By the Rt. Rev. William Stokes
This past weekend, great evil was manifested in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white American nationalist terrorists openly marched and fomented violence, hatred, and murder. Unregulated militia in uniform, carrying long-rifles, used the power of threat in an attempt to intimidate those who oppose them. Imitating other terrorists in other countries, a Nazi-sympathizer and white nationalist, 20-year old James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly used his car to mow down 19 people, in addition to killing Heather Heyer, who was there as a peaceful demonstrator showing her opposition to the injustice and hatred Fields and his companions spouted.
No one should be surprised by what happened in Charlottesville. In our current political climate, so-called white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and the overt racism of the KKK have been empowered and emboldened to spew hatred publicly and without shame. Sadly, some counter-protesters allowed themselves to be baited and responded to the violence with violence. There is no moral equivalence, however. White nationalists and white supremacists holding hateful, racist positions armed themselves and came to Charlottesville to instigate violence and hatred. They succeeded.
I was thankful for the clergy who were present in Charlottesville, including my colleagues in the Diocese of Virginia. They went to Charlottesville to pray, to evidence that authentic Christianity has no place for the kind of hatred peddled by white supremacists and white nationalists. They were resolute, calm and overtly non-violent.
It needs to be stated without equivocation that racism, the tenets of white supremacy, white nationalism, Nazism and similar ideologies cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus or the Christian faith. Those who claim Christian identity while holding these types of views can only be viewed as heretics and in error. As Episcopalians, we are sworn to oppose these. Our baptismal promises allow no room for compromise.
All are welcome in the Episcopal Church; hatred and bigotry are not. Being clear with those who hold hateful, bigoted views, or who act in hateful and bigoted ways, that these views and actions are not acceptable and cannot be harmonized with authentic Christian faith and living is an act of love. A wise priest once said to me, “Sometimes ‘no’ is the language of love.”
Sadly, racism and bigotry still infect not only our nation, but also our church and our diocese. With society, we all still have much work to do.
Today, Aug. 14 on the church calendar, we remember Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who as a seminarian went to Selma, Alabama in 1965 to confront racism and oppression, and and who became a martyr protecting a teenage African-American girl when he was killed by a shotgun blast at the hand of a white supremacist.
On Saturday, Heather Heyer joined Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Medgar Evers,Martin Luther King, Jr., and a long list of martyrs – of many races and creeds – who died striving to oppose racial injustice and hatred in this country. The last post on Heather Heyer’s Facebook page stated, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Needless to say, she was right.
Rev. Stokes is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. He is a resident of Trenton.