In the aftermath of the recent events in Charlottesville, Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued the following brief but important statement. She said: “White supremacy has no place in the Kingdom of God, only the love and healing of the reign of the Prince of Peace.”
As Bishop Eaton’s statement makes clear, there is no question that in light of the recent Charlottesville events people of faith and conscience must be strong and unambiguous in our opposition to racism, anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and all notions of white supremacy. Not to do so is a denial of the heart of our faith-traditions.
As misguided and hate-filled people parade symbols of evil down public streets, chanting Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic slogans, any faith leader who does not intentionally, unambiguously, explicitly, and publically denounce these things and the ideology of white supremacy behind them is not fit to stand in the pulpit. This goes for elected officials as well pertaining to their offices.
Some of the half-hearted responses I’ve heard since the Charlottesville tragedy trying to blame “both sides” for this incident indicate that our society is still very much in denial of white privilege and white supremacy. We see this same denial when people say things like “why do we need a “Black Lives Matter” emphasis … after all, don’t all lives matter?”
And yes while it is certainly true that all lives matter, it is important to note that for most of our history as a nation, it was assumed that white lives mattered, while black lives never really did (as well as the lives of many other people of color). To say otherwise is to deny slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the confiscation of Native American lands, and many other injustices. It is also to deny that much of our economy over the last 200 plus years was “built up on the backs” of people of color. And additionally, it is to deny that economic resources have been systemically unfairly distributed based on race and ethnicity.
An example of unfair economic practices is the post-World War 2 G.I . Bill. The G.I. Bill helped many veterans buy homes and get a college education which made it possible for many families to move into the post-war middle class. But this was often not the case for African-American families. Of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill, fewer than 100 were taken out by non-whites. Banks and mortgage institutions often refused to lend to African-Americans; neighborhoods were considered “white only;” colleges often refused admission to African-Americans, and African-American public school districts were often underfunded. The deck was stacked against people of color in favor of white supremacy and white privilege. And yes, this has had huge generational ramifications leading up to our time today. To deny this is total ignorance and self-righteousness on the part of white Americans.
But then we must ask the question, what caused racism and white-supremacy in the first place? And the answer is that it was essentially invented to justify slavery and oppression.
To justify slavery and the oppression of minorities, a narrative of racial superiority for whites and inferiority for blacks had to be created. And well after the time of slavery, ideologies of racism and white-supremacy were subsequently utilized by elites to divide poor whites and blacks against each other so that the wages and conditions of the working poor of all races would be kept low and economic oppression could continue for the benefit of profiteers. These difficult truths must be acknowledged. The denial must stop. We must be clear about what the real problem is. And we must take the appropriate steps of correction and reconciliation.
But one other point to be made is that the way people of faith and conscience oppose racism and white-supremacy is extremely important. Violence of word and deed is not the answer. It is essential that we oppose racism in the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said we should — through the principles of non-violent social change. These principles are enumerated on the web-page of the King Center. I’ve included a brief synopsis of them below:
Principle One: Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active, non-violent resistance to evil.
Principle Two: Non-violence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of non-violence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of non-violence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
Principle Three: Non-violence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Non-violence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
Principle Four: Non-violence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Non-violence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
Principle Five: Non-violence chooses love instead of hate. Non-violence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Non-violent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish, and creative.
Principle Six: Non-violence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The non-violent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Non-violence believes that God is a God of justice.