By now everyone has heard of and at least to some degree grieved over the events that took place in Charlottesville. The city council there had voted to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park. Groups opposed to that decision, including some associated with what has been called the “alt-right”, assembled and marched. Counterprotesters appeared and violence ensued.
My question: what is an appropriate Christian response to these events? They are more complicated than many are presenting it. It’s not something that can be reduced to a simple hashtag, though some of its component parts can be.
First, the alt-right: what is it? You can be forgiven if you don’t know. I didn’t really understand it until earlier this year when I read this piece in The Atlantic Monthly. According to this source (and another from The New Yorker), the term didn’t even exist until 2008. While it is something of an umbrella term, broadly speaking the leaders of the alt-right believe in white separatism fueled by a philosophy of white supremacy. The white race, they argue, must separate itself from other races to preserve racial purity and superiority. Those in the movement also generally espouse conservative or libertarian political views, but those views do not take center-stage; the racial ideology does.
Richard Spencer, a leader of the Charlottesville protest and undoubtedly one of the most prominent names among the alt-right, argues for a white “ethno-state”: a nation where most if not all people share the same race, culture, ethics, and values. It’s not clear what would happen to non-white peoples in such a nation, but the following quote from The Atlantic Monthly article is telling: “I [the reporter] asked whether I, as someone who is half-Chinese but had a classical Western education, would fit within his group, and he hedged, impishly. ‘I’m a generous guy,’ [Richard Spencer] told me. ‘If you truly identify with our people, I would not have any problem with that.’ But there were genetic deal breakers. ‘A full-blooded African, no matter how wonderful he might be—I’m not sure that would really work.’”
In light of this, how should a Christian view the alt-right ideology? It’s simple: with hatred.
Christians are called to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9). Any belief system that argues for the superiority of one race over another amounts to sinful, evil racial pride. We are all by nature kin, as we are all descended from Adam (Acts 17:26). How could one race, then, be superior to others?
But Anglo Christians have all the more reason to abhor white supremacy, as it always demeans and often demonizes our brothers and sisters in Christ. Racial pride is the very kind of pride Jesus Christ died to end (see Ephesians 2:14-18). Moreover, it is an attack on members of our family who have a different skin tone and, like us, have been bought by the blood of Christ.
In this day it cannot be said too often: the ethnic diversity of the church is to the glory of God. As Paul says in Colossians 3:11: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Paul is not saying that when you become a Christian your racial and cultural attributes are erased. It’s just those distinctions will no longer separate us.
No matter the color of your skin and no matter the language you speak, all can attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same church, and be a part of the same family. Christians must oppose any attempt to punish or segregate individuals solely on the basis of race (which is open and obvious racism) and work against any institutional or structural racism that unfairly burdens those in minority or historically oppressed groups (which is tougher to identify and remedy). Together all believers comprise the church, and one day all who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of our tribe, tongue, people, or nation, will gather around the throne in the new heavens and new earth to worship him.
Practically, though, what form will the Christian response to the alt-right take?
We may have to decide what that response will be sooner than we’d like. For example, last week the editor of The Oxford Eagle, Alex McDaniel, called for removing the statue on the Courthouse Square that honors the men of Lafayette County who fought for the South during the Civil War. What if the Board of Alderman voted to remove the statue? What if Richard Spencer led a protest in Oxford? How should Christians respond? I’ll address this in a later post.