Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Many Sides Didn't Do This": Sunday Meditation Points about America on Display Yesterday in Charlottesville

The president of the U.S. condemned violence on "many sides" yesterday — repeating the phrase to emphasize it — as David Duke, who was once the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, announced in crystal-clear terms that "we" voted for Donald Trump because he stands for white-supremacist racism. As these statements were made, a young woman lay dead after a young man who drove from Ohio to march with neo-Nazis and Klansmen ran his car into a crowd of protesters, evoking for those of us who lived through the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s painful memories of the horrifying violence we remember being used to attack those seeking to claim their rights in that bloody period of American history.

Here are some meditation points I'd like to offer you in response to the statement of the man in the White House. The first and last are statements I made on Facebook today:

There were "many sides" to slavery and the Civil War. 
Why we couldn't have just sat down around a table and discussed those "many sides" and have agreed to keep disagreeing (slaves would not be at the table; they'd do what they were told to do) is hard to understand, isn't it? 
There are "many sides" to the question of whether men own women and women should obey men, aren't there? 
Why on earth can we not sit down at a table and agree to disagree about this (women would be bringing in coffee and chocolate cake while we deliberate)? 
There were "many sides" to the Nazi problem in Europe and the mass murder of the Jews. 
My father, who was wounded when a bomb exploded near him in the attack on Pearl Harbor, his brother, who repeatedly risked his life flying missions into the Netherlands to liberate them, my mother's brother, who put his life at risk capturing an SS officer in Germany, her brother who saw unimaginable horrors as his troop marched through Italy and on into Russia: they just did not understand the "many sides." 
How foolish of them not to sit down at a big table with the Nazis and talk about the "many sides" of Nazi white-supremacist ideology, and agree to disagree. So many lives lost so foolishly when we could have agreed that there are "many sides" and have agreed to disagree . . .

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, by way of Fred Clark at Slacktivist today:

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.'"And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular."

Naomi Shulman, "No Time To Be Nice: Now Is Not The Moment To Remain Silent," an essay she published soon after the 2016 elections:

Nice people made the best Nazis. 
Or so I have been told. My mother was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside chose not to focus on "politics," instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. 
I thought of my mother’s neighbors right after the election, when apolitical friends of mine breathed a sigh of relief that we could stop talking about politics. "That's over!" they said happily. "Let's focus on other things." 
But then a white nationalist was named chief strategist to the president-elect. Aren't you alarmed? I asked. 
"I choose not to discuss politics publicly," one friend said. And posted a picture of puppies. 
Another friend messaged me privately. She agreed with me, she assured me. She was just as alarmed as I was! "Count me among the silent resistance," she said. 
The silent resistance? What did that even mean, to resist silently?

And, finally, another statement I made on Facebook this morning:

A recurring theme yesterday on Twitter feeds that I follow: if you go to your church tomorrow and no mention is made of the sin of white supremacist racism, you should seriously consider walking out and finding another church. 
I think this is a good message. I also think it's an ineffectual one, for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps the biggest one: the people who need to hear it are not listening. 
While many of us were glued to our t.v. screens or computer screens yesterday, watching with horror and shame what was happening in Charlottesville, the folks who need to hear this message — and who are in church today singing and praying and thanking the Lord — were ignoring the news from Charlottesville. The very same way many of us who were white evangelicals in the South when bombs exploded in a black church in Birmingham and killed four precious little girls ignored the news. We went on with our lives, our bridge clubs, our swimming in country club swimming pool, our golfing and our buying and selling. We went on with our singing and praying and praising the Lord. What did Birmingham have to do with us? 
To the extent that the folks who most need to hear the message of these tweets about their churches were paying any attention at all to the news from Charlottesville yesterday, they were receiving news reports so twisted and distorted that what all the rest of us saw on t.v. and online, they didn't see: they saw a fun-house mirror version of the events that turns them right around. 
We and they live in two different universes, and this problem has grown only larger after Donald Trump's election. They do not intend to hear any bad news about him or his followers. That would implicate them for choosing and supporting him.
And, no, their churches certainly won't shine a light on any of this today, since it's their churches that have been primarily responsible for inventing the world of fake news that allows them to look in the fun-house mirror and see the exact opposite of what the rest of us see — to see the exact opposite of reality itself. 
Much as I'd like to think Trump's supporters — the 81% of white evangelicals and 60% of white Catholics and Mormons who placed him in the White House — were heeding the appeals yesterday to think seriously about their churches if their churches simply ignore what happened yesterday in Charlottesville, I strongly suspect that they will not hear a word about any of that in church today. 
To the extent they do so, they'll hear mealy-mouthed condemnation of "the violence" perpetrated on "many sides." They'll be busy singing and praying and thanking the Lord, asking the Lord to bless the man they believe he has anointed and placed in the White House as a champion of "pro-life" values — even as he issues threats about nuclear war in Korea, threats about war in Venezuela, as his most ardent followers rampage in the streets of Charlottesville wearing swastika pins, shouting Nazi slogans, and giving Nazi salutes. 
He's "pro-life," after all. 

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