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Remembering Charlottesville and Tearing Down Idols

Remembering Charlottesville and Tearing Down Idols

"And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” - Josiah's Reformation, 2 Kings 23:10 (ESV)

We kill for our idols.

It all started when the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the General Lee statue. An initial vote to remove the statue passed in February, 2017[1], and then again on Monday, April 17, 2017.[2] It was the day after Easter Sunday.

Suddenly, Charlottesville had the alt-right's attention. On May 13, a torch-lit vigil was held, where Richard Spencer stated that part of the vigil's purpose was "to communicate with the dead."[3] That should have been the first warning sign.

About a month later, the torches came back as part of the 'Unite the Right' rally. On the evening of Friday, August 11th, 2017 the torches weren't used for an alt-right spiritual séance. They were brought onto the University of Virginia campus and used for intimidation and as weapons against any non-racists who were present. Chants came with the torches: "you will not replace us," and "Jews will not replace us."[4]

So why all this fuss about being replaced? After all, I thought the issue at hand was the removal of a statue, not the replacement of people. But I guess the alt-righters got hung up on what the statue represents to them. That, to be fair, is a very different thing.

To them, it represents the god of White Supremacy.

Here are a few ways that this particular idol has been venerated by Americans in the past:

  • Educating children with a false, or mostly redacted, history of what actually happened in the past. For example: the story of the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898[5] was completely left out of my gradeschool educational curriculum on North Carolina history. The first time I heard about it was in a freshman seminar at Wake Forest University while reading Tim Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name.
  • The Federal Government's systematic denial of home mortgage loans to non-white applicants and systematic approval of $120 billion in home mortgage loans to white families and communities for roughly 30 years[6] - which was also left out of my gradeschool education.
  • Slavery.
  • Jim Crow, lynchings, and the segregation of society into separate yet very unequal parts.

This particular idol, unfortunately, has a thirst for blood sacrifice - most recently the blood of Heather Heyer.[7] It required the blood of 750,000 men[8] during the Civil War. It required the blood of countless men, women, and children throughout American slavery. It required the blood of 14-year-old Emmett Till. It required the blood of Dr. King. It required the blood of James Reeb.[9] And if it can't get a blood sacrifice, it will settle for turning a bright future into a destroyed and shattered husk of a life. Or turning your neighborhood into a redlined wasteland, as many banks and savings and loans institutions attempted to do to African American neighborhoods in Atlanta in the 1980s through unfair lending practices.[10]

The idea that removing the physical representations of this 'lowercase-g' god - which today in the United States primarily consist of Confederate monuments and memorabilia - will result in a better society is one that provokes quite a variety of reactions. One of the more interesting, and sobering, perspectives I've read is that of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who argues that keeping them up is a healthy reminder of America's troubled past.[11]

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this whole situation is that the alt-righters fear being replaced by minorities, but really the reverse has been true: white racists have been oppressing non-white people groups in the United States for several centuries now by whatever means were readily available.

In any case, this particular false god is one that followers of Jesus are called to confront and tear down with all diligence and speed.

To do that I think that there are several practical steps that Christians should take:

  1. Educate yourself on the hidden history of racism in the United States, and in the Church. Resources I recommend include Methodists and the Crucible of Race: 1930-1975 by Peter C. Murray, Tom Skinner's Urbana 1970 address "The U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelism"[12], Blood Done Sign My Name and The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson, Race -- The Power of an Illusion[13], and most importantly: Between the World and Me and "The Case for Reparations"[14] by Ta-Nehisi Coates. There are more out there. Read those too.
  2. Build relationships with people in your area who are different from you, especially if they too are a follower of Jesus. Listen to them. Invite them over for dinner. Invite them to hang out. Pray with them. Prayer walk their neighborhood with them. Prayer walk your neighborhood with them. Make their concerns your concerns. Link up arms with them and love your neighbor, your brother, your sister in Christ.
  3. When you see someone being dehumanized or systematically excluded on account of their ethnicity or economic status do not be silent. Raise your voice. Flip a table. Jesus did it. You can too. While you're at it, pray for the oppressor and love your enemy. Extend forgiveness. Do not excuse the sin. Do not use violence. Do not demonize the oppressor.

These are things that I plan to do. I pray that you'll join me.

And I pray for Charlottesville, the alt-righters, and my friends who are still dealing with the trauma of what happened in August.

Photo: Robert Edward Lee - Sculpture

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-rally-protest-statue.html ↩︎

  2. http://www.nbc29.com/story/35171631/charlottesville-city-council-votes-to-sell-statue-by-bid-rename-lee-park ↩︎

  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/14/richard-spencer-white-nationalist-virginia-confederate-statue ↩︎

  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-protest-white-nationalist.html ↩︎

  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_1898 ↩︎

  6. http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-03-02.htm ↩︎

  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/heather-heyer-charlottesville-victim.html ↩︎

  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/civil-war-toll-up-by-20-percent-in-new-estimate.html ↩︎

  9. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/reeb-james ↩︎

  10. http://powerreporting.com/color/color_of_money.pdf ↩︎

  11. http://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/ta-nehisi-coates-on-racism-confederate-monuments-the-costs-of-being-black-in-america/ ↩︎

  12. https://urbana.org/message/us-racial-crisis-and-world-evangelism ↩︎

  13. http://newsreel.org/video/RACE-THE-POWER-OF-AN-ILLUSION ↩︎

  14. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/ ↩︎