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Love needed now more than ever

On Saturday, Aug. 12, we left Thurmont at about 3 a.m. to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to lend our support and solidarity to those standing up for love and against hatred. We were responding to the call to get at least 1,000 clergy in attendance at the peaceful counter-protest. We felt compelled to travel several hours, long before the sun came up, to express our commitment to standing up for what is right and standing with those who are the targets of hatred, intimidation and discrimination.

love-needed-now-wolfe-150.jpgWhile we witnessed far too much fear, anger, hatred and violence, we also witnessed courage, compassion, love and ministering to those who were injured. While many of the white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis were armed with weapons (e.g., rifles, bats, sticks, pepper spray, shields, etc.), the counter-protesters were armed with clerical garb, T-shirts and signs promoting love and peace and denouncing bigotry, hate and exclusion. While there were some young counter-protesters who identified themselves as anti-fascists and were prepared to meet the white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis toe-to-toe, it was very clear that the violence was a specific goal of many of those now calling themselves the “alt-right.” They came, quite literally, armed for battle. Their chants of “blood and soil” and “F--- you, f------” and “Jews will not replace us,” the intense look in their eyes, and their weapons, signs and various symbols were clearly meant to terrorize and traumatize. In many ways, it worked. It was a frightening and traumatizing event that resulted in death and injury. However, it is our observation that love and peaceful protest were the more powerful forces that day.

Our requests of our fellow citizens in Frederick County are the following:

(1) Call what happened Aug. 12 in Charlottesville what it was: domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis who are committed to ideals and values based on racism, nativism, anti-Semitism, fear, anger and violence. We must not falsely claim that the violence was the result of “many sides.” Such a view is distorted.

(2) Recognize that what we all witnessed in Charlottesville that Saturday — whether in person or on our TV, computer and mobile device screens — was not an aberration, it was a predictable outcome. When we collectively fail to talk openly and accurately about the depth of white supremacy and antisemitism that are embedded in our American experience, and when we have leaders at the highest levels who wink and nod at white supremacists and neo-Nazis, what happened Aug. 12 is, indeed, predictable. White supremacy and other forms of hate are a cancer that we have never fully acknowledged and addressed in this country. We, especially white Americans, are largely in denial about the role of white supremacy and anti-Semitism in our past, as well as in our present circumstances.

(3) Commit ourselves to the painful and difficult but absolutely necessary work of truth and reconciliation. There is no way to heal and move forward if we do not tell the truth about our original sin of white supremacy and the many ways it continues to affect nearly every aspect of our society. Those of us who claim that white supremacy — whether manifested in the form of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, anti-immigrant sentiments and policies — and other forms of hate are largely behind us and only to be found in small pockets of extremists, are actually contributing to the problem. Ignorance and denial allow white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate to persist and even grow. We must acknowledge that white supremacy and antisemitism are alive and well and infecting and affecting our lives today.

(4) Believe in and be true to the insight that love is far more powerful than hate, and that the path forward must be built on love of all people from all backgrounds. This means, for example, that those of us who are committed to racial and social justice must denounce the actions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but we must genuinely love even those who are responding to fear with hatred and bigotry. We must build bridges across various groups and communities, not walls. We white Americans, many of whom identify as Christians, have to look ourselves in the mirror and do an honest inventory of own biases, seeking to identify our blind spots (through personal reflection and open conversations with others), and change and correct our ways of both thinking and acting. The same is true when it comes to our national history and identity — we must know ourselves and our history more accurately and more fully. The problem is “not out there” as much as it is “inside us” and “inside the U.S.” Even in the face of the hatred and violence we witnessed in Charlottesville, we remain hopeful that we can grow in love and peace as individuals and as a society. This is our hope and our prayer.