There are so many problems with the recent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia that it is difficult to know what to address. I’ll begin by speaking to the supposed reason for the protest: removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. For the history-challenged, Lee was the military leader of the Confederate Army during the United States Civil War. Lee’s side was the South. They supported slavery. They lost the war. Robert E. Lee has been a hero among a significant number who identify themselves as southern and white. Two years after Lee’s death in 1870 Jbual A. Early, one of his ex-generals penned the following panegyric: “Our beloved Chief stands, like some lofty column which rears its head among the highest, in grandeur, simple, pure and sublime.” Frederick Douglas, perhaps the most prominent African-American who fought against the South, had a different perspective. “We can scarcely take up a newspaper . . . that is not filled with nauseating flatteries” of Lee, from which “it would seem . . . that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.”
Organizers of the protest gave as their reason, the Charlottesville city council’s decision to remove Robert E. Lee’s statue. The monument was erected in 1924, many years after the Civil War ended, and Lee’s Confederate States of America lost. Why is there a statue of this man? I’m certain that supporters will give impassioned rationale. it’s about Southern culture! It’s history! Lee was an honorable man! If you are the son or daughter of former slaves, you likely have a different perspective. Lee’s statue represents institutional racism in the South. It is offensive, not only to African-Americans, but to all people who reject slavery, racism and all vestiges of it.
Does removing the statue constitute an attempt at forgetting or revising history. Although there is plenty of historical revisionism going around in academia, I do not think we can jump to the same conclusion regarding removal of a statue that is offensive to some because of the way it honors a shameful cause. To bring this home, allow me to use an example from another war. Let us say that a German-American community erected a statue of Heinrich Himmler, the head of Hitler’s SS, also known as the Gestapo. A unit of the SS operated Germany’s concentration camps. Let us further say that a sizable Jewish community lived in the same vicinity as the statue. Himmler was a notorious anti-semite and a participant in the deaths of millions of Jews. Do you see how the statue would be offensive? Would removing a statue of Himmler be an attempt to erase history, or is it an effort to remove a monument to evil and shame?
You might assume that I support of the removal of Civil War monuments. You would be correct, so long as the monument being removed is of a person who fought to retain slavery. I understand (but do not agree with) the argument appealing to southern culture. Certainly symbols like Robert E. Lee and the Confederate flag are representative of southern culture to many. However, I do not understand why one would continue to value something that represents racial injustice and slavery to many millions. It is quite telling that white supremacists in the Charlottesville protest stood side by side holding both Confederate battle flags and banners with the Nazi swastika. If something in your culture represents evil, it is incumbent upon you to repudiate it. Be an agent of change. Demonstrate that you can uphold the positive values of southern culture and avoid all appearance of evil.
You might presume that I would support suppression of protests like the one in Charlottesville, but you would be wrong. I believe strongly in the 1st Amendment right to free speech. Everyone has the right to speak out and assemble peaceably. Charlottesville was obviously not a peaceful protest. Why not. Protesters fomented a violent reaction. They brandished clubs, guns and bladed weapons. They were angry, hostile and ready for a fight. Contrast the protest of white-supremacists at Charlottesville with the numerous marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Dr. Kings protests were honorable, peaceful and garnered respect from the nation, even though counter-protestors and police responded with violence.
There were the counter-protestors in Charlottesville too, and they were angry and confrontational. They are equally responsible for the violence, which has resulted in three dead and many more injured. This didn’t have to happen. Counter-protestors could have permitted white supremacists to have their day. They could have stood quietly with signs. They could have sung positive songs. The media also could have refused to give these people the coverage they coveted. Robert E. Lee’s statue will come down anyhow. The protest would have come to nothing. Now this group is emboldened. Additional protests and violence will likely follow. The perception perpetuated is that there is a large scale problem with racism in America. In my estimation the greater problem is that of extremist groups, which gain all of the media attention and are subsequently used by politicians to define and divide the rest of the country.
I sat with a small group of young teenagers last night and discussed racism. There were two boys, one of mixed African-American heritage and an Anglo, and there was a Hispanic girl. Earlier this summer they went to youth camp, together with an equally racially diverse group from our church. These young people treat each other as brothers and sister (yes, they argue too). They aren’t racist. In fact, it would seem they don’t see color or ethnicity as terribly important. I had to convince them of the relevance of our discussion. They attend three different schools. I asked each one if they saw racism at their school, and I heard nothing to indicate that this is a problem. Three teenagers aren’t a statistically significant sample of America’s population. However, this anecdote presents us with good news. There young people who are not racists and who have little or no experience with the issue. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there are far fewer problems than the current media spin would have us believe.
Our nation is very deeply divided, but I don’t believe this to be primarily along racial lines. The most significant segregation in the United States is idealogical: Leftist vs. Conservative, and alt. Right vs. Conservative. I believe the violence we saw at Charlottesville was fueled both by racism and idealogical opportunism. The neo-nazis, kkk, alt Right, white nationalists represent a fringe, which may well be growing.
In the wake of Charlottesville the Left immediately blamed Donald Trump for the protest. President Trump initially condemned “all sides” who support violence. The Left pounced. “There’s only one side here!” Actually, as I observed earlier, counter-protestors were equally involved in the violence. Additionally, recent protests by other organizations, representing other ethnic groups and causes have been violent. Nonetheless, President Trump amended his remark to make clear he included white supremacists.
I would call this idealogical opportunism. The Left is masterful at spin and controlling the narrative. At this moment Leftist pundits and politicians are hard at work associating Republicans and President Trump with white supremacists. Bernie Sanders was asked if Donald Trump is at fault. To which he responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I am not a Republican. However, I do not believe President Trump is responsible for white supremacists any more than I believed that President Obama was responsible for terrorist attacks.
What is the answer to all of this idealogical, political, racial division? The Gospel. No, really. The good news of Jesus Christ is powerful, transformational truth. The Holy Spirit unifies all of those who believe and receive Christ. It is true that Christians are as divided as everyone else, but not all of those who name themselves “Christian” believe the Gospel and have received the Spirit of Jesus. Love is the product of a Gospel transformed heart. Love for God and love for all people, of all ethnicities, origins and orientations.
“For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), Galatians 3:27–28.
So, rather than rally or protest, I will proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, according to the Scriptures (including racism), was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, parenthesis added by me).
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)
“To as many as received him he gave the right to be children of God, even those who called on his name” (John 1:12).
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Call on Jesus to forgive you and save you now! That is the good news I offer to everyone. In the end every tribe, nation and people will bow before Jesus. Choose to do so now and be saved from this corrupt generation! (Acts 2:40).