Sunday, August 13, 2017

From mainline to front line

I have seen more than one tweet or Facebook comment in the last twenty-four hours suggesting that for those who wondered how they would have acted or reacted in the era of the civil rights movement, well, you're finding out now.

To be sure there's some truth to that. It might be slightly more accurate to say that if you haven't yet, you will soon.

I say that only in the sense that such realization might be forced on you in a way it has not necessarily been yet. You may not live anywhere near Charlottesville, Virginia, but don't be under any illusions that your town is necessarily immune from such white supremacist violence.

So I've been looking at my own town of residence with an eye towards what might incite the nation's white supremacists and Nazis and violent racists of whatever stripe to show up here.

I've never lived in Charlottesville, but in my time in Richmond I ended up making a lot of visits, some of them for work or internship reasons. Gainesville is not that much like Charlottesville. The vibe and culture are quite different. The point here is not to prefer one or the other (and neither of them will ever hold a candle to Lawrence, Kansas, to me anyway), simply to note that they are very different towns.

The universities housed in those towns are also quite different. They both claim a role as the "flagship" universities of their states, but otherwise they work in very different ways. UVa can be much more of a "snob school" than UF can get away with being, due to varying regulations and attachments that require them to take students that wouldn't get into UVa. Partly as a result, UF is larger. In fact, it is (blank)ing huge. I had no idea when I moved here how large it had become. It's like a freakin' educational Death Star.

But the two towns and universities housed in them have a few slight similarities. Both Charlottesville and Gainesville (as do many university towns) sit in pronounced contrast to the parts of their states immediately surrounding them in terms of educational level as well as social and political attitudes. But other than that, there really isn't anything in Gainesville that should set off the firestorm that happened in Charlottesville, right? No renamed park or removed statue...

Oh. Forgot about "Old Joe."

That's a statue that currently stands on the grounds of the local county administration building, placed  in 1904, and now a source of disagreement. The most recent move by the local county authorities has been to offer it to an area United Daughters of the Confederacy group (the organization that originally placed the statue) who would then be responsible for its removal from public property (supposedly it might be moved to an area with a number of graves of Confederate soldiers).

For the moment this resolution seems to have held sway. But who knows? What if some copycat bunch of hooded sheets decides to cause trouble when the time for removal arrives? So, it's not impossible for something to happen.

And if it does I have no choice to be on the front line.

That's part of the call for the mainline right now. If we're really going to live up to the gospel we claim, we have to been there when the likes of this weekend's marauders in Charlottesville show up in our towns seeking to commit racial terrorism under the guise of "free speech." We have to stand with those being terrorized, even (dare I say especially) if it's risky. We cannot pretend that racists and those hated and hunted by racists are somehow equally at fault.

Furthermore, we have to take our cues from the ones hated and hunted by those racists, the people of color who face this threat basically for waking up in the morning. It's not our job to come in and save the day; it's our job to be there with the ones who are under threat.

A lot of mainline pastors, including some old seminary classmates and friends, did this beautifully this weekend in Charlottesville. Singing "This Little Light of Mine." Praying and singing and worshiping God. Together. And then standing in the way of the racists.

Not every individual is physically capable of that kind of literal standing on the front line. But the mainline really has to, individually but even more collectively, be there with the ones who really do know what persecution is. Otherwise we might as well just go ahead and die off like all those evangelicals keep saying we're gonna do.

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