Bulletin Insert: A Statement from the Bishops of Virginia about the Charlottesville Tragedy

On Saturday our hearts were broken.  An angry group of neo-Nazi and fascist protesters came into Charlottesville, Virginia, armed and armored, looking for trouble.  The violence and loss of life suffered in their wake signaled yet another escalation of the hate-filled divisions of our time.  The peace of a beautiful university town was shattered.  The images that some had of America were broken.

The echoes of the heartbreaking tragedy that was Charlottesville will remain with us for a long time to come.  We have every indication that we will be seeing more of this.  Angry white supremacists seem already to be organizing to bring their ugly and racist rhetoric to other towns and cities across our Commonwealth and across the United States.  Angry resisters are more than ready to meet their violence with violence.

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Church is more needed in the public square.  It’s hard to imagine a time when our need would be greater for God to take our broken hearts and break them open for wise, loving and faithful witness in Christ’s name.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are admonished to heed God’s call to love our neighbors through prayer, through speaking out and through other concrete action for the sake of all, particularly the poor, the oppressed, the judged, the demonized.  That witness was on display Saturday in Charlottesville in the peaceful march by hundreds of clergy leaders from Charlottesville, from our Diocese, and from other religious traditions in Virginia and beyond.  Such witness must continue.

There will be more rallies and more divisions. We must be prepared to meet those challenges, not with violent confrontation, but by exemplifying the power of love made known in concrete action.

As your bishops, we commit ourselves to action of the kinds we list below.  We invite you to join us and to share your actions with us so that we can grow together in wisdom, faithfulness and love.

Whatever we do we may not, we must not, be quiet in the face of evil during this violent era of our lives together.

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff

The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick

Concrete actions in the face of white supremacists and others whose message is counter to Christ’s embracing love.

  1. Be clear about the issues.  Make distinctions of the following kinds:
  • All individuals and groups in this country have a right to free speech.  All have a right to their convictions and to speak those convictions publicly.  Individuals and groups do not have a right to assault, attack or cause violence against anyone else based on their views – or for any reason.
  • The issue of removing Confederate monuments is a complex one with a number of legitimate points of view. Reasoned discussion and decision-making processes are called for.  Using these points of view to justify violence is wrong and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.
  • Many Americans lovingly cling to their heritage, which provides them with pride and identity.  Some suggest that the white people who gathered to protest in Charlottesville were there to proclaim and protect Southern heritage.  However, Nazi and fascist flags, symbols, salutes, slogans and uniforms are not and never have been part of the heritage and history of the American South.  We as a nation suffered over a million American casualties in order to defeat the Nazi regime.  We have been clear as a nation that the Nazi worldview is evil, and we must remain clear.
  • As Americans and as the Church, we believe that inclusion of all persons in our common life is central to our identity.  We seek to welcome and include all people.  We understand that there is a wide range of legitimate perspectives on the issues that are most important to us.  We do not, however, welcome, include or legitimize all behaviors and all words. Some words and actions are simply not acceptable.  We need to keep making distinctions about what behaviors and actions we will not tolerate.
  1. Write to your representatives in the Virginia General Assembly:
  • Urging them to enact legislation to track hate crimes in the Commonwealth.  As it stands now, we do not have the tools we need as citizens to track what seems to be an escalation of violent acts and therefore to respond appropriately.
  • Urging the Legislature to form a task group, in the language of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, “to propose how Virginia can create an environment that welcomes and offers opportunity to all people of color, Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBT and poor white men.”
  1. Create conversation groups in which you can get to know people from different backgrounds or with different political perspectives from your own.  Talk to one another.  Listen deeply to one another.  We as a society have forgotten how to talk and listen openly.  We in the Church can help rediscover the skills.
  2. Pray.
  • For the civic and religious leaders of Charlottesville, for all citizens of Charlottesville, for all the people who live and work in the Charlottesville area.
  • For those who died in Charlottesville on Saturday:  Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, and for their families.
  • For all who were injured in violence in Charlottesville on Saturday.
  • For those with whom we disagree.
  • For peace in our nation and in the world.
  1. Pray alone and in groups.  Join in the prayers of those who pray from different traditions or styles from your own.  Hearing the prayers of others can expand and deepen our own praying.
  2. Do a moral inventory of yourself.  How do you feel about free speech?  Are there limits?  If so, where do they lie?  What is not acceptable?  What resonance do you have with exclusionary rhetoric either on the right or on the left?  As Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
  3. White people, speak out against white supremacy.  It is we white people who must speak to white supremacists to make clear that we do not agree with them, that they do not speak for the “white race.”  Our silence will be heard as complicity.