August 25, 2017
|It’s been two weeks since white supremacists and fascists came to Charlottesville, Virginia. I apologize for national Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s relative silence on the horrific events of that weekend. Three weeks ago my family moved away from the Charlottesville area to begin our relocation journey to Dallas, Texas. It seemed that the protests, vigils and public witnesses were simultaneously too close too home and too far away for me. For the past five years I’ve known Charlottesville to be a diverse, open and loving city. While the state of Virginia is considered to be politically purple, Charlottesville is decidedly blue. For 20 years it’s been a major city for refugee resettlement. Just three years ago the National Bureau of Economic Research named Charlottesville the happiest place to live in the United States. However, Cville’s privileged and idyllic nature is perhaps what led me to embrace a false sense of security that’s not unlike what I felt leading up to the November election.Charlottesville has a troubled history when it comes to black and brown lives. The events two weeks ago were not “about a statue” as many news outlets reported; Charlottesville’s racial unrest is far deeper than that. In 1958 as a response to Brown v Board of Education, all the city’s white schools opted to close rather than integrate. In 1965 the Vinegar Hill neighborhood in Charlottesville, which included 140 black family homes, 30 black-owned businesses and a church, were bulldozed by the city “in the name of progress.” Progress for whom? Certainly not those living in Charlottesville’s largest black neighborhood. And of course Cville is also home to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and its complex, increasingly conflicted history.
While EPF national remained quiet the past two weeks, EPF members and chapters were anything but inactive. Below you will find a collection of remarks, testimonies and reflections from Episcopal Peace Fellowship members as well as images from the weekend provided by Jill Harms Photography. Jill herself is a member of the EPF chapter in Charlottesville. And the work of resistance continues. This afternoon beginning at 2:00 pm, EPF member Janet Chisholm is offering a nonviolence training at Church Divinity School of the Pacific’s Denniston Commons in preparation for the white supremacist rally in Berkeley, CA on Sunday.
If you’d like to learn more about bigotry, white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, social justice and freedom of speech in our country, I urge you to check out the New York Public Library’s reading list of books that puts the events of August 11-13 in context. If you’d like to join a book club with fellow EPF members, simply respond to this email with your interest. Thank you for your ongoing support, your ongoing witness for peace, your ongoing resistance to the oppressive powers of injustice.
From EPF Member Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas, priest at St Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church in Charlottesville
As tiki torch-bearing terrorists marched on the grounds of the University of Virginia on Friday, Aug. 11, hundreds of people were gathered in my church not 100 yards away, girding ourselves for what lay ahead the next day. We prayed and sang and listened to the soaring words of Cornel West and Traci Blackmon. Christians and Jews and Muslims offered Scripture and song and prayer. The singing continued as the violence outside increased, threatening to spill over to our side of the street. We kept on singing and reassuring people until we were able to shepherd folks out a back door in the safety of groups.
The next day I rose before dawn and headed to the oldest African-American church in Charlottesville. Inside, people swayed to the sound of the praise band playing anthems from the civil rights movement. Cornel West urged us on to confront the neo-Nazis who had invaded our town. We blessed those who planned to confront the demonstrators. Then we went into the street ourselves, leading a parade of clergy and community members in a several-blocks-long procession.
I spent most of my day at the First United Methodist Church, adjacent to Emancipation Park. I settled in for a long day of prayer, singing, offering respite and refuge, and most of all, declaring that evil will be confronted with the might of the people of God. Like everyone else, I worried about the people holding space on the other side of the park, standing arm in arm, facing those who would just as soon mow them down as look at them. I wandered back and forth from the front steps overlooking the Robert E. Lee statue — catching whiffs of pepper spray, witnessing the gut-churning sight of police snipers posted on the roof of the local funeral home — to the back parking lot, where people entering the church passed through an ad hoc security station to prevent anyone from bringing weapons into this place of sanctuary. I wandered from person to person among Black Lives Matter activists, gender minorities, anti-fascists and others, some holding tightly to each other and weeping in the pews. There were no words to speak other than quiet blessing as I moved among them with an aching heart.
I did a lot of talking on Saturday and in the days following, and my message has been concise and consistent: the power behind us is far greater than the evil that confronts us. If we unite across our differences with a common goal before us, we can uproot and disarm ideologies of hate. Yet we must not stop at reactive gatherings to confront protests brought to our streets and our neighborhoods. We cannot let exhaustion or fear or the magnitude of the work keep us from the deeper work of justice — exposing the racist structures that allow white supremacy to flourish, and standing up for moral legislation, voting rights, economic opportunity, affordable housing and basic rights that are foundational to human flourishing.
This is the hope that I witnessed in action on the streets of Charlottesville that weekend, and it is the hope that I will carry in my heart in the days and weeks ahead as we continue the work of creating a better world for all of God’s people.
