Summer in the Maritimes can be magnificent, especially when, as this year, it extends well into the month of September with clear blue skies and warm weather. One can believe, at the beginning of another academic year with all its potential and promise, that all is well with the world.
But we know that this is not the case. Around the world, it has been an uneasy, difficult summer, extending into the fall. Even as I write these words, the news of another terrorist attack in London’s underground system is making its way around the world, and once again the American president is tweeting out lame and impassioned responses about “loser terrorists” as though he is a radio shock jock rather than the leader of a major nation. Over the summer, bomb and automobile attacks rocked Manchester, London, and Paris, among others; the ongoing cycle of violence in Iraq’s civil war and in Afghanistan continued; Myanmar was added to the list of nations producing new refugees in a world already overloaded with people fleeing for their safety and their lives.
In the midst of what was, for me, a gentle and restful August, I was disturbed and dismayed to see the news from Charlottesville, Virginia, which was ostensibly stirred by plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. This culminated in right-wing nationalists marching through the streets, where they were met with protestors opposing their racist display. The shocking news of these racist displays was made worse when a white nationalist deliberately drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring many.
I remember going to church the next morning, reflecting on the events that had transpired in the university town of Charlottesville; admittedly, both the town and University are ten times larger than Sackville and Mount Allison, but nonetheless I could not help imagining such an event here. My initial thought was that I belong to a faith that teaches and practices love, and that what we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outright display of the very opposites of faith and love — namely fear and hatred. Jesus was a teacher of love.
But as I reflected further I recognized that Jesus was also a prophet for justice and, according to the gospel narratives, a healer. The three – love, justice, healing – go together. For instance, in love, according to the gospel narratives, Jesus performed healing acts on those who were possessed. It is interesting to note that when he performed a healing of possession, in almost every case he first named the demon; in cases of illness, he named the condition. He did the same in his prophetic condemnation of abusive power and unjust religion. So when I saw a picture of Charlottesville clergy walking together on Sunday morning, they were, in their actions, declaring a stand: naming hatred and evil, in love, in order to announce the need for justice. It is important that, in love, the Church does not lose sight of its prophetic mandate: to call out evil and to name it.
The Christian Church must be loving, but must also hold to its prophetic voice and find the courage to fight for what is right and good. It is important to call out evil, in the interests of healing the community and the nation. We can and must continue to identify white supremacy as an evil that we have a responsibility to counter. While an arrest was immediately made of the young white supremacist who drove his car into a group of protestors, all those who rallied in the name of the “white nation” also bear responsibility for this hate crime. Those who wave the Nazi flag and march in the name of white power must be called out as evil and stopped.
When we at the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition began our work in Sackville, we were the targets for some public attacks, largely through social media and posters. It escalated quickly, and I eventually involved the police, who seemed either reluctant or unsure of what to do. One very kind and well-meaning police officer finally admitted that the principal perpetrator of the public Islamophobic posts was “a mean-spirited person.” I told her that it was not just a question of being mean-spirited: it was important to recognize it as racism, hatred and evil, and, as such, something that needed to be called out and stopped. I was not fearful of what those opposed to our work were saying; I was fearful instead of what the consequences of that proclamation of hatred and evil might be, perhaps inspiring others to violent and criminal action.
Right-wing extremism is on the rise in the United States, and there are signs that groups espousing racist and white supremacist views are becoming more emboldened and public in Canada. We cannot stand by silently and declare that the Church is in the business of love only. Love and justice go hand in hand. As Martin Luther King declared in his campaign for civil rights, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
I long for the day that I see love and justice effecting healing in our world, as I look out on it through stained glass.