In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I confess to you, my neglected blog that I have gotten into more internet fights than is usual for me.
I don’t know that this is intentional; at least on my part, I find that I have markedly less tolerance for people continuing to excuse actions I find inexcusable. These past few months have seemed to take a heavier toll than usual, and I daresay this is true for people on the other side of the spectrum as well–who knows?
But one refrain I have heard several times has stuck with me: “both sides.” “We have to hear both sides.” “There are two sides to this.” “What about the other side?” “Aren’t we called to love the other side?”
It has haunted me, this idea of “both sides”, and in the terms of the President on Saturday afternoon “many sides”. Is that what we’re called to do as Christians?
It is certainly a modern expectation of polite society. The common understanding is that every situation is a Rashomon: a complicated situation that we may never fully understand, because everyone’s story is necessarily different. So, in order to gain a more full picture, we have hear all sides. We are blind people grappling with an elephant. We are tiny insects on a beach ball. And for most nuanced situations, these analogies work very well. They encourage us to question our own assumptions, and stay humble in the moment. They remind us that what we see is not all there is to see.
And yet, in situations like what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday, can we, as Christians, take the same feeling-out-the-elephant approach? For the most part, that approach is predicated on the idea that truth, while it does exist, is ultimately unknowable. It’s a mystery! So that’s great for situations where the full truth is overly complex or impossible to fully grasp. And there are many of those.
But on Saturday? Saturday, we had all the information. There was a long-planned rally of several white supremacist groups organized by a far-right blogger. They came to Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.** They came well-armed, and bearing tiki torches, chanting slurs and Nazi slogans. They attacked counter-protesters with bottles, metal bars, and finally and most tragically, with a speeding car. 19 people were injured: 1 person died. 2 police also died when their helicopter crashed.
The dogmas of white supremacy are familiar to us; they have been the virus embedded in the soil of this country since its founding. It snakes out in various forms at various times: chattel slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs, mass incarceration–and sometimes it recedes, but it’s always there. Lurking.
This is not a mystery to us. We know what fascism is. We know what white supremacy is. We have seen both before. And we have lost many human souls to both.
That, to me, is the crux of the issue, so I don’t think that “what about the other side?” is the right question to ask. We aren’t missing any information. I don’t think it’s the proper metric for this situation. When I read the gospel, I do not find Jesus urging his followers to examine many sides of an issue. Instead, he urges them to alleviate human suffering wherever they find it. Period. Love God, and love your neighbor, he says: and from these two commandments come all the law and the prophets.
Those commands don’t urge us to a concept of ‘fairness’. Instead, they push us to focus on our fellow humans, and their needs. Jesus tells us that the meek are blessed, the grieving will find cheer. He tells us that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, and release to the captives. He reminds us that he has come to seek and save the lost, as he eats with tax collectors, sex workers, and Samaritans. In Christ’s world, it isn’t about ‘sides’, it’s about love. What does love require?
In fact, Jesus is not fair at all. As Fr. Jim Martin pointed out, the Beatitudes are one-sided: the meek inherit the earth; those who aren’t? They’re on their own. The sorrowful will be comforted. Those who are already happy? Presumably they don’t need comforting.
Consider also Mary’s Magnificat, where she describes how God acts in the world. “He casts down the mighty from their seats, and has lifted up the humble and meek. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” This is not fair! God isn’t portioning out equally to both sides–but the inference is that God sets right that which human order has made unjust. God is interested, not in standards of fairness, but in what makes for human flourishing. God is interested in love. And that’s it.
Which brings us back to Charlottesville. As a Christian, my job is to love my neighbor, and love God. My job is to incarnate God’s mercy and justice into the world. So I cannot stand by in situations of human suffering and oppression and equivocate. More important than all sides on a situation is the suffering inherent in a situation. Did people suffer this weekend? Yes. Because of the slogans, because of the doctrines espoused, because of the actions taken, children of God were hurt and killed, and made to feel like less than God made them to be. That is evil, however you slice it.
To stay silent on that evil is unloving, both to the victims of this racist violence, and to the perpetrators. We cannot love the victims if we allow them to suffer, and we cannot love the perpetrators if we allow them to do the hurting. Inflicting violence, be it physical, emotional, or participating in systemic violence, deadens the soul of the violent person. It does something to you. To love someone and want their flourishing must mean not wanting them to suffer that loss of humanity. So we have to confront and name their violent actions as wrong, rather than minimize them as just ‘another side’.
The gospel doesn’t have sides–it has a position. It doesn’t ask what the facts might be, or what can be proven–oddly enough, the gospel doesn’t seem to care as much about that. The gospel only asks us where the suffering is, and how we have helped. That is the call of the gospel: to heal the suffering: to love God and love others.
There are no other sides.
**Which was erected in the 1960s–meaning my parents are both more historic than that statue. But #history, #heritage, etc.