Culture David Gushee: Christians, Conflict and Change Ethics Faith Opinion

Charlottesville: What I said from the pulpit yesterday

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally earlier in the day in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(RNS) — Readers: I continue my service as pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur, a predominantly white Baptist congregation outside Atlanta. When I took the pulpit yesterday, this is the statement that I offered about what happened in Charlottesville this weekend and what it means. I am happy to report that the congregational response was overwhelmingly positive. That says much about the kind of congregation that it is my privilege to serve.

The statement:

Genesis 1 says that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), the pinnacle of creation.

Genesis 4 teaches that we are our brothers’ keepers, and when human blood is shed it cries out from the ground to God.

Genesis 9 says that there must be an accounting whenever human beings harm or kill each other.

Psalm 8 says that human beings are just a little lower than the angels, cherished by God.

Luke 10 says that to inherit eternal life, we must love God and love people as ourselves; we must be neighbors to those around us.

Christian faith ought to be, and often has been, a very powerful force for human equality, for compassion, justice, love, and belief in the sacredness of every human life.

But especially since the days when European settlers came to the New World in the name of European Christian civilization, Christian faith very often has been distorted by an unholy religious-racial-civilizational pride.

European Christian settlers came to define themselves with the label “white” and to believe that they were by God’s design superior to other peoples, such as Africans and Native Americans (and others too, including Jews, who were objects of a longer hatred). They came to believe that they were free to subjugate, enslave, and often, kill these others, and free to believe and act as if others not like them (us) were inferior human beings.

Both European and American history are deeply marked by this ideology, which is best labeled “white” “Christian” supremacism. Recent decades of our history have been marked by powerful counter-pressures to repudiate this ideology in the name of a different vision, of equality, justice, and respect for all, of a multiracial society in which all are valued equally. I have spent much of my career attempting to advance this latter vision.

In Charlottesville yesterday, the forces of a resurgent white Christian supremacism converged to rally. They got what they wanted: national media attention and counter-protests by people representing the opposite agenda, some of whom were trained in peaceful nonviolence and others of whom were there to confront the protesters. Tensions ratcheted up and finally an assault by vehicle occurred with many casualties. Three people are dead, 34 injured.

I speak today to lament this hateful ideology, which is fundamentally contrary to Christian values but remains in our bloodstream for periodic resurgence. I lament yet another incident of ugly conflict, violence, and murder in our streets.

I declare that First Baptist Church Decatur utterly repudiates racism, and seeks to stand for biblical values of equality, justice, and respect for all. I pray that white supremacist Christian nationalism will be clearly repudiated and rejected by all responsible national leaders — and by all Christian people, in the name of Jesus Christ.

This story is available for republication.

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David Gushee

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