Some of my thoughts in the wake of Charlottesville, Virginia

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend have brought to light the deep-seeded hatred that has lurked beneath the surface of our society for generations. It’s been our nation’s dirty little secret. Some say it’s America’s Original Sin.

Many have thought that if we ignored it, it would just go away. If we stopped giving it any credence, it would wither on the vine and die of starvation. Maybe those tiny pockets of crazy KKK folk would eventually disappear due to lack of interest. That’s the easy response. Because admitting we have a societal problem is uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing. And it’s shameful.

But we cannot pretend it isn’t happening anymore. In all honesty, we shouldn’t have been pretending in the first place. But many of us have been. And although it’s been a long time coming, it appears that Charlottesville has served as a wake up call.

I would hope that if you’ve spent any time with me at all or if you’ve read any of my writings at all, it should go without saying that I deplore racism, white supremacy, and any other form of hate-filled rhetoric that these misguided characters might espouse. Let me say it again so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind: I reject racism and I repudiate white supremacy.  This a poison that will only lead to destruction. There is no room for such hatred in our society.  Period.

And there’s even less room for this type of venom in our churches.

Somehow along the way, people have tried to connect the Church with racist, white supremacist views. I assume some of this goes back to the time leading up to the Civil War, when church leaders who were sympathetic to the cause of slavery desperately needed some proof texts from Scripture to prove that the enslavement of an entire race was somehow divinely appointed. So they ripped verses out of context, twisted the meanings of different verses, and did the little song and dance that many of us do when we try to make the Bible say what we want it to say instead of what it really says.

If you’ve come here thinking that Jesus encouraged and supported some kind of hate-driven agenda, you can go ahead and put away your proof texts and your mental gymnastics because I want to take a few minutes to remind you* of what Jesus has to say on this matter:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34 (emphasis mine)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There is no command greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31 (emphasis mine)

You’ve probably heard the story of the Good Samaritan. If you haven’t, you should read it. Right now. Go ahead. Read it. I’ll wait. If you don’t want to read it, you can watch this video. Jesus makes it pretty clear who our neighbors are. He makes it pretty clear how to show love. And he made it very clear what we’re supposed to do in response to this story.

“Go and do likewise.”

And just in case you haven’t gotten the hint yet, let’s look at what the Apostle Paul and see what he has to say.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 (emphasis mine)

You think one race is cursed while another is elevated? You think one is inferior while another is superior? No way. Not in God’s community. There is no distinction. We should all be united. That’s our call. It’s what we’re meant to be when the love of Christ transforms us. Love your neighbor. Show mercy. Love one another.

And that’s the same thing that John tells us in his first letter to believers.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:8

You might as well go ahead and read the rest of that chapter. Shoot, read the whole letter. If you have any doubt about how we should live in a world full of hate, 1 John has the answer. Spoiler alert: It ain’t hate.

It’s that simple.

And it’s that difficult. Holy cow, it’s hard.

Because when I see images of people gathering to spewing  hate and breathing violent threats, my first reaction is to respond with hate. In fact, I want to punch them in the throat.

Indiana Jones punching a Nazi, much like many people want to do after Charlottesville
Image via Nazis Gettin’ Punched

That’s what I want to do. But that’s not what I’m supposed to do. “Love your neighbor,” remember? One could argue that a white supremacist Nazi type of person is hardly a neighbor. So maybe it’s all OK to simply respond to hate with hate.

Wrong.

(Jesus said:) “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44

Jesus wasn’t merely talking in theory. While we were still sinners, while we had set up residence in the Enemy’s camp, Jesus put “love your enemies” into practice when he spread out his arms and died for all of humanity – even the ones who beat him, hurled insults at him, and executed him.

If I’m being honest, that’s a pretty tough example to follow. And I also have no idea how to put that into practice. Because I’m outraged at the fact that people think it’s OK to treat other people like they’re less than human. I will not let their trash gain legitimacy in our society. And I will not allow them to hijack my faith.

But where is the line between responding in holy anger (yes, there is such a thing) and responding in hate? I don’t know. But I do know this: I know in the end even after everything else has passed away, only love will remain.

And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest, the most excellent way is love.

It’s all about love. It will always be about love. Love will remain. That’s the answer to the ugliness that was displayed in Charlottesville. It is the answer to any ugliness we encounter, honestly. That’s what it boils down to.

Love.

So I’m learning how to choose love in the midst of hate. I’m learning how to stare Satan’s minions in the face and respond in love. Because these all of us desperately need Jesus.

I know what the answer is. But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know what it looks like in real life. How do we flesh this out? I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to start.

So I’m learning to stand with love. That should be my default setting: love. But since we’re being honest here, I can tell you that it isn’t my “go-to” response most of the time. But I’m doing my best. I’m learning to love the way Jesus loves me.

I hope you’ll learn with me.

