What follows are the reflections of staff member Lamar Gibson and the complete, unedited responses to the OEP statement on Charlottesville.
When I arrived at On Earth Peace, my staff colleagues and a few board members told me that while our support for inclusion of LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the life of the church was the “safe” issue for OEP’s opponents (within the Church of the Brethren) to point to when criticizing the organization, the issue that we received the most vitriolic feedback around was our support of Black Lives Matter. It didn’t take me long to see it for myself. Email responses to racial justice organizing opportunities are almost always met with a few nasty responses about how divisive OEP is and how Black Lives Matter and other groups that support them are “terrorist organizations.” We would often share the responses amongst ourselves and continue to do our work. At other times, we would spend an inordinate amount of time crafting responses to people who had no interest in a serious conversation. We rarely shared what we were experiencing publicly and, in doing so, we gave a pass to people who claimed that we were heretics while creating more pain for the people and communities we have made commitments to stand with. For people of color who are close to OEP, watching this unfold has caused some of us to leave the organization or to feel alienated while we remain part of it.
Today, as a way to end this abusive pattern, and to invite the wider OEP community into the conversation on how Christians are called to respond to white supremacy and hate, I am offering a brief reflection on the conversation within OEP around the events in Charlottesville last week. Below I will share how our statement came about and I will share highlights of the responses that it was met with. Some of what follows will not be warm and friendly, but the truth isn’t at times and I believe, that by showing our community the kind responses we’ve received, we will better understand the depth of the work we are called to do.
In the days after white supremacy reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, I made sure to not be the black guy telling my organization that we needed to respond. Eventually, our majority white-led board fumbled their way towards a response that was shared via email and social media to our community. OEP’s anti-racism work is still in its infancy, and, as can be expected, the statement that we put forth was met with mixed responses from people within and outside of our community. Here are the responses we received.
1. “Thank you, Bill, Board, and staff. Blessings on your ministries. We need you and your work now as ever.” Katie
2. “Thanks, Bill and OEP, for this important statement. We at the BTS Peace Studies Department applaud, affirm and endorse your OEP response and we stand with you. Keep your prophetic power dry.” Scott
3. “We must preach/teach/LOVE! For God is Love the only thing that can conquer hate!” Denise
4. “Do we meet violence with violence? I don’t understand. I saw live what I saw.” Byrl
5. “Thank you for this thoughtful piece and for continuing to be a voice that reminds us that we must give up privilege to seek the kind of peace Jesus calls us to embody.” Rosa
6. “Thank you.” Eric Anspaugh “Thank you for your thoughtful guidance during this difficult time.” Jennifer
7. “Thank you for this thoughtful note. You offered a prophetic scriptural vision of peace along with helpful education about the false equivalencies used as a tactic by the white nationalists organizers.” Beth
8. “Thank you, Bill, for this excellent reminder to not be taken in by “false equivalence statements”. Giving thanks also for CoB pastors & members who served in a supportive, praying presence there.“ Emily
9. “Thank you Bill and OEP board and staff.” Barbara
10. “I’m sorry - I own property in Charlottesville and live in Botetourt County, Va where we have a long history of belonging to the Brethren and Lutheran churches. Please remove me from your email list as apparently you have no idea about some of these issues! Peace!” John
11. “Please remove me from your mailing list. I don’t support Peace on Earth as an agency of the COB.” Pastor David
12. “Praise God. Thank you for this message. It is a healing balm.” Rev. LaDonna
13. “Thank you OEP” Margaret
14. “Thank you, OEP, for your faithful witness.” Janet
15. “Where does it say in the Lord’s Word that it is o.k. to participate in violence. There was a time when I supported OEP because I thought the organization stood for good and right. Now I feel that the organization is more embarrassing to the C.O.B. than any other organization that we have. How sad is that!!! I feel that by participating in the rally in Charlottesville, that you are just as responsible for the murder of that poor girl as the driver of that car. I have asked that our church destroy any information that is sent to them from OEP and I certainly do not want our youth to be influenced by such a corrupt group. My church agrees. Have a great day in who you plan to kill next.” Pat
16. “Well spoken! Thank you!” Pam
17. “This a good letter. Why not share it on Facebook?” Mark
18. “Thank you for this letter and for standing up to the whitewash our president is trying to apply to this heinous act.” Ruth
19. “Thank you for sending such a thought provoking article. I am wondering has this article been sent to any newspapers or to those of other denominations that may have the same values?” Norma
20. “I am not at all a supporter of Nazis, neo-Nazis, or other hate groups. That said I do believe in freedom of speech. If people do not like their message then just ignore them. Confronting any group on discrimination is also an act of discrimination. This is to say that it I OK to discriminate against some groups and not others. If what this group was doing was illegal, reportedly carrying weapons outside a church, then let the police arrest them. If what they were doing was legal then they have a constitutional right of free speech. Yelling and fighting is not a good tactic for either side. These groups thrive on controversy. Giving in and engaging in alternative-terrorism and intimidation tactics does not make the issues go away. It only enhances and spreads the behavior.” John
