As events in Charlotte unfolded, I was studying the gospel lesson appointed to be read aloud and preached on in many Christian churches this weekend. It is the story of Jesus’ disciples being stuck on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm. Suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water right towards them. They cried out in fear. Jesus said: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27b)
This gospel story goes on to say that Peter, at Jesus’ invitation, got out of the boat and began walking on the water too. But when fear overtook Peter, he began to sink. Jesus took his hand and saved him from drowning, and they both got in the boat and went to shore with the other disciples.
This weekend, I felt like I was drowning in the news coming out of Charlotteville, VA. I saw videos and photos of mostly angry white men carrying torches and chanting slogans that were reminiscent of what I thought were the bygone days of “night riders” terrorizing their local communities. At first I thought it was a lynch mob headed towards a diverse group of people who had gathered to pray at a local church ahead of the planned “Unite the Right” rally the next day. Everyone knew that the upcoming march would be racially charged. People of faith had gathered to worship and plan a peaceful strategy to stand up to the “alt right” who were invading the town. I was convinced that the night would end in bloodshed. But that would wait until the next day when a white supremacist terrorist rammed his car into a group of peaceful protestors who were there to stand up to the neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacist groups. It was an act of domestic terrorism.
One young woman was killed and nineteen others were injured in this attack…in broad daylight, with police presence, in a normally quiet Virginia college town, with the world looking on in horror.
Many people went to church the next day to pray for those who were killed and injured, and for our country, and for our leaders. Enough is enough. We are in the midst of a racial storm that is tearing our country apart. It is being fed by “fear of the other.” It is not a matter of Left versus Right, or White against Black, or about “Making America Great Again.” Racism is about fear and hatred.
Throughout the weekend, my newsfeed was bursting with stories about Charlottesville and people’s responses to the hatred and violence they were seeing. Among my clergy friends, one personally knew of a young woman who was at the protest and was now lying in a hospital with her skull split open. Almost immediately, a Go Fund Me page was started to cover her medical expenses as she was fighting for her life. In a way, she was an innocent bystander who had decided to get out of the boat and stand up to the hatred that was filling the city she loved.
I personally know of many preachers who tore up their prepared sermons on Saturday night in order to preach a new sermon on Sunday’s gospel that would address the events in Charlottesville. At the heart of every sermon, there was a call to overcome our fears and get out of the boat and to speak up against the sin of racism. And yes, racism is a sin.
It is time for all people of faith to take a stand and to speak out against the “alt right,” the neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacist hate groups. We need to overcome our fear of speaking up and keep marching, protesting, and making our voices heard. It is time for real moral leadership and courage. “Take heart…and be not afraid.”