This is Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. The photograph, as you all likely know, is a car driven by what by all accounts is a white nationalist protestor into a crowd of counter-protestors. Eyewitness reports are that he drove it into the crowd from around 50 feet away, backed up, and did it again before fleeing.
I am tempted to write something hyperbolic such as "this is the face of political discourse in America today." But the reality is that it is not. The reality is that while our discourse is assuredly bleak, and too many hearts assuredly hardened, the people who do things like this, much like the person who shot Steve Scalise and prompted me to write the first installment to bear this title, are in the minority. The problem is, such people are still a mirror to our society.
Too much of our public discourse is centered on othering our perceived "enemies." We just elected a president who has mastered the art of othering, so this is a reflection of us every bit as much as it is an awful terrorist act committed by, well, the other. We have to do better. We can do better.
In my previous blog post on this topic, I wrote about Derek Black, the former white nationalist whose parents founded Stormfront, an alt-right website with white supremacist goals. Derek's heart was changed from being an ardent white nationalist to being an ardent opponent of white nationalism. How? Because he was invited to play cards by a Jewish friend. Derek is a story of what can happen when we talk to each other instead of at or past each other.
And yet when one crosses the line from othering people to harming people, the time for making friends has passed. Since this story broke, I have seen claims that the entire episode was engineered by George Soros. I have seen claims that the driver was merely defending himself from an angry mob. I have seen the "yeah, but" defense ("yeah, but Antifa commits violent acts all the time and...."). Not only from alt-right people, but also from some Christians who are politically conservative. Instead of a quick and clear condemnation of an act of domestic terrorism by someone who, by all accounts, is part of a movement that views non-white people as culturally inferior to whites, and that views "Western Civilization" (read: white people) as the source of all that is good in the world, some have chosen this time to be defensive. To make excuses. To pretend this is something other than what it is. And all over partisan politics. This is unacceptable.
Racism is heresy and it is sin. Period. And while it is true that Western Civilization has at times been a shining light in world history, it is hardly the only civilization that has been so. Not for nothing, it is not good chiefly because white people were behind it, but rather because Western Civilization is inextricably bound up with Christian values. Lose the Christian values, and you lose everything good about Western Civilization. Which is to say, inject racism into the equation, and what is left of Western Civilization is not worth discussing. That is not, of course, to suggest that Western Civilization never knew racism. We knew it well in this country. It is only to say that romantic views of Western Civilization as embodying the best and brightest tend to rightly gloss past those portions of Western Civilization where we, for example, enslaved black people as chattel or colonized Africa to extract natural resources without regard to the well being of the native people there. To the extent Western Civilization is good, and I think it mostly is, it is not good because of white people. It is good because it espoused such values as temperance, charity, tolerance, chastity, justice, mercy and so forth. That the people who espoused those virtues happened to be white is as insignificant as if they had blonde hair or green eyes or a hitchhiker's thumb. Race is a fiction anyway.
|St. Moses the Black|
|St. Raphael of Brooklyn|
It should also be noted that racism is not only anti-Christian in the relatively narrow slice of history since the American Civil War. Among the very first communities to receive Christianity was North Africa. Alexandria is one of the Pentarchy, after all. Churches that were founded from the very beginning of Christianity are still active in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and numerous other countries in Africa. Leave aside that Jesus and the Theotokos are ethnic Jews (white supremacists hate them too) -- we also have black saints in the Church. Saint Moses the Black is probably the most well known, but Saints Perpetua and Felicity were martyred in Carthage as well, and there are numerous others -- too numerous to list. St. Mary of Egypt was hardly a white European. Obviously, the Arabic Church, of which I am a member, has a notable share of saints and martyrs, most of whom would be considered non-white (especially by white supremacists in America). My bishop was born in Damascus, and so was my former bishop, recently retired. Our Metropolitan was also born in Damascus, and his predecessor, Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory was born in Lebanon. The first Orthodox bishop consecrated in North America and one of the many Saints of North America, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, was born in Beirut. I had the honor of visiting the tombs of Metropolitan Philip and Bishop Raphael this summer and last summer. These aren't just unknown people in history who are easily dismissed -- these are actually the pastors of the very Church I attend! Are the saints an inferior race? Are the primates of our churches? Our bishops, deacons and pastors? Dare we measure the lives of, say, Richard Spencer or David Duke against theirs?
We have a choice. We can make excuses or we can condemn heresy and sin and the atrocity it spawns. Which type of person do we wish to be?