God is not a racist. Torch-wielding white nationalists and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, Friday night and rallying again Saturday failed to learn that important lesson. They shouted “unite the right” and “white lives matter” – and called for the South to split from the United States.
The Friday evening march and the larger “Alt-Right” rally taking place Saturday came in response to Charlottesville's decision to move a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park to another park.
The rally is reminiscent of an Alt-Right event in Charlottesville in May, in which white nationalists marched and chanted slogans, including “Russia is our friend,” “White lives matter,” and “No more brother wars.”
The last chant, “No more brother wars,” is a shorthand way of saying that people of European heritage should stop fighting with each other because this only weakens the white brotherhood and strengthens the black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American communities. In other words, it is a call that places racial solidarity ahead of patriotism and loyalty to America.
One of the protest leaders at the May event was Richard Spencer, one of several white nationalists including Jared Taylor and Matthew Heimbach, who have risen to prominence in recent years. They wish to privilege their ethnic group – white Americans of European descent – over all others.
“Our dream is a new society,” said Spencer in a 2013 interview, “an ethno-state that would be … based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”
Similarly, the white nationalists emphasize what they consider to be the exemplary and unique traits of their race. In a 2005 article in American Renaissance, Taylor wrote: “Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization – any kind of civilization – disappears.”
White conservatives – especially white Christian conservatives – should speak out openly against white nationalism and white supremacy. This is racism pure and simple, and it represents a frontal assault on the Christian gospel, a denial of human dignity and a subversion of our democracy.
The racist doctrine claiming that whites are superior to all others is diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that God created the world as a dazzlingly beautiful unity-in-diversity (Genesis 1). God values that diversity and makes clear that every human being – regardless of race – is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27-28).
God sent his son – a brown Middle Eastern man – to save the whole world, including sinners of every race and ethnicity (John 3:16). Genuine Christianity overcomes social, ethnic, and gender barriers (Galatians 3:26, 28).
That is why we should fight white nationalism and other forms of racism tooth-and-nail, not only from the voting booth, but in our neighborhoods, at our churches, and on our social media. We should fight it when it takes the form of personal prejudice; when a person of one ethnic heritage intentionally denigrates or harms a person of another ethnic heritage.
And we should fight racism when it takes the form of corrupted cultural institutions; when our society’s racial sins coalesce to warp certain social and cultural institutions so that they give preference to one race or ethnicity over another.
White nationalism and supremacy refuse to give equal dignity to all Americans. In response to the Alt-Right’s choice to carry torches, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said: “This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK.
Signer is right. When whites bring torches to a nighttime rally, they know that even the most historically unaware American will recognize the event’s similarity to the days of Ku Klux Klan marches, lynchings and fire-bombings.
White conservatives – whether they are Christians or not – should speak out when white nationalists and supremacists degrade the God-given dignity of non-white citizens.
We should draw upon the Bible’s teaching that all humans are created in God’s image. We should point to the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that all human beings are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. And we should make a conscience-based plea that appeals to our fellow citizens’ ingrained sense of right and wrong.
The doctrines of white nationalism and supremacy subvert the democratic nature of our republic and run afoul of a genuinely Christian theory of politics. “The danger of the ethnic variety of nationalism lies,” writes political scientist David Koyzis, “in the pursuit of a double standard of justice. When ethnic nationalists come to power in a given state, they privilege the members of their … ethnic group over those of other ethnic groups.”
Americans should reject any attempt to value one racial or ethnic group over another. Instead, we should express our conviction that the American government should exercise power with an eye toward justice for all men and women within its borders, no matter what their color, religion or economic status.
Throughout American history, there are many ways in which white conservatives have admirably represented Christ and his gospel. I am convinced, however, that overcoming racism is not yet one of the ways that we represent him admirably or consistently.
Events like the one in Charlottesville give good-willed conservatives – especially Christian conservatives – an excellent opportunity to begin rectifying the situation by speaking a good word in the midst of a bad moment.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.