Charlottesville: The evil angels of our nature

James Fields Jr. allegedly used a Dodge Challenger to mow down pedestrians in Charlottesville last week. Dozens of people among the counterprotesters were injured, some badly, and 32-yr.-old Heather Heyer was killed. Fields, an Ohio resident, was charged with second-degree murder and multiple counts of malicious wounding. He is 20 years old.

What do you make of the chaos in Charlottesville, a sweet city built around the university whose campus center was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself? If you had any convictions that America was outgrowing its vicious racism of the past, those ideas turned out to be illusions. It had been my hope that white supremacists were a tiny, harmless, lunatic fringe in 21st-century America. Well, they are doing their best to show that they're not tiny, they’re not harmless, and they don’t want to operate on the fringe.

Writer Jon Meacham says that racism is perennially latent in America. He’s right. According to the Washington Times, “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler tweeted that Ms. Heyer got what she deserved. “It’s payback time. She was a fat, disgusting Communist.”

One of the issues is the level of community acceptance of Confederate statuary honoring Southern war heroes. There are thousands all over the South. One by one they are being removed from public places and moved to museums or private locations. It is a sign of the craziness that not only are Confederate statues being defaced but a bust of Lincoln was set on fire in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood as well.

There are still statues in public places of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, who after the war joined the newly formed Ku Klux Klan and became its first grand wizard. The Klan’s numbers and presence in America have been cyclical. After a rapid rise in the post-Civil War years, it faded back quite a bit, only to experience a resurgence in the anti-immigrant emotion after WWI. Thousands marched in white-hooded parades not only in the South but all over the North as well.

You can get a sense of the racism and patronizing attitude of Northern whites in the sheet music of the day, in the lyrics, and cover artwork. White singers put on blackface and pretended to be black minstrels, singing songs like “I’m a Lucky Coon” and “I’se Your N--- if You Wants Me, Liza Jane.” If your stomach can stand it, google “coon songs” and look at the cover art from New York music publishers. In succeeding generations, white musicians lifted songs from black blues singers, for which they never paid any compensation.

Violence breeds violence. The “Unite the Right” people argued that what they were doing was “freedom of speech,” but in fact they came to rumble. So did the counterprotesters. Time magazine has a two-page photograph of counterprotesters, perhaps inspired by previous violent antifa activism, dressed for battle in helmets, face-covering bandannas, and heavy sticks. One of them was beating a protester.

Here are a few final thoughts:

  1. Racism is sin, nasty sin. Anybody who doubts the Bible’s doctrine of original sin should rethink his or her position. We shouldn’t assume that people will outgrow racism any more than they can or will outgrow lying or stealing or committing adultery.
  2. Our world is getting steadily more tribal. Large groups that bring together dissimilar people are fraying. We need to respect the sinister power of gut-level appeals to one’s tribe, coupled with fear and resentment of others.
  3. The claims of far-right groups to be Christian are absurd and should be strenuously disavowed by any serious biblical Christian. There is nothing in Scripture that elevates white people above any other racial or ethnic group. In fact, what Scripture does say is that many different races and tribes will gather together in love, unity, and worship around the throne of Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9). What Scripture does say is, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
  4. If you are a white person, do not let anybody in your family or among your friends get away with racist remarks or jokes. If you are a non-white person, please work really hard to control your anger and put away thoughts of violent revenge and retaliation. Let God repay.
  5. Please pray for our country. Right now.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.


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