As the nation watched in horror this weekend, racial violence emerged yet again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK and others met to “Unite the Right.” The whole scene was evil and anti-Christ. Saturday’s violence and the terrorist attack that took the life of Heather Heyer got a great deal of the attention, as it should have, but the marching with torches and Nazi chanting on Friday night gives a good picture on what this was all about.
Friday night around 10pm in Charlottesville, the crowd was chanting: “One people, one nation, end immigration” & “blood and soil.” The German and Nazi “Blood and Soil” mantra was used over and over again throughout the weekend. This was a mantra focused on empowering the German “Volk” of the early 20th century and was adopted by the Nazis as a way of saying that the land belonged only to the ethnic German people. This ideology was used as a way of dividing the rural “Volk” from the urban and cosmopolitan Jews. In other words, when you hear “blood and soil,” you’re hearing Nazi ideology.
The torches are also meant to be reminiscent of Nazi rallies in Germany in the 1930s and cause any Southerner who knows his history to think of racist mobs and night riders who terrorized the black population in the 19th and 20th centuries. Any notion that this was a benign, peaceful crowd is most assuredly false. By the symbols, slogans, dress, signs, language, and the very nature of what they were doing was meant to antagonize, intimidate, and strike fear in the hearts of those who would see it.
But, at the core of all of this racism and fear is a frantic panic to promote, protect, and defend one’s “way of life.” Beneath the sin of racism is this incredible fear that white people might lose their position, their wealth, their power, or their place in society. There is a consuming desire for power, prominence, and prosperity. I see it all the time with the growing xenophobia toward immigrants. The fear of immigrants and refugees and anger toward them isn’t really about economics, safety, or even culture. It is about a fear that native born people might lose their place or their “way of life” might be threatened somehow by the inclusion of others who are different from them. So, the idea goes, we have to push them away, denounce them, and separate ourselves from them lest we die somehow. It is all rather primal and carnal. And, completely natural and human. This is how we live without God.
The way to counter this fear is not to assure white people that they will maintain power. The way to counter it is for an alternative community of Christ followers to demonstrate how to live without worldly power as we trust in God alone and love one another sacrificially.
I should not have to establish how utterly evil this all is. What we are seeing now is a symptom of our flight from God as a people. This is what Southern Baptists denounced at the 2017 convention in the Alt-Right resolution. But, for Southern Baptists in particular, and Evangelicals in general, we not only have the call and ability to denounce this evil, but we are also called to live out and demonstrate the better way of Jesus in sacrificial love. The better way of Jesus does not involve finding your identity in your race or political ideology or your economic status or your real estate address. It doesn’t involve violence or grasping for worldly power or trying to live only among “your own kind.” The better way of Jesus rejects racism and protecting one’s “way of life” (if it isn’t fully immersed in Christ) and it rejects fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, and racial supremacy. It also rejects turning away from those caught up in these things and watching silently as their lives are consumed by hate and anger from the inside out. Jesus loves the man waving the Nazi flag dressed in Klan robes and He died for his sins too.
We have an incredible opportunity to once again BE the hands and feet of Jesus if we would enter into this maelstrom with the love of Christ and confident in our identity in Christ and not in our ethnicity, nationality, political party, or social status. But, we have to receive God’s love in a way that actually enables us to find our identity in Him and not our flesh (2 Cor. 5:14-21). We must put to death the anger, rage, malice, slander, and attacking of other human beings and get to laying down our lives for people – even loving our enemies … especially loving our enemies. We have to lay our own lives down. We can’t take the gospel to this people and culture as long as we’re trying to protect our own way of life and we’re angry and afraid of people. We can’t expect anyone to believe the gospel of a crucified king when we refuse to inconvenience ourselves or suffer even a little bit of loss by loving our neighbor. We invalidate our own message by our fear, anger, and dismissal of the concerns of others.
The Dragon of White Supremacy is awake once again and is flying overhead, seeking to devour people all around us. We can only counter it through the Cross and the Sacrificial Love of Jesus that is more than just a message. We are called to incarnate and embody the love of Jesus for others, even for those getting caught up in white supremacy and white nationalism, which means we significantly care about what happens to our neighbors and we enter into their lives to love and serve them, even if it costs us everything. Because, that’s what Jesus did for us. Until we’re ready to do that, we can denounce white supremacy, but we show we’re not ready to love the white supremacist enough to show him Jesus.
