As a writer and pastor, my job is to weave together words so that those words will hopefully reach people in their deepest places; to frame the experience of this life in a way that is somehow compelling or creative or interesting, causing them to engage with the world differently than before.
But there are times when to do this would be actually be a disservice to reality, when any clever wordplay would only soften the jagged, sickening truth; when clever turns of phrase might succeed in obscuring the horrid ugliness in front of us.
Sometimes we just need to say it without adornment or finessing.
What we watched unfold in Charlottesville, with hundreds of white people bearing torches and chanting about the value of white lives and shouting slurs, is not a “far Right” protest. When you move that far right, past humanity, past decency, past goodness—you’re something else.
You’re not a supremacist, you’re not a nationalist, and you’re not alt-Right.
This is racism.
This is domestic terrorism.
This is religious extremism.
This is bigotry.
It is blind hatred of the most vile kind.
It doesn’t represent America.
It doesn’t represent Jesus.
It doesn’t speak for the majority of white Americans.
It’s a cancerous, terrible, putrid sickness that represents the absolute worst of who we are.
No, naming it won’t change it, but naming it is necessary nonetheless. It’s necessary for us to say it—especially when the media won’t, when our elected leaders won’t, when our President* won’t. It’s necessary to condemn it so that we do not become complicit in it.
This is our national History being forged in real-time, and to use words lacking clarity now would be to risk allowing the ugliness off the hook or to create ambiguity that excuses it. And yes, there are all sorts of other ways that racism and privilege live and thrive; ways that are far less obvious or brazen than tiki-torch wielding marches. There are systemic illnesses and structural defects and national blind spots that we need to speak to and keeping pushing back against, and we will. But in moments that are this clear, when the malignancy is so fully on display—we’d better have the guts to say it.
White people especially need to name racism in this hour, because somewhere in that crowd of sweaty, dead-eyed, raw throated white men—are our brothers and cousins and husbands and fathers and children; those we go to church with and see at Little League and in our neighborhoods. They need to be made accountable by those they deem their “own kind.” They need to know that this is not who we are, that we don’t bless or support or respect this. They need white faces speaking directly into their white faces, loudly on behalf of love.
Though all of us can eventually trace our lineage back to oneness, all carrying a varied blood in our veins—the surface level differences matter to these torch-bearers. They value white lives and white voices above anything else, and so we whose pigmentation matches theirs need to speak with unflinching clarity about this or we simply amen it.
So I’m saying it.
We are not with you, torch-bearers, in Charlottesville or anywhere.
We do no consent to this.
In fact we stand against you, alongside the very beautiful diversity that you fear.
We stand with people of every color and of all faiths, people of every orientation, nationality, and native tongue.
We are not going to have this. This is not the country we are trying to build together and it will not become what you intend it to become.
Our diverse, unified, multi-colored chorus declares that your racism and your terrorism will not win the day.
*On August 14th, after 48 hours of silence, after initially saying he was against the hatred he was seeing “on many sides”, and in the face of tremendous political pressure, President Trump finally released a statement condemning the violence in Charlottesville. A day later he back-pedaled and claim both sides were to blame.
Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.