Kevin’s Conversations: After Charlottesville
The recent happenings in Charlottesville, and even more so, much of our nation’s reaction to it has stuck in my craw. There was some rather atrocious activity that took place that night, culminating in the terroristic murder of a manned car driving into a bunch of people. Sadly, so much of the reaction across our country to these horrific events was seemingly and loudly driven by partisan politics.
With much greater concern of not giving ground in our political battles, there has been continued focus on the wrongs of the “other side”. Rather than leaving our political conflicts on the sideline and for a moment focusing through a lens that seeks understanding and healing and reconciliation in light of this ugly incident, we dug even deeper into our severely entrenched political positions.
Let me speak first to my politically conservative friends. We are never going to make any headway in convincing those different than us of our positions or in bringing about any substantial understanding, change, or reconciliation if everything is always followed with a “Yeah, but”. Especially when we intensely target the subject that follows after the “Yeah, but”. We might admit that President Trump or some conservative organization did or said something wrong, but then when we immediately follow it up with a “Yeah, but” (Yeah, but Hillary; Yeah, but Obama; Yea, but the Democrats). Subsequently, we then put all of our energy into the subject following the “Yeah, but”, and we convince no one that we are serious about recognizing or being concerned with the misdeeds of Trump or conservatives. Worse still when we don’t even want to admit to the obvious wrongs committed by Trump or other Republicans or conservatives and instead ignore them like they don’t even exist or deflect from them or significantly minimize them. The worst yet when we are so blinded by partisan politics that we can’t even recognize obvious wrongdoing as being wrong in the first place. These types of actions and attitudes only add to the already existing ugly divisions in our country and will do nothing to make it a better place or in bringing about sorely needed healing and reconciliation.
Speaking specifically to Charlottesville, Trump was right when he said there was violence and blame on “many sides” or “both sides”. But his choosing to combatively focus on the many sides or both sides narrative has been disastrously unprofitable in bringing about any good or healing or unity in this country. He has managed to inflame the bad and accusatory feelings between opposing sides and has set the unprofitable example which many others have followed.
Yes, there was violence on both sides of the rally in Charlottesville that fateful night. However, the whole environment was imposed by a collection of white supremacists and racists who chose to publicly rally together. A rally that was about much more than just a monument, but where these reprehensible people would be demonstrating their beliefs of supremacy and hatred toward other races. Yes, there were others there who may not identify as supremacists, but their choice to band together with the supremacists leaves them just as culpable. There were no “good people” there that night on the side of “Unite the Right”. When a group of bullies gets together to make a public display of their intimidation and spewed hatred and then in the ensuing expected skirmish one of their own murderously runs over a bunch of people with a car, my goodness, yes, they are the chief ones to blame for the unruly happenings.
Of course, there were counter-protestors there that night who opposed these hate mongers and, yes, some took part in violent actions. Seemingly, included among the counter-protestors were some who have connections or affiliations with Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter (BLM) groups. However, many were not violent and were bravely and righteously opposing these white supremacist groups, including potentially some from the aforementioned groups. If we are going to place a primary focus on those who were responsible for the happenings, it must lay with the white supremacists and those who joined with them. There have been other events and circumstances where liberal protestors or Antifa or BLM have been mainly responsible for the awful things that occurred and in those cases we can rightfully put the focus on those groups and fittingly call them to account. However, Charlottesville was not one of them. And trying to draw an equivalency in this circumstance does not work because it would be a false one. Far and away, the white supremacists were at the helm of initiating this destructive chaotic event and they committed the worst of the violence. If you cannot see these things, I would submit that this is a case where you are blinded by partisan politics.
And don’t even go down the line of trying to place a focused blame of the events on the police, or the media, or the Charlottesville city government, or some former Occupy Wall Street organizer, or some other conspiracy theory. Some of these elements very well may have been contributing factors to the overall ugly events, but the main responsibility for the hateful and violent environment and behavior resides with the white supremacists and those who joined with them. Full stop.
Furthermore, white supremacy has a long and terrible history in our country, one that predates even the founding of our country. White racism has caused far more harm and suffering throughout the history of our country than all other racist people groups combined. Therefore, we should have a greater sensitivity to it. Other people groups which have exhibited some levels of violence and/or racism, such as the Antifa and BLM of today, or historically like the Black Panthers, in many ways have formed in reaction to the injustices imposed upon them and others by white supremacy and other elements of white culture. Their violence and racism is not be excused by any measure, but at the very least, there should be more empathy and understanding for why they exist in the first place.
Finally, even if we personally have absolutely nothing to do with white supremacy and racism, the sad truth is that these white nationalist and supremacist and racist groups are claiming to be our fellow conservatives. Heck, their rally was even called, “Unite the Right”. Since Donald Trump’s election, many of these groups have seemingly felt more emboldened to make their presence known in society. All the more reason why Trump and the rest of us who would consider ourselves to be political conservatives need to send a strong, consistent, and unequivocal denouncing message to these groups and the rest of society that their beliefs and behavior are abhorrent and that we completely reject the notion of accepting them into our groups. All the more so for those of us who are Christians. Many of these white supremacist groups would claim to be Christian and to be promoting Christian values. We need to firmly proclaim that white supremacy is disgusting and antithetical to the Gospel and Christianity.
