“Many Sides” regarding Charlottesville tragedy? Really?

From our senior minister, the Rev. Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange:

Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange
Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange

Typically, my first column back after my summer vacation/study break would be on a more personal note. But this is not a typical time. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, the death of Heather Heyer and President Trump’s lack of moral leadership in the wake of that tragedy are deeply distressing to me and I am sure to all of you.

Racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, discrimination and bigotry are unequivocally wrong and morally repugnant. There are not “many sides” to these issues and for our President to imply that there are reveals his utter lack of moral discrimination.  Yes, of course, violence by anyone is also repugnant. And, yes, there were among the counter protesters a few who were aggressive and confrontational. But, really, what were the “many sides” in Charlottesville this past weekend?

On the one hand, there were hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other extremists who believe that the U.S. should be a white’s only nation. They came to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia (my undergraduate alma mater, by the way) in a “Unite the Right” rally, spewing hatred, behaving in ways that chillingly reminded of images from Nazi Germany, and waving Nazi and Confederate flags – and, yes, waving pro-Trump signs and sporting “Make America Great Again” hats – to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. When interviewed, they trumpeted their white supremacist views that there is no room in America for Jews, blacks, Latinos or Muslims. They chanted “You will not replace us; Jews will not replace us; blood and soil” as they marched.

And on the other “side”? There were students, civil rights supporters, clergy, Black Lives Matter activists, Indivisible and SURJ groups, and other human rights and progressive organizations – including Unitarian Universalists “standing on the side of love” in their yellow t-shirts – who came to support diversity and to proclaim there is no room in America for hatred, bigotry and virulent racism. One of those, of course, was thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when James Fields, a twenty-year-old Neo-Nazi drove a car through the crowd. Nineteen others were injured in this hate-filled act of domestic terrorism.

Soon after Heather’s death, one white supremacist group praised Fields, saying “they were glad ‘n—-r lover’ Heather had been killed”. At her Memorial Service this morning, Heather’s dad said Heather always had a strong sense of right and wrong; “that she wanted equality and to put down hate”. Many “sides”? Really?

Sadly, tragically, racism, anti-Semitism, and Neo-Nazism in this country are not new. There have always been people in this country who believe in white superiority and domination. And there have always been those who resorted to violence and terror in support of those views. What is different in this current moment is that such people have been emboldened by the ways Trump has courted the support of the alt-right, including the appointment of alt-right advisors in the White House. None of us should be surprised, perhaps, that the man who began the “birther” movement questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship and who started his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” has failed the country miserably at this moment. In my opinion, by his failure to denounce unequivocally the evil views that led to the tragedy in Charlottesville, Trump has all but vacated any right to speak in America’s name. It falls to the rest of us to be the voice of the nation’s conscience, to condemn hate and evil in no uncertain terms. We cannot let the racism and bigotry of the past reassert itself. We simply must recommit as a nation to pursue the paths of justice, inclusion, and equality – the values that truly make America great.

There is work calling to us, folks. I look forward to being with you soon. In the meantime, on that more personal note – in my sermon on August 27 I try to answer your questions about what my summer was like and how I’m doing now in relation to Mark’s death. If you can’t be there, you might want to get it on CD.

In faith and affection,

Becky