21. “I read your comments on responding to Charlotesville with great interest. But I am puzzled on a number of issues: First a disclaimer- I have no interest in accepting or approving of the groups that were present at the legal (permit issued) rally. However I have no positive thoughts for the illegal protesters that interrupted it; nor do I approve of the driver who hit the crowd. There is plenty of blame to go around. 1) Why is it wrong to have a statue that commemorates the sacrifice of a community in that community? The figures on theses statues that are being removed, for the large part are local people or war memorials. Is remembering the sacrifice of those who came before us wrong? Or conversely if this removal of historical statues is right because they cause pain; would it not also be logical to remove all of the world war 2 memorials because of the pain our country caused our Asian citizens? Yes slavery is evil, yes it caused much harm and pain in its time. But frankly- no one alive now and has lived their lives in this country; has ever been held as slaves, forced to work the fields by hand, getting wiped and sold as some other person pleases. So I don’t understand the sense of outrage at statues. It would be like saying I have the right to start a riot in every place I preach, because I meet someone who is German and the Nazis killed part of my mom’s family in the death camps. (That last part is true by the way.) 2) Why should the cultural group that is forcing these ideas on the rest of the country get a pass on their share of the blame, when other groups decide they would like to hold a protest about what is happening? And what gives them the right to ignore the laws of the land, show up and hold an illegal protest (one without permits or permission) to incite the anger and strife that spilled over in Virginia last weekend and think they share no part of the blame? This is the same kind of question I asked when the riots during the Inauguration occurred. There were about a half a dozen protests during the two preceding Inaugurations including hundreds of thousand of people from the other side of aisle, yet no riots, no violence, no businesses damages or destroyed. 3) What has the Christian church in general been doing for the last 8-10 years to diffuse the growing anger across the country, regardless of the source? In many ways we have been guilty of spreading it, not actively being part of the solution. 4) How is your organization addressing the hatred and attacks against Christians in this nation? Or is it because on many topics you happen to be supportive of the haters and attackers, you stay silent? I would love to enter into a productive conversation with you and others about these thoughts. May the LORD bless your studies and ministry.” Robert
22. “Does that mean you include the Alt-Right who also feel marginalized which is why they are where they are? The people in the picture you show also are indeed very peaceful, including the unofficial militia you see there. But there were folks on both sides down there with hate signs, clubs, rocks and anger in their hearts. Your picture shows the ideal, but there were many hateful people down there as well. Your statement that there is no moral equivilancy is a logically false statement. The BLM has inspired violence and murder again cops with signs and shouting to kill cops and white people generally and that I can almost absolutely certify is what has brought the KKK and Neo-Nazis out of the woodwork. Prior to that they had been mostly silent for years. Also the Ult-Left has been following congress people around shouting them down when they are trying to communicate with constituents. You have cherry picked false equivilancies and then distorted them to try to make your point. Groups like yours only make things worse by denying the whole truth of what is going on here. In effect, by doing so, you are dishonestly contributing to the problem. And I would be happy to discuss that with you any time as to how to wind this problem back down to a manageable level rather that ratcheting it up as you are helping to do now. If you really want to improve things rather than help to start a revolution you are doing things very wrong now. And you are not alone in that.” Marv
23. “Thanks Bill and OEP for your timely response to the situation in Charlottesville and to racist violence and white supremacy. Robert
24. “Thank you for these Loving and Wise words!” Ton
Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail the following words with people who criticized his presence there: “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Inspired by Jesus and the words of Dr. King, I believe that the cross is turned upside down when the desire for shallow peace means silencing the voices of those who experience and stand up to hatred and bigotry. When hate speech, protected as “free speech” is used to glorify monuments to slavery and Jim Crow, it should be called for what it is and, like Jesus, we should turn over the tables that glorify domination and oppression. Racism is more than Nazis and Klan members memorializing the Confederacy or threatening Jews. It also includes telling people of color, and those that stand with them, that their outrage and opposition to bigotry is as misguided as the acts of the racists themselves. It includes calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” and prescribing “appropriate” responses to communities of color affected by the systemic racism that plagues our nation and our church. The Church of the Brethren has a history of statements that affirm the church’s commitments to improving race relations and standing up for social justice. In the 1986 publication, Making the Connection, the church called on its congregations and members to understand that discrimination and civil rights abuses of all kinds are connected and the church has a duty to respond. In that spirit, OEP will continue speaking with a Jesus-inspired voice to the issues of our time and we urge our community to do the same.
Lamar Gibson, Director of Development
***Many of the email responses are addressed to Bill (Scheurer), our Executive Director. While his name appeared as the sender of the message, he was not the primary writer. The statement was developed by members of the OEP board and staff.