When I watched the crisis in Charlottesville on TV last weekend, I was filled with both sadness and anger. I am a descendant of Robert E. Lee. Though he was a slave owner (as were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson), I see much good in the man. But the men who have co-opted his memory – white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and the alt-right – revealed themselves to be thugs of the highest order. But they are not alone in their thugary. The seeds of violence and disharmony have been sewed by movements on the left for years, often fueled by the rhetoric of national leaders and men claiming the banner of religion.
As a white evangelical, I am a part of a demographic that supported President Trump in record numbers. And this group is still largely behind him. They point to the way he has embraced Christian leaders, opened the White House to daily prayer gatherings, and embarked on policy initiatives that have bolstered our economy and national security. On the other side are millions of Americans who can find nothing good to say about their president.
What we have is a national divide. And the chasm is only getting wider.
The question we must confront as Christ-followers this week is simple. How are we to respond to the crisis of the moment – the senseless acts of protest and murder we just witnessed in the otherwise peaceful city of Charlottesville, Virginia? I see three responses, as called upon by the Gospel.
1. Pray for our leaders.
At the risk of sounding harsh and judgmental, I will say what I have observed. We do not pray for our leaders. We criticize them, but we don’t really pray for them. I think God has a standard – do not criticize a person for whom you have not prayed. If you are a never-Trumper, have you prayed for him today? We must pray for our leaders – fervently, daily.
2. Speak out against racism wherever we find it.
Are there white people who support President Trump simply because he is white? You bet there are. And that is a form of racism. But remember, blacks voted for President Obama in numbers never seen in the black community before. Why did they turn out for Obama in numbers that were vastly greater than for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton? I suggest they could not identify, for the most part, a single policy difference that would favor their community, between Obama and the other Democratic nominees, in the years they stayed home and did not vote. And that is a form of racism. Whether we are talking about Black Lives Matter, the alt-right, or any other group that sections Americans into sub-groups, it is not healthy for our unity and purpose.
3. Build bridges, not walls.
I’m not talking about a border wall, but sociological and relational walls. One of my proudest moments was when the black leaders of my town, where I was pastor of a largely white, downtown Baptist church, asked me to serve as Grand Marshal in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. parade. I was on the program for their annual service every year. Ours was the only “white” church on the program. We hosted the event in our church one year. That is how it is supposed to work.
The Bible is clear that sin isn’t going anywhere. That means hatred and racism will always be with us. We live in a divided nation. Sure, it would be a good thing if our political leaders got their collective acts together. But it must start with the people who elected them in the first place.
The question is not, will there be another Charlottesville crisis down the road, but how we will respond to it.