When any proclamation of condemnation of white supremacy is given, it cannot be quickly followed with a “Yeah, but”. It immediately loses its effectiveness when it does, and it comes across as disingenuous to the many who are already skeptical of us. Consequently, there is opportunity lost for mending and bringing people together. It is not the Antifa or BLM who are claiming to be a part of us or to represent us, it is the white supremacist groups. More so than condemning any other group that is on the “other side”, we need to clearly denounce those who would allege to be part of us. Doing so sends a remarkably more effective and peace-seeking message to those who may be at odds with us.
Now let me speak more briefly to my politically liberal friends. What happened in Charlottesville was terrible and as already stated, the primary responsibility and blame lay with the white supremacist groups and the other so-called conservatives who chose to join with them. But please don’t act like all the counter protesters were completely innocent victims, because they were not. Many of the counter protesters may have been innocent in spirit and behavior, but plenty of documented evidence shows that there were others who were not. Whether they be connected to Antifa or BLM or were just acting out totally on their own, there were quite a number of counter protesters who were guilty of unnecessary and ugly violence toward the other side. This was far from any kind of Martin Luther King-like nonviolent resistance and demonstration.
Going beyond Charlottesville, please don’t pretend like there aren’t other events where those who would identify to be on the Political Left act hatefully and violently. Sometimes even in racist ways towards white people. Where sometimes Antifa, or BLM, or whatever left-identifying group, are the main culprits for the harm and damage that occurs. When you refuse to acknowledge or make excuses for or greatly minimize the violence and harm caused by these groups, it only serves to infuriate those on the other side of the political divide. Even if you don’t have anything to do with these groups and don’t support their activities, if all you ever do is place blame on Donald Trump or Republicans or other conservative groups and don’t renounce or even acknowledge the wrongs done by those who would claim to be on your side, it only serves to deepen the chasm of the divide in this nation. And just like my earlier exhortation to my conservative friends, if you cannot see the significant wrong that these groups or people sometimes commit, I would submit that you, too, are blinded by partisan politics. And through it all, the possibilities for greatly needed healing and reconciliation grow even dimmer.
Now to all of us: I am a firm believer that we are more effective in making things better for everyone if we place a greater focus on dealing with the problems caused by our own side rather than on those by the “other side”. This does not mean that we can’t ever speak out or take action on problems being caused by those who are in opposition to us. Sometimes it may be very appropriate or necessary to do so. But I really do think we can more times than not make a greater impact by focusing on problems that are closer to home. We have a much greater opportunity to work with and change for the better those with whom we have more in common and are closer within our circles and in some cases already have working relationships.
Sometimes we may say something like, “I don’t even have a racist bone in my body and I have absolutely nothing to do with any supremacist or racist group”. But when that supremacist group is saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re a part of your group”, it can go immeasurably further in building up good credit with those on the other side who are skeptical of us if we are willing to denounce that supremacist group without a, “Yeah, but”. Or if we are willing to call out wrongs done by President Trump, or President Obama before him, without always adding on a, “Yeah, but” that then dominates our focus. Better yet, if we can sometimes be the one to unequivocally call out the blunders of our favored President or favored political group without first being cornered to do so and with no followed up, “Yeah, but”.
If we could more regularly start taking actions like these and committing to a mindset of concentrating more often on problems that are closer to us, I so greatly believe we would have a greater overall impact in solving problems and in uniting us as a country, in uniting us as believers, in uniting us as human beings, and in bringing more of the healing and reconciliation that we so greatly need. We know that ultimately we will not be able to bring about any kind of panacea. That will only ever be accomplished by Jesus Christ. But with God’s help, we just may be able to make things a bit better within the circles we reside. And if more people were to do so the same within their circles, the growth of good among increasingly overlapped circles could bring about who knows what kind of positive impact upon our churches and communities and nation.
When thinking on these problems, our greatest focus should be on problems that are caused by those the absolute closest to us. And that would mean looking at ourselves and our own personal problems first before anyone else. An exercise that I’m often not very good at. But after seriously and diligently starting there, our focus successively expands outwards to the groupings most close to us and then beyond.
And above all, for those of us who are disciples of Christ, our first focus and filter should always be through how God would see these things and how we think He would have us to act on them. What is just and right? What will bring healing and reconciliation? How can we act to love our brother? To love our enemies? To point people toward Christ? These things should come through our thoughts and actions far before we concern ourselves with making or winning any political points.
I could be wrong about my belief of placing a greater focus on the problems closer to us. But honestly, the way we are just screaming louder and more often about what is wrong with the “other side”, I find it hard to believe I could be in error on this concept. The way our political and cultural atmosphere has grown increasingly more caustic and vile and divided these past few years certainly hasn’t proven me wrong. Could it really make it any worse by placing a greater emphasis on problems caused by those closer home to us rather than on those caused by those further away? I say we give it a try. What say you?