to defend these figures and their legacies as if they have no bearing on my life and the lives and families of many others. The fact that dozens of people who I potentially pass in the supermarket, wave to in my neighborhood, and allow my child to interact with at the park, would be willing to light torches, stand unmasked, and cry out for white supremacy is vexing. The fact that confederate figures and white supremacy are so boldly supported and defended is vexing. Each day that the narrative of white supremacy is promoted and proclaimed is another day where the narrative of the oppressed is silenced.
Even more frustrating is the fear that comes from knowing that many of these people who protested on Saturday will cross paths and even interact with black people and other minorities in the coming days. Some of them may have attended church with African-Americans the very next morning. Others may be co-workers, teachers of black students or students of black teachers. Unfortunately, it's possible that most of these protestorsbelieve that they don't have a racist bone in their body, that they simply want to "preserve their heritage" as they stand with burning torches and chants of white supremacy. The irony is that while the indifference and hatred is so explicit, it's still somewhat veiled; and this is what is so scary. They are unafraid to show their faces, but they will blend in with the majority of society the minute their torches die down - in our cities, our churches, our offices, and our government. These protestors will most likely continue their lives unaffected by the implications of their racism, and will ultimately never be confronted by minorities or more importantly anyone who looks like them.
Exposing the Darkness
This is why Christians, black and white, must continue to directly confront racist ideologies and incidents such as this one. Minorities will continue to be enraged and disheartened at the sight of this protest and will continue to discuss and confront the sin of racism often to the silencing of the majority. But to my white brothers and sisters, here is an opportunity to confront the sinfulness of racism in one of its most glaring forms and speak to those who would otherwise never be confronted. Paul says in Ephesians 5:11, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." When it comes to this issue of race in our society, it is not enough to refrain from taking part in it. It is not enough to simply not be racist. As God's people, we must expose this unfruitful work of darkness that is racism and confront it boldly and unashamedly as children of light. To my brothers and sisters, if you seek to be empathetic towards people with different skin and different experiences than yours, then like these protestors, I encourage you to show your faces as well. But unlike them, show your faces in your standing for equality and speaking against racial injustice. Instead of the burning torches of white supremacy, let the blazing light of the truth of God's word, the truth of the Imago Dei, and the truth of His racism-conquering sacrifice shine brighter and expel the darkness of racism and racial superiority.
The pictures captured of this Saturday night protest in Charlottesville vividly show us that the pervasive power of sin never confines itself to certain time periods. It is always rearing its head in both the hearts and systems of fallen people. To this, God has chosen a people from every race, tribe, language, and nation to be imitators of Him, to be children of the light (Eph 5:1, 7-13) driving out the darkness of sin through exposing its repulsiveness in the sight of God. While moments such as these invoke fear and frustration, God has both called and equipped His people to confront the sin of racism by speaking prophetically to it, proclaiming the justice of God, the equality of those made in His image, and the sacrifice He paid to crush all sin, including racism.