A Reflection on Charlottesville, VA

8/19/2017

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)
 
I was stunned, sickened and saddened by what happened last Saturday in Charlottesville, VA. Before us for all the world to see was that moment of extreme conflict between White supremacists and counter protestors.
 
I was watching the news and thinking, "This is what happens in Nairobi, in Nice, in London, but not in Charlottesville, VA." But of course, it does happen here as well. Do we ever learn? In Charlottesville, in London, in Nice, in Nairobi, in Barcelona, do we ever learn?
 
Charlottesville, VA was a deadly fight over symbols of the wrong values. But there was something about this particular moment of violence that felt qualitatively different to me. Perhaps we are living in days that are qualitatively different; days of outrageous, uncensored, inhumane violence with too little resistance and even less accountability for those who are acting out in deadly ways.
 
I was at the annual assembly of MARCHA, our United Methodist Hispanic/Latino caucus, when I learned about what was happening in Charlottesville. There were more than 300 excited leaders present; cream of the crop leaders of all ages who have made a difference in the church and in society; transformative agents in God's world. They were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry envisioning the future with hopeful hearts. But when the violence in Charlottesville, VA occurred, it was as if the very air in the room had been sucked out and we could not breath.
 
The power for God's work these leaders thought they had, suddenly felt very weak. They quickly
remembered that privilege was not on their side.  They were reminded as I was reminded that racism is yet alive in this country breeding nativism and xenophobia. I have come to learn that in other parts of the world the struggle is with tribalism and neo-colonialism, but the root of these human struggles is the same: hate of the other that leads to death.
 
There is the death of the gifts, abilities, talents, wisdom and aspirations of the other as we reject the other person. It is their loss but our loss as well. For some, the death is literal like the death of the two state troopers who died in Charlottesville, VA., and the death of the beautiful young woman, Heather Heyer.  God have mercy upon their souls and upon our souls.
 
Just hours after Heather Heyer’s death I heard the strong voice of her mother. She shared on a television news program that she was being asked if she felt hate toward those who had murdered her daughter.  With amazing moral strength and courage she said that she felt deep sadness, but she refused to hate.  She said that hate was not what her daughter believed in nor was hate what her family stood for. No!  She would not allow hate to be her response to even the cruel death inflicted upon her daughter.
 
I am humbled by this woman's witness. I am not sure I could stand with such conviction if it had been my daughter who had been murdered. This strong woman's witness reminds me of Jesus' own words.  Jesus said:
 
You know that you are to love your neighbor,
but I say to you love your enemies,
pray for those who persecute you…
be true children of God in heaven.
 
In no uncertain terms, Jesus tells us that even the hate-spewing culprits of violence in Charlottesville, VA with their neo-Nazi identity, their fascists signs and messaging, and with all the vulgarity of their wrong values, even they, receive the God-given gifts of having the sun rise for them, and the rains of heaven fall upon them and refresh their lives, just like the righteous do.
 
Certainly it is the nature of God's love. God's love is unmerited, unconditional and faithful, flowing for each one of us without exception.  I also believe that God loves even our enemies and calls us to love them as well because God knows something about our human condition: we are all broken and in need of not only God's love, but each other's love as well.
 
When I arrived a year ago to my new assignment in the California-Nevada Conference, with the help of the Cabinet and other conference leaders, I began an itineration of visits to circuits of pastors, and local churches, interspersed with regional receptions.  My last stop on this itineration happened this past May as I visited the churches in the Eureka, CA region.
 
As we arrived in Eureka I knew immediately that I needed to learn quickly and listen carefully for this was a region like I had never visited before.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was Eureka not Yreka!  About 100 persons gathered: two African Americans, a married couple, me a Brown woman and 97 White persons.  Everyone was warm and welcoming, but I knew that I had to engage in this setting in a different way than I had in other places.  I told those gathered that I would share a little about myself and then ask that they share about themselves.
 
Close to the end of our time together I shared with these good United Methodists about the impact of racism upon my life, not only the racism I have experienced in society, but also the racism I have experienced in The United Methodist Church. When I finished sharing I invited those gathered to share what they wanted to share back to me.
 
After a long minute a man stood up.  He was an older man.  In my reading of him he seemed gruff and I thought I caught a scornful look on his face.  With a bit of hesitancy he began to speak.  He told us that he had been born in the South, that he had been taught the values of his family, and that growing up he had never questioned these values.  Then in a strong voice he declared he was a racist.  The silence in that sanctuary was deep and thoughtful and filled with some surprise. 
 
I was trying to think of how to process the moment in our conversation when I noticed that the man’s face had turned red, and that his head was leaning into his chest.  Then he looked up and around at those sitting in the congregation and said through a quivering voice, “I do not want to be a racist.”  He thanked everyone for loving him and asked forgiveness from all who might have been affected by the learned racism within him.  He asked for everyone’s help in overcoming his racism committing before all present that to the last breath of life that God might give him, he would fight against his racism.  Tears flowed down his face and down all our faces.
 
It was a holy moment thick with the presence of the Holy Spirit, a joyful peace descending upon us.    Then the man standing before us looked straight at me and with a smile that allowed me to truly see him, said, “Bishop, you’re not what I expected.”  I felt my blood pressure flutter and thought that he was about to work out his racism, maybe some of his sexism, right before us.  Then he said something that caught me off guard.  “Bishop, you are taller than I expected you to be.”   I didn’t even have my highest heels on!  In that very moment I fell in love with brother Neal!  Truth be told, he definitely stands much taller than I do and I long to learn more from him.
 
As Christians we are called to grow a church that loves God, loves neighbor, but is also sufficiently mature to know that even our enemies are to receive our love – for their healing and blessing, and  our healing and blessing.  May Christ Jesus be our help.

Your Sister in Christ,

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño