Word from Mission Year Executive Director on Racism and Violence in Charlottesville
The recent events in Charlottesville tell us that we have a lot of work to do in our nation and churches if we are going to get real about racism and racial injustice in our country. Racial justice is central to our work at Mission Year and resisting evil, racial hatred, and violence is core to the gospel that we seek to incarnate in our communities. We had alumni involved on the front lines of the counter protest in Charlottesville as well as a staff member who went to provide care in the aftermath, and the stories we are hearing are deeply troubling.
Denouncing the white supremacists, KKK, Nazis, and other hate groups that were there to intimidate and harm does not seem adequate enough a response. For we know that they are only the most extreme and explicit expressions of racism within our country. The hatred, violence, death, and terror they invoked is reprehensible and the impact upon the Charlottesville community are long lasting. I’ve been told, a cloud of dread and uncertainty hangs over the city and many community members and faith leaders are still in fear for their lives. We send our thoughts and prayers to our friends in Charlottesville and to everyone who has been traumatized by these events. We also encourage our Mission Year community to send support to organizations providing trauma care in the wake of these events. To support involved, local ministers in Charlottesville please visit Congregate Cville.
It’s important in moments like this to do a deeper examination of the presence of racism within our nation. The reality is that someone doesn’t have to be a racist to enable racist structures to persist. Our context in the city allows us to see that race is embedded in our institutions, policies, and hearts. One doesn’t need to be a white segregationist holding “whites only” signs, when our cities, neighborhoods, schools, and churches are already so segregated by race. Yes, we must condemn white supremacists and segregationists, but we also need to dismantle racial segregation, starting in our lives, churches, and communities. One doesn’t have to threaten violence to immigrants and religious minority groups when the political rhetoric and policy of our nation is already one of hostility and aggression. We need to condemn open bigotry, and we also have to hold those in office accountable to humane and compassionate responses toward those who are different from the majority culture. We cannot forget the biblical call to welcome the stranger and suffer with the members of our collective body who suffer. It’s easy to condemn the brutal beating of a black male in Charlottesville, but what are we doing about the mass incarceration of black males across this nation? Our work is to “be our brother’s keeper,” and “to love our neighbor as ourselves,” which involves protecting black and brown lives in the same way we protect white lives. We preserve statues of Confederate soldiers and also, racism is embedded within all our cultural institutions. Our work requires examining policies, institutions, churches, workplaces, families, and our own hearts for the ways racism has distorted our views of others and of ourselves. It’s not enough to tear down racist icons; we need to create more equitable systems. The reality is, someone doesn’t have to spew hatred to enable racism, they just need to stay silent in the face of it. Proverbs 31:8-9 instructs us to speak up when we see others being victimized and hurt by injustice, and as Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”
It’s not the active white supremacists alone who are maintaining racism in America, we are all complicit. It’s important for Christians, and white people specifically, to denounce the overt acts of racism, but we have to look how we have also perpetrated these structures through our own ignorance, fear, apathy, greed, pride, and silence. Denying covert racism and our culpability only strengthens the systems that maintain racial inequality and oppression. Dismantling statues is a necessary first step, but it will take much more collective will and work to dismantle racism within our institutions, culture, and hearts.
It will take humility to hear and believe the critiques from communities who are most impacted by racism. Most of what I know about racial injustice I learned from listening and living alongside neighbors who experienced it most severely. We need to listen to the prophetic leaders of color, young and old, who are lovingly pointing out how the poison of racism is killing them and us. What we have to remember is, acknowledging and uprooting racism is in everybody’s best interest. Renouncing white supremacy, in all its forms, and siding with people of color in their struggles for equal rights, protections, and value liberates us all. We can’t come together as one nation by sweeping hundreds of years of history and current realities of racial injustice under the rug. We have to confront it within ourselves and commit to weeding it out together in society for the sake of us all.
We invite you to renew your commitment to learning to do justly and unlearning oppression, listening to diverse voices, lamenting injustice, linking with others who are mobilizing for action, and leveraging your power and resources for racial equity and justice. There is too much at stake for us to give into apathy and despair. One thing that gives me hope is this, during some of the worst atrocities in human history, there have always been people of faith who resisted evil and injustice and risked their lives to represent a different kingdom. This is a Kairos moment. May we be faithful in our time and in our generation to stand in that tradition and do the same.