I have been hesitant to write about what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. So much has been written and said already. And already the events of last weekend have been absorbed into the larger political narrative floating around us. It’s not just what happened that draws our attention now – who said what, and when, afterwards seems to be almost more newsworthy. I think we’re in danger of losing a focus on the actual events of last weekend. So humbly, and not as if you didn’t know these things, I decided to write to you after all.*
First, what happened in Charlottesville was a horrible symptom of a horrible problem. No argument about free speech, and no reverence for any historical figure, justifies the kind of hatred that brought white supremacists together last weekend. For many Lutherans especially, the torchlight parade on Friday night and the shouts about the Jews were a terrifying reminder of what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Seeing the way that events unfolded, especially seeing the film of the car crashing into the crowd, we had the chance to witness terrorism of a kind we have (foolishly) tended to associate only with other people’s countries.
But what happened in Charlottesville was only a horrible symptom. The problem is racism, our beloved country’s original sin.
Burden of our Time
So many people in this country believe that somehow some others have a less important place here, or don’t belong here at all. So many of the rest of us, who think we “don’t see race,” actually don’t see the advantages that our own race allows us to assume. The heart-breaking difficulties of talking about race, of calling out the racism of people we love and respect, of confronting our own racism – these difficulties are now again the obvious burden of our time.
What happened in Charlottesville will happen again and again; it actually has been happening all along. And we are again being called to work so that the better angels of our history can keep the darker angels at bay.
Only God’s grace will make anything good come to pass out of what happened last weekend. God’s grace, woven into the fabric of the ordinary world, is what is leading so many people with otherwise divided opinions to say that there was something deeply wrong and dangerous revealed in the events in Charlottesville.
Tools for This Moment
Beyond that, the grace of God poured out through the gospel in the churches will bear fruit, and we pray it will bear fruit through us. I encourage you to talk about what you’re thinking and feeling now, and I encourage you to let others do the same. In particular, I encourage you to find people who don’t agree with you and to talk to them, even though for most of us this will take some work. As citizens and human beings we are not immune to the pain and anxiety in our country. As Christians, we know that pain and anxiety are not stronger than hope and compassion. The judgment of God and the mercy of God are still fully operative, and the Holy Spirit is always at work to draw all people into Christ.
And please be sure that I believe we have all the tools we need for this moment, since it is God in Jesus Christ who has called us and who has promised to be with us now and always.
The Rev. Richard H. Graham
Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
* The original version of this message was distributed to rostered ministers of the synod on 8/16/17.