This week’s post was supposed to be about the eclipse. I was going to write a cute, lighthearted piece about how the eclipse is a religious experience. Instead, I’ve been sitting in front of my screen for days trying to process what happened in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend and synthesize it into a coherent post appropriate for Coptic Dad & Mom.
“We’re spiraling away from each other.” Anthony Kapel Jones
Friday, August 11 and Saturday, August 12, 2017, a group of white nationalists/white supremacists* marched through Charlottesville and the University of Virginia shouting racist slogans, bearing torches and doing the Nazi salute. At one point, a man involved with the neonazis drove into a crowd of counter-protesters injuring 19 and killing one young woman named Heather Heyer.
I grew up in Charlottesville with a diverse group of friends. I lived there for 22 years, moving only for the sake of my husband’s priesthood.
I learned to speak English there. I learned to pledge the American flag. My husband and I took the oath of citizenship to the United States there. Charlottesville is where I learned to ride a bike, learned to swim, learned to teach. In our immediate family, between us, we have eight degrees from the University of Virginia.
The grounds trampled on this weekend by those shouting “blood and soil” are hallowed grounds for me. Hallowed. As in holy, sacred, soaked in meaning and importance. When they show clips, as on news coverage or in the VICE documentary, I know where they are. I have memories on those spots–happy memories, now shadowed.
The tagline of this blog is “learning to trust God and love others.” In the wake of what has been called the “largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States” (Southern Poverty Law Center), we need to ask ourselves how we can grow in trust of God and love of others.
CLEANSE OUR HEARTS
First, let us look within ourselves and ask what are we doing to cleanse our hearts from racism?
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said in a talk about personhood,
“To be a human person implies orientation or relationship with God. The human person cannot be defined simply in terms of itself, as an autonomous self-contained entity.
“The human being does not contain his mystery exclusively within himself. So that means you cannot first describe a human person in terms of itself and then, as a kind of appendix, discuss its the relationship with God. The human person without God is unintelligible.
“We have God as the innermost center of our being, the determining element in our humanity.”
We cannot be truly Human without being united with God and true to His image.
Just as, in marriage, we talk about growing closer to God as a way to grow closer to each other, so too in terms of race relations, to grow closer to each other, we MUST grow closer to God. No one who is united with Christ can be divided from his neighbor by something as piddling as skin color.
In the Coptic Prayer Book of Hours, the Agpeya, we pray to God to “create in [us] a clean heart” and “renew a right spirit in [our] inward parts” (Psalm 51:10). We cannot cleanse ourselves without going to God.
UNITE OUR CHURCH
Then, let us look at our churches. One white supremacist used Orthodox Christianity as way to defend his beliefs that races should not intermingle, saying something like even the Orthodox split their churches by ethnicity. (The Holy Synod of Bishops for the Orthodox Church in America was not impressed.)
This is quite contrary to the Gospel. When Apostles spoke on Pentecost:
“The multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
“Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another,
“‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome,
“both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.'”
The Orthodox Church should be an integrated church; all kinds of people should be represented (especially in a diverse nation like the U.S.). We want to be an earthly example of the Church Triumphant: “of all nations, of all tribes, of all tongues.” Let us not forget that we are, quite literally, one family, born of Adam and Eve.
Take time and ask yourself, “How can my local church be more welcoming of all kinds of people?”
To the black and African individuals and communities within the greater Coptic Orthodox Church, I apologize for any racism or intolerance or ignorance you have suffered in our churches and in the greater society. I am horrified by recent events, and I am seeking within myself a better way forward. I would be honored to listen to your personal stories and to any advice you have for us.
I don’t want to mumble on where others have spoken more clearly, so I’ll close with a list of places to find more information:
Is racism condoned or justified by scripture?
- What is Christianity’s viewpoint on racial discrimination?
“Love and discrimination cannot go together; you cannot discriminate against the person you love.”
- Racism and the Bible
“Scripture makes a strong case against racism and for racial equality. If this is news to you, let me make my case…”
- God Shows No Partiality
“If it is, as we Christians insist, that all humans are created in God’s image, then partiality based on how a person looks, or where a person is from is, frankly, ridiculous.”
“That the writers of Scripture took notice of ethnicity, and saw diversity as good, makes it impossible for the Christian to hold to thoughts of racial superiority, or separation of the races.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Unfinished Task
“The racist does not see Christ in all, only in himself, and it is a false Christ. As a result, the bigot misses the grace and goodness that God gives because it manifests in people and communities the bigot spurns.”
How can I grow in love with those who are different from me?
- Five Important Questions You Should Be Asking About Racism
“Perhaps the most painful part of the journey was my struggle to find a church home and the conversations I had with Christians regarding race. I fell away from church for many years.”
- A Sympathetic Heart
“We humans are an odd species. We are capable of great sensitivity and compassion, yet we are also capable of terrible cruelty.”
What is the Orthodox Church’s role with regards to racism and politics?
- Statement from the Holy Synod of Bishops, OCA
“We exhort our clergy and faithful to reject any attempts by individuals or groups to claim for themselves the name of ‘Orthodox Christian’ in order to promote racism, hatred, white supremacy, white nationalism or neo-Nazism. This is in keeping with the Holy Gospels, the decisions of the Holy Councils and the experience of the Saints.”
- Politicizing the Gospel
“As Christians, we must not detract from the central message of the Gospels, by making it appear to be a part of one political party. To do so will eventually lead to the total discrediting of the institution of the Church.”
*Can White Nationalists/White Supremacists Be Redeemed? Yes! Just as I speak loudly about love for people trapped in “radical Islam,” I also want to speak loudly about love for people trapped in “white supremacy.” May they know the Truth. It will set them free. Our God is mighty to save. Check out: A Reformed White Nationalist Speaks Out on Charlottesville.