When I say we should “love racists,” I don’t mean that we should love the racism, of course. I mean that we should love the people enough to show them that Jesus denounces this, died to save them from this, and has a better way for them to live. These young men being caught up in white supremacy need to encounter the transforming love of Jesus. We won’t bring Christ to them if we are unaware or partake ourselves of the damning nature of this hateful message against those of other races and ethnicities that God created and loves. And, we won’t bring Christ to them if we despise them or fear them. We must see them as Jesus does, with hearts moved by compassion because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-39). I’m not excusing anyone. I’m portraying the real situation. Their ideology is evil and damaging to their communities and our nation, but the people marching with Confederate and Nazi flags are not powerful. They are sad, weak, and fearful, and worthy of our pity. Hatred and fear has overtaken them and warped them to the core. But, they are still people that Jesus died for and wants to redeem.
The scandal of the Cross is that Jesus loves and died for the white supremacist just as much as He loves the victim of white supremacy. And, he loves the victim of racism as much as he loves the Alt-Right advocate. And, He has given us the ministry of reconciliation by calling all people to Christ. I’m reminded that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector were both called by Jesus to be His disciples. Simon was likely a Jewish Nationalist who advocated for the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a collaborator with the Empire in cheating and oppressing his own people. But, Jesus called them both to forsake their old lives and identities and find their new life in Him. This is what the church is supposed to be. A gathering of Simons and Matthews laying down their anger, fear, and pain and finding new life together in Christ. This is just gospel truth. But, we can’t recognize it if we ourselves are clinging to old worldly identities. We have to lay down our racial, political, economic, and social identities as well and find our new life in Christ to be core to who we really are. Then, we can love our neighbor sacrificially, even if they hate us.
But, here’s the thing. If WE’RE caught up in white identity, white nationalism, and white supremacy of any kind as Southern Baptists and Evangelicals, then WE can’t really love others enough to help them see it as evil and repent of it. We can’t call it for the evil that it is and we can’t apply the gospel to it in a way that brings salvation. We’ll give a muddled message, blame “Democrats” and “Liberals” for stirring the pot, point the finger at Black Lives Matter or some other group, and close our ears to the lament of our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ll turn a blind eye to the plight of immigrants and refugees, refuse to care for our neighbors, and we’ll close up in our own protective cocoons and rail against the world that we see as a threat instead of a venue to display the glorious love of Jesus. We have to bring our own lives before the Lord in humble faith and repentance, or we’ll have no gospel power to bring to anyone else.
At the root, this dragon of white supremacy is a problem growing in our own communities and would even seek to infiltrate our churches once again, if we are not aware. We can and should denounce this evil. But, words are easy. Actions are hard. Can we then turn and love the white nationalist enough to enter into his fear and pain and take Christ to him? Can we show him the better way of Jesus through how we love one another and love our neighbors who are different from us? What would it look like for Southern Baptists to really engage white supremacists, white nationalists, and the Alt-Right with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ?
Maybe that should start in our own churches. Maybe that starts with us. Instead of falling for the temptation of “blood and soil” as the Germans meant it, we should recognize that the only blood that defines us is the blood of Jesus and the soil we need is the good soil in our hearts that receives His Word and bears gospel fruit of sacrificial love to all people a hundred fold.
And, with all of this said, the obligation that white Christians have to sacrificially love and join our lives together with Christians of every other race and ethnicity and to lay our lives down for them has not even been discussed here. But, that is core to the message of reconciliation – that we are all one family and when one part of the body is under attack, the rest of the family should run to its defense and to bind up the wounds and make things right. That is another post, but is foundationally true. We need each other and are bound to one another in brotherly love.
For a fuller, more in depth treatment of racism, the sin beneath racism, how we often seek to promote and protect our own “way of life,” and the power of the Cross to transform our lives and communities, see When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus. NewSouth Books, 2014.