As I spent time watching for the response of many friends on social media to what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend there was one thing that stood out more glaringly than anything else. It wasn’t the response or lack thereof of President Trump. It wasn’t the hate filled invective of the damned Nazis and Klan, or as they call themselves now, the “Alt-Right.” It wasn’t the response most elected Republican or Democrat office holders, or of civil rights activists. It was the silence of conservative Christians and ordained clergy of whom I have many friends, some going back decades. The silence was deafening.
But the silence of conservative Christians was even more deafening when I heard the claims of the Nazis and their supporters who called the violence “a victory of victories,” “the beginning of their revolution,” “their Beer Hall Putsch,” and that it “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” Even so most remained silent, the great and the small, the elected and the ordained, the politically active and the non-politically active.
As I thought about this I knew that it had happened before, both in the United States and elsewhere. So I mused upon the words of the German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that he wrote while a prisoner of the Nazi Gestapo, and the question that he posed to himself, and to those who would read his writings after his execution at Flosseberg Concentration camp. He wrote:
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”
It is a good question for all of us to ponder. But I think that it is a more pertinent question who for whatever reason cannot condemn the evil of racism, race hatred, and racial superiority. Whether it is those who excuse evil by using the argument of moral equivalence, those who are too afraid to speak up because it might cause them the loss of popularity or profit, and those who while maintaining their outward respectability quietly agree with the evil. I found it troubling that I saw very few conservative Christians, great or small, openly condemn the violence and death caused by the Nazis in Charlottesville, and like Bonhoeffer I ask, are we still of any use?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Yes, this does matter. It is a stain upon our nation, but even more for the Christian it is a profound witness against Jesus Christ, and a stain upon his Church. If those who profess the name of Christ cannot stand in the face of evil then what use are we?
Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Please don’t get me wrong, I know a number of theologically conservative Christian friends, including my Friend Fr. Kenneth Tanner who have been a consistent witness for Christ and justice, and Kenneth is quite eloquent in his witness. But sadly I haven’t seen many who can even bother to put a like on an anti-Nazi and anti-racism post. Why I don’t know, maybe they don’t want to appear political, but there are times that even the most non-political people have to speak up.
Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, risked his status and reputation to speak out against the racism that helped bring about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by members of the KKK which killed four little girls and wounded many more. He noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”
Too many Christians are turning a blind eye and remaining silent in the face of the evil of White Supremacy and race hatred, remaining silent and not surprisingly justice and liberty are dying.
Thus I repeat Bonhoeffer’s question, are we still of any use?