Pastor’s Article for Sept. Messenger: Charlottesville

I planned this article to be about commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But then Charlottesville happened and I remembered that my last Messenger article focused on how the Lutheran perspective embraces the fact that life is ambiguous, and that (in Pastor Fry’s words), “The only absolute in life is the Absolution.”

These words haunted me following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which drew groups of white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis and various militias. I still maintain that as fallen human beings, we must come at judgment from a humble perspective and not assume that we are the final Judge. Yet simultaneously, we can also say with confidence that particular actions and attitudes are pretty clearly against God’s intentions for human beings and human community; such as harming and diminishing life and creation, including others made in God’s image. It’s very clear that hatred, persecution and violence are against and opposite to God’s intention for us. In recent times these actions & perspectives are descriptive of terrorism, anti-Semitism, slavery and white supremacy.

If such a hate-filled rally happened in Moorestown, I tried to imagine what I might have said as an ambassador of Christianity. I think it would have been “Christians can and should unite to proclaim that all human beings have been created in the image of God. White supremacists & nationalists, neo-Confederates & Nazis claim the opposite, which is against our understanding of God and God’s intention for humanity. Christians can be united in stating this clearly. All groups who oppose hatred & violence are to be encouraged and lauded.” I also think I would have added this, “I entreat such colleagues to use peaceful and lawful means to speak & embody this perspective. Please do not stoop to the level of hatred and violence in order to oppose hatred & violence! Doing so only increases all that we deplore. Finally, Lutherans see God at work through authority & law enforcement to protect society from lawlessness and violence, and so we understand that anarchist groups are also against God’s intention for human community.”

What can we do as Christians? Embody the Christian understanding that all people have been created in God’s image. Advocate peacefully for all neighbors who are perceived as inferior or unimportant to God. We can also continue to pray for justice and peace in our world and our nation… and to pray for our enemies. I still find Pastor Fry’s saying to be helpful, because it’s not easy to live in an era of polarization, fear and anxiety, and we may not always respond wisely. Finally, we can gather on Sunday with other sinners to hear that we are forgiven, beloved, and that God’s goodness and mercy will win in the end.