Friday, August 18, 2017

Reconciliation Does Not Mean Compromise: Thoughts in the Wake of Charlottesville

It's been a week since the events in Charlottesville took place.  Emotions are running high across the country.  More protests, both by Nazis and those brave enough to oppose them, are planned for this coming weekend.  People are afraid that last Saturday's violence will be repeated.  People are afraid that this country is crumbling at the seams.

There have been a lot of reactions to Charlottesville.  There have been a lot of opinions.  There's been a lot of blame.

I want to state a few things right away, before I get at the heart of my post.

First, what happened in Charlottesville wasn't as simple as Republicans versus Democrats, or Right versus Left.  This was a clear case of good versus evil.  Racism and white supremacy are sins.  They are evil.  They are a cancer in our society that is rotting us from the inside out.  The people that stood up to the white supremacists and Nazis parading their hate through the streets of Charlottesville carry no blame in what took place.  They were standing up to evil.  They were standing up for what is right.  They were protecting our values as Americans, and facing down an enemy we've fought before.

Second, the white supremacists and Nazis who gathered to protest the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were not doing so to try and "protect" national history.  Whatever General Lee's strengths may or may not have been, in the end he was a rebel, fighting against the United States to maintain an economic system literally built on the backs of slaves.  Whatever good he may or may not have done before or after the Civil War, his image is not one to be honored and memorialized.  He is an important figure in our history, but he is ultimately a villain in our history.  And now, whatever positive legacy he may have had has been forever tainted by Nazi ideology, and because he is now a rallying point for them and other white supremacists, his image must be restricted to our history books and museums, and not be immortalized in our public parks and town squares.

Third, there is no comparison between the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacist protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.  The white supremacists movement wants to maintain a racist system that keeps white people in power at the expense and exclusion of all other groups, and for some there is even the desire to exterminate those other groups.  The Black Lives Matter movement demands that the lives of black and other people of color be as equally respected as white lives, because the lives of people of color have been historically and systemically devalued in this country in a way white lives simply haven't.  White supremacists are about just that, maintaining white supremacy.  Black Lives Matter is about equality and recognition that black lives matter just as much as white lives.

Fourth, we must be very careful when we call for reconciliation, and this is what I truly want to emphasize with this post.  Since Charlottesville, I've heard many people say that we can't give into the hate and violence.  I've heard Church leaders declare that we must seek reconciliation and peace.  I agree with this.  I agree that our ultimate goals should be reconciliation and peace within our divided country, and violence should not be depended upon in this pursuit.  However, we are nowhere close to these goals, and anyone who thinks the problems in our country have an easy fix are deeply mistaken.

We must be very careful to not confuse reconciliation with compromise, or peace with quiet.  There can be no compromise with the ideologies that white supremacists and Nazis propagate.  We cannot be silent in the face of such hate and racism.  Many people have the misunderstanding that we just need to agree to disagree, that there are two sides that simply need to reconcile with each other.  This cannot happen.  White supremacy and the racism essential for it to thrive cannot be tolerated ideologies.  There can be no reconciliation until such beliefs are given up.  To settle for anything less only perpetuates the problem, and we'll be facing the same discrimination, hate, and violence in another hundred years if we bend in this.

Many people believe that if everyone just calms down, if we just stop talking about it we'll stop feeding the hate and we'll be able to make peace once more.  That's not true peace.  That's willful ignorance of the evil that surrounds us.  We've never had true peace in this country.  Groups of people, especially people of color, have always faced violence, discrimination, and subjugation in the United States.  It started when European settlers first arrived here and declared themselves superior to the Native Americans, and it's never stopped.  Speaking out against white supremacy, racism, and discrimination isn't feeding into the hate.  It's looking that hate in the face and saying "We will not stand for this!"  Peace cannot happen without confrontation.  I do not advocate for violence, and I do not wish for violence to be used to bring about peace.  Confrontation doesn't have to be violent, but it must be firm.  It must be unceasing until the ultimate goal of change is reached.

This isn't as simple as changing someone's mind or politics, however.  This is about changing hearts.  This is about showing the coming generations that these ideologies are evil, and that we don't back down from evil.  We fight it.  We oppose it.  We stand counter to it in our streets.  We blockade it to protect the defenseless.  We give it a name, and we shout that name as loud as we can so everyone knows exactly what the evil is we are fighting against.

Violence will not lead to reconciliation and peace, but neither will silence or compromise.  All good and decent people, all people of faith, all people claiming to uphold the ideals of America must be willing to engage in confrontation when faced with such clear and present evil.  There is no reconciling with it.  We must condemn it outright.  We must work to change the hearts of those who feed it and allow it to thrive.

For white Americans, much of this means recognizing how we benefit from systems designed to blockade everyone else, and being willing to tear those systems down in order to start anew.  It means not hiding behind our own privileges and pretending we don't see all of the wrong in our society because acknowledging and confronting it makes us uncomfortable.  

For people of faith, this means remembering that Jesus himself drove the merchants from the temple because they desecrated his house with their actions and greed.  There was no compromising in his dealings with them.  He restored goodness with direct confrontation.

For people who claim to uphold the ideals of America, that means remembering that America isn't perfect.  It never has been.  Any greatness it's had has always been tainted with the racism and subjugation of groups of people that has always existed in this country.  It means recognizing that the only way America can ever be truly great is if we give up the notion that only one group can lay claim to it.  This is a land of immigrants.  A land of diversity.  A land of opportunity.  If we wish to truly embrace our values and be the country we claim we are, we must not allow racism and hate to have any further hold on us.  We must hold ourselves and those who lead us accountable when it comes to condemning such evil and standing against it.  We must put our words into actions, speak truth to power, and shine a bright light on the evil that permeates our society so that we can more easily combat it.

Reconciliation and peace are our ultimate goals, but they cannot be excuses for inaction, silence, or compromise.  If we want to truly achieve either of them, we must not hide from the evil that infects us.  We must confront it.  We must condemn it.  We must defeat it.  Only then can we make America great, truly great, for the first time in its history.

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