From Bishops Susan Goff, Ted Gulick and Shannon Johnston, Virginia Bishops on Charlottesville: What We Saw, What You Can Do
On Saturday (August 12th) our hearts were broken. An angry group of neo-Nazi and fascist protesters came into Charlottesville, Virginia, armed and armored, looking for trouble. The violence and loss of life suffered in their wake signaled yet another escalation of the hate-filled divisions of our time. The echoes of the heartbreaking tragedy that was Charlottesville will remain with us for a long time to come. We have every indication that we will be seeing more of this. Angry white supremacists seem already to be organizing to bring their ugly and racist rhetoric to other towns and cities across our Commonwealth and across the United States. Angry resisters are more than ready to meet their violence with violence. It’s hard to imagine a time when the Church is more needed in the public square. It’s hard to imagine a time when our need would be greater for God to take our broken hearts and break them open for wise, loving and faithful witness in Christ’s name.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are admonished to heed God’s call to love our neighbors through prayer, through speaking out and through other concrete action for the sake of all, particularly the poor, the oppressed, the judged, the demonized. That witness was on display Saturday in Charlottesville in the peaceful march by hundreds of clergy leaders from Charlottesville, from our Diocese, and from other religious traditions in Virginia and beyond. Such witness must continue.
There will be more rallies and more divisions. We must be prepared to meet those challenges, not with violent confrontation, but by exemplifying the power of love made known in concrete action. Whatever we do we may not, we must not, be quiet in the face of evil during this violent era of our lives together.
From EPF member The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, Speak Out: A Response to the Tragedy in Charlottesville
Racism, anti-Semitism and violence rear their ugly head once again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia. Another display of bigotry and hatred. Another act of domestic terrorism. And another example of the collective failure of our nation to expend the moral and political capital needed to stop our spiral into racial and violent madness.
Now more than ever, we need people of good will to speak out clearly and courageously against the disturbing tide of white supremacist rhetoric that wants to divide and prevent us from coming together. Too often in our nation’s history, people of goodwill have chosen to remain silent in the face of bigotry, refusing to risk having unpleasant conversations that might disturb colleagues, friends and the ones we love. All too often, we prefer maintaining a tenuous “peace” with bigots rather than doing the harder work of telling the truth and committing to a justice that leads to reconciliation.We cannot make peace with hatred. We cannot let injustice go unchallenged… anywhere, anytime. At last year’s annual convention I asked for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland to live into the vision of being known as “a community of love.” I now call for us to devote this program year to consider ways of making that vision statement a deeper reality. We will initiate conversations this fall about building up loving communities, beginning with the clergy at their annual conference in October.
Let’s not let this tragedy go unnoticed and forgotten. Let’s not let this opportunity to challenge hate and bigotry pass us by. If we in the Jesus movement do not speak out, who will?
From EPF Member Ethan Vesely-Flad of Asheville, NC whose family made a detour to Charlottesville on August 13th on their way home from Philadelphia
We arrived at 6:30. Our family had driven several hours straight from Philly. I had tried to find a way to get to Charlottesville earlier this week, but it wasn’t possible. We had planned months ago to travel to Pennsylvania as a family, where Rima would attend the intensive 7-day “Inside Out” training at Gratenford Prison and Pendle Hill Center, while I’d care for our kids. There was no way I could take our young ones to C’ville, as there had been ominous warnings of potential violence (now evidenced to the world) and there was not a child care option for external travelers.
Shortly after getting on I-95 South, we agreed to shift our route home, and go via Charlottesville as we both felt urgently called to show up, even at this belated point after the Friday/Saturday call to action. Still, arriving on Sunday early evening, according to live messages we were receiving from different sources here (in Charlottesville), meant there was still the possibility of violence. It wasn’t until about 5:45, as we approached the city, that we heard it would likely be safe to come to a community vigil at the site where Heather Heyer was murdered yesterday.
Why did we come?
We came to honor Heather. #SayHerName
We also came because we believe it’s essential to speak clearly to our children about the systemic racism that continues to pervade our country. Our mandate to address the reality of white supremacy meant, in historical terms, that yesterday I took our kids to the African American Museum of Philadelphia, not the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. And that today we intentionally brought them to this site of modern-day terrorism. This is not easy with young children, but we believe it is necessary.
We came to respond to the call issued by Congregate Charlottesville, amplified by those we respect and trust: Rev. Traci Blackmon, Dr. Cornel West, and the dedicated team at Deep Abiding Love Project. I am grateful to my FOR colleagues Sahar Alsahlani (FOR-USA National Council co-chair), Max Hess (FOR-USA interim executive director), and Stacey Mitchell (IFOR international treasurer) for having faithfully represented our Fellowship during this weekend’s mobilization.
We came here because we knew that in returning home to Asheville, most vigils and rallies would continue to be forced by the city to be held in the shadow of a huge monument to a slave-holding Confederate military office
And last but not least, I came to pay tribute to Bill Anderson, who I visited here one year ago this week, a fortnight before his death. His soul is yet alive in the midst of this time of racist hate-mongering and violence. An African-American spiritual seeker dedicated to overcoming the triple evils named by Dr. King — racism, militarism, and extreme materialism — Bill served for years as chair of the Charlottesville Center for Peace & Justice. Our connections over many years through the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation finally led us to meet in person (thanks Allison Liles) just two weeks before he died from cancer, far too young.