Both sides in Charlottesville last weekend were not the same. To claim, as the President of the United States did, that the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, alt-righters, and ethno-nationalists—clad in body armor, carrying torches, wearing swastikas, bearing Confederate Battle flags, and chanting “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us”—were morally equivalent to those who protested against the ideology of white supremacy is simply wrong: wrong-hearted, wrongheaded, and wrong-spirited.
The man who used his car as a weapon to kill Heather Heyer and Heather Heyer were not the same in their motives and actions.
For most of my decades in ministry, I’ve made a serious effort to draw on biblical, theological, and ethical resources to address moral and political issues. I’ve avoided, as much as I could, making comments about political candidates and office-holders.
I’ve acknowledged that people of goodwill, who share a concern for justice, peace, and mercy, differ on how to realize those concerns in policy and practice. There are red, blue, and purple Christians. I’ve tried to call all of us, whatever our economic and social philosophies, to measure the effects of them on the least of these.
In this unsettling time I’ve concluded that the issue and the office-holder are the same.
The President of the United States lacks the historical awareness, judgment, gravitas, wisdom, and compassion to lead this nation and to serve constructively in the community of nations.
I take no joy in that conclusion.
And, I am not innocent of racism.
I repudiate the ideology of white supremacy while being, simply by virtue of accidents of birth, a beneficiary of white male privilege (and I wonder warily about the connection between the two).
As a child in Atlanta, I spent blissful days and nights at Funtown, an amusement park which would not admit blacks. As a teenager, I climbed Stone Mountain over and over again, unaware that it was the site of the rebirth of the modern KKK. I laughed at stereotypes when I was too stupid and insensitive to know that they were stereotypes.
To this day, when I least expect it, fearful and irrational prejudice flares in me. I feel ashamed, as I should, and I have to—get to—repent of my sinful thoughts and feelings. The burden of my racism is one I have spent years trying to put down. That work is not done and will never be, I suppose.
I commend to you Timothy Snyder’s little but powerful book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Among other things, Snyder, who teaches history at Yale, says:
Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century (17).
Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them (32).
You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case (66).
Post-truth is pre-fascism (71).
I know that Snyder is right.
As a citizen, I fear that we are at risk of forfeiting the highest ideals of our nation. Those ideals have only been partially and imperfectly realized, but we have tried, with heartbreaking failures, to hold ourselves accountable to them.
As a follower of Jesus, I worry that I will deny and betray him and his way by too-cautious silence and merely-muffled alarm.
I pray for courage and yearn for hope.