Alt-right rally: Tangible resistance to hatred & evil

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. Alumna Lynne Taylor Clements (pictured at right with her church’s Senior Pastor and Head of Staff Rev. Ken Henry) is Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.

By Rev. Lynne Taylor Clements (M.A.C.E.’11/M.Div.’14)

I often find myself overcome with gratitude that God called me into ministry and called me to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. In these last days, however, I feel graced and humbled with the privilege of serving alongside people of such deep convictions who join belief and faith with action. I am daily learning what it means to serve Christ in this complex world, to work for justice, and to share God’s love because of the examples the folks of this church provide.

For some time leading up to the rally, I had been in prayer and conversation regarding my engagement, but it was a conversation with Ken Henry, my colleague, that helped me ultimately decide to participate. Acting on my conscience that we are called to stand for justice and to proclaim a message of love, I chose to take part in the peace march led by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective to McGuffey Park where we sang songs of peace and reconciliation, chanted the words “No hate; no fear. White supremacy is not welcome here,” and listened to impassioned and empowering words from city leaders, counter-protesters, UVa students, and clergy. In that space, I witnessed love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and joy hold hands – a tangible resistance to the hatred and evil gathering a block away.

Photo credit: Lynne Taylor Clements

As we walked, I saw lines of police clad in all-black riot gear, a sobering and chilling image that no picture on the news can adequately capture. I reflected in that moment that their humanity was hidden under all that gear, for I could not see any faces, no eyes to catch and no connection to find. All morning long, I could hear sirens in the distance, the whirring pulse of the police helicopter which hovered and circled like a gray bird. On occasion, guttural shouts cut deep and ragged through our singing and I wondered to whom those alien voices belonged. Later on, as I walked toward First United Methodist Church with the other clergy, I saw the young, white men and occasionally women dressed in mostly black, pierced in places with splashes of red and white. Some carried signs; many weapons. Sticks, staffs, guns, ammunition. They walked silently, eyes and faces set with a hardness that made me shiver. Soldiers readying for battle. And I, my friends, this city’s beautiful, diverse, progressive people as their enemy. I left the city before the violence broke out and watched the unfolding of the rest of the day from my home.

People are asking “How are you?” And I am answering this way: I am all right and not all right.

I might never be all right again, for it is hard to imagine going back to the innocence I had before stepping off from Jefferson School, filled with sober joy at the gathering of folks who sang with such conviction about the light that will overcome the darkness. I had not ever before felt the coldness of dark hearts in such a tangible way from a crowd; in individuals, yes. Not as a mass. My heart broke and continues to break at the hatred and evil wielded in word and weapon that led to violence, injury, and death.

Photo credit: Lynne Taylor Clements

And yet, despite all that I saw and all that I am feeling, I find myself seeking comfort in things I believe: that God is sovereign, that love is stronger than hate, that at the end, love wins… not at a rally, but at an empty tomb.

I confess my own complicity in a system of racism that has harmed my brothers and sisters of color and from which I have benefited, in ways to which I am still blind.

And yet, this I know: my blind eyes are being opened, like the man who, his eyes touched by the healing hand of Jesus, at first saw impartially. It took some work for him to peer into the world around him before clarity came. I am still working, my vision still not clear, but perhaps better now than a few days ago. Thanks be to God.

May healing continue for our blindness, for our hearts, and for the community of Charlottesville and our nation.

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