To those returning to school this week and especially to those who are venturing to UVA for your first semester, I want to welcome, challenge, and invite you. It may feel like a scary or unsettling time to be headed to Charlottesville, but you won’t be able to hide from what’s here by heading to another school or another town. The hate on display last weekend isn’t confined to this place and the malignancies of racism, white supremacy, sexism, and other forms of xenophobia infect people and communities all across our country.
First, what must be said, clearly and unequivocally: Racism and white supremacy are evil. There is no room for compromise or nuance in acknowledging this, speaking out against these plagues, and resisting their persistent insinuations into our lives and communities. Anti-Semitism is evil. Every attempt to separate and assign varying degrees of worth to people is evil. Christians believe in the sacred worth of each and every human being based solely on the fact that they are human beings, each one a child of God and made in the image of God.
It is very hard for me to discern the image of God in the hateful, violent, murderous faces of the modern Klan and Nazis who terrorized Charlottesville last weekend. I stand in opposition to everything they represent and I am grateful to my clergy colleagues, students, friends, and neighbors who put their bodies and their lives on the line to stand up against them. My hope, always, is in the One who put his body and life in the way of hate and state-sanctioned violence. My hope is in the One who always chose the side of the oppressed, marginalized, powerless, and poor. My hope is that this One, whom Christians know in Jesus, can give me eyes to see what is hard to see, in others and in myself. My hope is not in my own resolve or strength but in the power and grace of God to transform me and each one of us, breaking our hard hearts.
Hope is not enough, if it means “nice, well-intentioned white folks” offer prayers and then go on about business as usual. Hope is trusting the vision we can’t quite see clearly and working towards that and walking towards that, no matter how long or hard the path.
I admit that I am tired of having to write statements like this when our Black and Jewish and Muslim and LGBTQ brothers and sisters are terrorized. But Christians are called to be tired of this – and to change it. We signed onto this commitment and way of life in our baptismal vows.
Wesley is not a perfect community and we are not perfect Christians. We are simply a group of people trying to answer God’s call and live lives that look more like the life of Jesus. We have a long way to go, but our life together changes the way I see and hear things like the terrorism of last weekend. It is impossible for me to hear chants like “Jew will not replace us” without thinking of specific Jewish friends we know and love at The Brody Jewish Center-Hillel at UVA. We have traveled together over spring break on interfaith service trips and joined one another for meals and religious celebrations. So when I hear that chant, it is not a hollow threat to people “out there” – it’s a threat to my friend Jake and his students who walk the same paths through Grounds. And it’s a challenge to Wesley and me to stand with them.
When I see terrorists lionizing a confederate general and beating a Black man in a parking garage five feet from the police station as its officers stand outside, I do not see an unfortunate stranger but, rather, a brother. I see the faces of students I have coffee with and the one we baptized last fall. None of this is OK. Being tired is not an option.
At Wesley, we focus on what it means to love our neighbors. We try to reach out beyond our usual circle to meet and work with UVA groups and organizations we don’t know. In March, Wesley will host culinary anthropologist Michael Twitty and we are honored to list among our co-sponsors the Black Student Alliance and the Minority Rights Coalition. We have some great plans for the year and, I suspect, we will be surprised by some of the directions God guides our ministry and life together.
I often say, “All are welcome,” when inviting folks to the Communion table at worship, our dinner tables, or any number of other Wesley gatherings. Let me be abundantly clear about what that means. It means all who want to live in love and peace with all of their neighbors. There is no room here for hate or white supremacy or anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hate or misogyny or homophobia.
If you are brave enough to lean into hope and you are willing to choose love over fear, we hope you will consider checking out Wesley this semester. It takes a lot of effort and support to live a radically loving life and we need your help. As I said, we are not perfect. We know we need help and our doors are open.
Rev. Deborah Lewis
Wesley Foundation at UVA
#LoveOverFear #Charlottesville #BlackLivesMatter #UMC #LoveYourNeighbor