*Do I really think that sharing these verses is going to change the mind of a devoted white supremacist? No. I don’t think they really care about the words of Jesus. Or Paul. Or John. I doubt they really care about anything other than statements that promote their own twisted, hate-filled, repugnant views. This post is really for people who might be on the fence, although I don’t see how you can be on the fence. It’s also for people who are looking at these white folks, connecting the dots, and thinking that this is what the American church is all about.  

Washington Mall

Stand in the Gap - October 4, 1007
Stand in the Gap - October 4, 1007

I’m watching the people pour into the Washington Mall in anticipation of this historic day. As I’m watching the images of the crowd amassing between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, I can’t help but think about the last time I was at the Mall.

It was October 4, 1997. A small group of us from Milligan had driven up to D.C. the previous evening. One of the more prominent memories about the car ride was when I told Scott Berggren that I needed him to pull over…immediately. He did. And that was a good thing. I proceded to throw up all over the side of the highway. We stayed in a large church that night. Got up the next morning, grabbed some breakfast (I had a McDonald’s sausage & egg biscuit, and a banana…I thought my stomach was better…I was wrong), and loaded onto a caravan of buses and rode to a parking lot near the Pentagon. As we began to walk towards the Washington Monument (that seems like a long walk. Maybe it was. Maybe I’m mistaken about where we were…but that’s what I remember), I had to stop again. Yes, I threw up all over the parking lot. And my shoes.

But I kept going. Because I wasn’t going to miss this Sacred Assembly of Men.

Me & Scott as were about to leave Stand in the Gap. You cant tell because the picture is a little washed out, but I was still pretty queasy. Spending the day in the sun might not have been the best idea.
Me & Scott as we're about to leave Stand in the Gap. You can't tell because the picture is a little washed out, but I was still pretty queasy. Spending the day in the sun might not have been the best idea.

Because I was sick and exhausted, I don’t remember too much about that day. But I do remember a couple of things. I remember there was a prayer for unity within the church and we were encouraged to reconcile ourselves with one another because of the divisions (especially racial) that we’ve allowed to occur within the church. All of a sudden, this guy comes out of nowhere, grabs one of our friends (who happens to be black), and embraces him.

“I’ve sinned against you, brother,” the anonymous white man said.

It has served as a powerful reminder of how we can be reconciled to one another. I’ll never forget that moment.

And it’s on that same Mall that history is taking place today.

Since the campaigns began, I’ve been arguing that you cannot vote for a person simply because of the candidate’s race. Race is no reason to vote for someone and it certainly isn’t a reason to vote against someone. So although race shouldn’t have been a factor during the election process, now that we’re about to swear-in the nation’s first African-American President, it’s time to celebrate. And the church should be leading the way. Not because of any misplaced hope in a person, but because of the life-changing, unifying power of the good news of Jesus Christ!

This is truly an historic day. It’s a day we can help lead towards healing for the centuries of division between us based upon color of skin. It’s a day where we can begin to hope that Dr. King’s dream will someday be fulfilled and we will one day judge people not on the color of their skin but the content of their character.

It’s a day where we can embrace each other and say, “I’ve sinned against you, brother. I’ve sinned against you.”

Leave it to me to somehow tie Don Imus & Rutgers to an obscure Star Wars reference

They  fired Imus yesterday.  I’m still not sure what I think about the entire debacle.  I agree with everyone else that what he said was beyond defense and the way he handled the outcry was less than stellar.  His comments were despicable and the Rutgers team didn’t deserve any of his nastiness. 

I had listened to Imus from time to time a few years ago.  He just sounded like an angry, bitter, old man who couldn’t say anything nice about anyone – except John Kerry before he lost the election…then he turned on him, too.  I did what everyone should do when they don’t like what they hear on the radio…change the station and forget about him.

As the hype surrounding “the I-Man’s” comments intensified, I grew uncomfortable about where it was heading.  It wasn’t because I had any sympathy whatsoever for Imus’s situation.  What he said was tame compared to some of the stuff I’d heard him say before.  It was not a one-time incident.  You eventually reap what you sow.  It doesn’t really matter if you help so many children’s charities raise so much money every year if you’re a jerk the rest of the time.  Charity does not automatically a good person make (hmmm…I think I see a potential sermon here…that might preach…).  My concern was (and is) about the precedent established by firing Imus because he said something inflammatory.  I was especially struck by Rev. Sharpton’s complaint that this was said on public airwaves and how such hate should be removed from the public airwaves…and implied the FCC should be involved.  Where’s the freedom of speech in that?  Is there even such a thing anymore?  “The Thought Police is just around the corner,” I thought to myself. 

