I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city that in a few horrendous hours has become synonymous with violence and hatred.
I desperately want to tell you that this isn’t Charlottesville. And in some ways, it isn’t. Many of the protestors you saw on the news came from outside our city. They rallied around the issue of a Robert E. Lee statue potentially being removed. However, this is Charlottesville, and this is Virginia. We live in a place fractured by racial history and racial wounds. There is a reason the alt-right has chosen to center their rallies here. We must acknowledge that racial sin has been present in our city and our commonwealth all along.
Last weekend is hopefully giving us the opportunity to address, confess, and acknowledge what we must not ignore.
This is Charlottesville, but it isn’t just Charlottesville. This is your town, too. Many are praying for our city, and we are grateful. But don’t miss this: Charlottesville is a mirror to your own cities. Let it be. Don’t move on without acknowledging that racial sin exists, even thrives. Pray for your own cities when you pray for Charlottesville.
As one of my African-American friends said to me, “These people gathered together in one place to scream their hate. But they live somewhere, as do many more like them, and they express their hate to individuals every day in ways unseen by the media.”
This is a powerful opportunity for the gospel to be shared. We have a Savior who makes peace between God and man but also person with person. Ephesians 2 says the “dividing wall of hostility” is broken only through Christ. So, Christian, wherever you work and wherever you neighbor, what has happened in Charlottesville provides a wide-open opportunity to share the love, peace, and reconciliation that Jesus offers all people, because everyone is talking about it. Most of all, it is an opportunity to manifest that reconciliation.
Ask your neighbors and co-workers, “How did you experience what happened in Charlottesville?” Listen carefully to their responses, even—no, especially—if it’s hard to hear or otherwise uncomfortable. This is a moment of truth, Christian. Will we say and do what’s right, or will we look the other way, hoping racial issues will simply go away?
We aim to showcase the love of Christ. As I read Colossians 3, I think of our response to violent anger and racial sin:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body.
This is going to happen again. The alt-right has vowed to return to Charlottesville and to take their ideology to other public places. Some disrupted a Charlottesville church service on Sunday morning, lifting their hands in Nazi salute. We need Christians everywhere calling white supremacy, violence, and hatred what it is: evil and antithetical to the gospel. We must stand together. And we must know what God has to say about citizenship, race, and our oneness in Christ, as well as our unique distinctions that make up the church—which Scripture calls the “multicolored” wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). And we must be bold in speaking and doing what is right, even if it is hard.
Finally, we should not be shocked by last weekend. If we are shocked, we haven’t been paying attention. If we are shocked, we don’t know the depths of sin in this world. We shouldn’t be shocked, but we should be grieved. Grieved enough to lose our apathy and be a part of God’s healing in our nation.
What now here in Charlottesville? Yesterday at churches all across our area, we grieved and mourned. It is still tense as I write; as a salesperson said to me, “It’s as if everything is so uncertain.”
The evening after the rally in our downtown, members of our church gathered with our friends at our sister African-American church to talk and to join hands and pray for God’s will to be done in us and in our city. We invite you to pray for us what we prayed for ourselves: pray that we’d use this opportunity to honor Christ and one another. Pray that we would boldly share Christ.
But also pray with us. Pray for repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Gather others, talk about these issues, and pray for God’s Spirit to work in our fractured nation and in our own fallen hearts.