Alt-right rally: Love & hope vs evil in our midst

Members of the Union community who joined demonstrators protesting the August 12, 2017, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reflect on what they saw, heard, and learned amid the violent clashes. M.Div. student, Charlottesville resident, and University of Virginia graduate Gary Hatter looks back on the weeks since the rally.

By Gary Hatter


Inner voice #1:  Why is this so difficult?

Inner voice #2:  What, solving racism and injustice?

Inner voice #1:  No, writing this blog post!


A rainy Labor Day weekend here in Charlottesville was well-suited to both my mood and this task.

Having postponed the task for three weeks, Summer Greek serving as an excuse for only two,  I must acknowledge that the enormity of my thoughts and feelings refuse distillation into any simple summary of the events of August 11-12 (A midnight Facebook post provides my hours-later impressions).

Thinking back, that 24-hour period provided indelible moments, high and low:

(i) Sunrise service at First Baptist Church that inspired a packed house of counter-protestors with gospel music and compelling exhortations by the Reverend Traci Blackmon and political activist Dr. Cornel West.

(ii) Chilling encounter with evil en masse as armed white supremacists and neo-Nazis infested common areas and side streets, and face-to-face when violence spilled into our ‘safe space’.

(iii) Surreal news coverage of horrific vehicular homicide and tragic helicopter crash.

(iv) God’s guiding grace in leading us (daughter-Faith and me) to be there and return safely home.

Now, a drive around Charlottesville finds two Confederate statues cloaked in black tarps, an anti-racism banner adorning the University of Virginia Rotunda, and a street full of wilted flowers in remembrance of lives lost. Attending various community gatherings has found widespread anger and despair, distrust of government and police, as well as determination to make things better.

September’s inevitable onset means we can literally turn the page on August and look toward better days, weeks and months ahead. Many of us reading this blog can find plenty of ‘better’ to fill our days: worthy causes, good and Godly endeavors serving “the least of these.” Such work is important – imperative, really – so it cannot be neglected or diminished. Thank God for all who answer the call to be so engaged in countless diverse ministries, most far from the public eye, sowing seeds of hope in difficult circumstances.

Even as we have turned the calendar page, we cannot turn away from the existential threat now unmasked and emboldened to spew white supremacist and neo-Nazi hate-speech, bringing a virulent and violent form of domestic terrorism to the public square.

I encourage all sisters and brothers – pastors and laity and unchurched alike – to prepare ourselves to participate in nonviolent counter-protests to come, joining joyfully with generations past who advanced justice by overcoming hate with love. Implicit in those oft-quoted words of Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – is the call to action, whereby we “drive out” the hatred of neo-Nazis and white supremacists by showing up, standing up and speaking up.

Those of us in places of privilege know there are certain risks, so this is a call to and a prayer for courage. We also know that it is long past time for us to claim our God-given kinship with those at far greater risk by joining in their centuries-long quest for justice. Now that we are getting ‘woke,’ we will do well to obey our Lord’s call to “stay awake” as surely “the hour is at hand” (Matthew 26:38, 41, 45). If we are daunted by the enormity of the challenge, we might find solidarity in Judaism’s Pirkei Avot (Mishnaic text, translated Chapters of the Fathers or Ethics of the Fathers): “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (2:21).

Gary Hatter with Dr. Cornel West.

As Christians, we know that humankind’s best hope is to turn back toward God, who alone can and will transform hearts and minds, even those petrified and putrefied by hate and fear. So it is that we have hope to invite and welcome folks with the Good News we know in Christ Jesus: that God is love, that all are created in the image and likeness of God, that no one is irredeemable, that loving God and loving neighbor-as-self is a great basis for everything else… and, to be sure, there is a lot of ‘everything else’ work to be done for this nation to live up to and live into its founding principles.

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