Here’s why that matters to me.  Calling sin a sin is “insensitive.”  Preaching Jesus Christ is, by its very nature, “inflammatory.”  If we begin to go down this road (and it seems we’re already speeding down the highway), how long before preachers become targets of the Thought Police?  Yes – I was thinking about my own self-preservation.  How long before I am told I cannot speak publicly or post anything on MattDanTodd Land because I could have said something that offended someone (you know…like, “God loves you and wants to have an intimate relationship with you,” or “Jesus is God’s Son,” or something culturally insensitive like that)?  Maybe I’m being alarmist.  If you know me, you know that I’m not like usually like that, so I don’t think I’m just over-reacting here.

I don’t think I’m too off-base, though.  Tom DeLay is already leading the charge, calling for Rosie’s firing from The View.  Keith Olbermann seems to have a hit list of who should “be next” (they talk about it halfway down this transcript…conveniently, it’s all right-wing talkshow hosts…how lovely).   Why do we feel like we need to shout everyone else down?  Are we already so far down the road that we can’t even have civil dialogue with people with whom we disagree?  When will it end?  I don’t like this road we’re on.  Someone stop the bus!  I want to get off!

Ironic, isn’t it?  Sixty years ago this weekend, Jackie Robinson faced more than a stupid, off-handed, ugly remark when he shattered the racial barrier in Major League Baseball…years before the civil rights movement began to take shape.  He literally put his life on the line every time he put on a ball cap for the Dodgers.  Is this why he broke through that barrier…so we can beat down an arrogant jerk who said some pretty stupid things?  How is this episode fostering any type of unity?  How far have we really come in sixty years? 

I have a lot of questions.  Most of them will remain unanswered, I’m afraid.

Today, after Imus’s fate was sealed with both MSNBC and CBS radio, the Rutgers women’s team announced that they had accepted his apology.  I, being the Star Wars nerd that I am, couldn’t help but think of a scene in Empire Strikes Back.  You can’t push this analogy too far…none of this was any fault of the Rutgers ladies.  Imus set himself up for this.  The timing still struck me as odd. 

Anyway…

Captain Needa’s ship was pursuing the Milennium Falcon.  They suddenly lost track of the Falcon.  In a stroke of considerably bad luck, Darth Vader asked for a report on Needa’s progress in the pursuit of their prey…right after the Falcon disappeared from all of their scanning devices.  Out of nobility (maybe it was stupidity), Needa boarded his shuttle and flew over to Vader’s ship so he could apologize to the Dark Lord in person.

The next time we see Needa, he’s on the floor, gasping for breath.  Yep, Vader was choking him with that invisible death grip he has.  As Needa takes his last breath and collapses to the floor, Vader turns, walks away, and says, “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”

Apology accepted, indeed.

“The South will rise again?” Not likely.

We drove down to Atlanta this weekend to experience the worship services at Buckhead Church and North Point Community Church. Our model is somewhat similar, and our leadership team went down to learn as much as possible in 12 hours. More on that in a different post. I’m still processing some of it.

On the way down, we naturally passed several redneck stores…er…stores selling “The South will rise again” paraphernalia and propaganda. One of the stores, however, surprised me. In most cases, the only thing you see representing the South is the “Southern Cross”. They act like that’s the only flag to have flown over the Confederate States. This store, however, flew a Stars and Bars alongside the Southern Cross. They actually understood a little bit of history. I was genuinely surprised.

The Southern Cross has become a symbol of hate. I understand that a lot of southerners claim they fly it because of “heritage” and “pride.” More on that later. Racists in the South took over the Southern Cross as their symbol of hatred against non-whites. The association with racial hatred with that symbol has become so strong that you cannot disassociate the two anymore. If you really want to fly a Confederate flag as a symbol of “heritage,” fly something other than the Southern Cross. If you flew a CSA flag without the Southern Cross on it, I think few people would actually say anything about it because their history teachers didn’t bother to teach that there was more than one flag for the Confederate States.

Why would you want to fly the Confederate flag anyway? If you are genuinely flying it because of pride in your heritage, what are you trying to say? After all, the Southerners were rebelsinsurgentstraitors. Doesn’t flying a flag from a rebellion imply your support for rebellion today? What message are you conveying by displaying it, if that’s not the case? Flying that flag is protected under freedom of expression, but why even bother?

I can understand many of the reasons the South seceded (there were many more than slavery…it didn’t become the main issue until Abraham Lincoln made it an issue midway through the war to keep Britain out of the war). I might even be sympathetic to some of them. My views on the legitimacy of the CSA’s rebellion, however, has changed over the years. It appears that the South wanted to return to the system of government under the Articles of Confederation. Those Articles did not work. That’s why we have the Constitution today. Why go back to something that doesn’t work?

Perhaps war was inevitable. Yes, there was an arrogance in the North that could not be reconciled through politics. The Civil War, however, is a dark point in our nation’s history. Is it really something we want to take pride in?

Don’t get me wrong – I love Civil War history. I love reading about it and visiting the battlefields. It is amazing to me, though, when people talk around here like the war is still going on.

What do I know? I’m just a carpetbagger.