CNN Opinion asked members of the clergy to weigh in on last weekend’s events in Charlottesville. The views expressed below are those of the authors.
Rabbi Shai Held: When human dignity is on the line, there are no innocent bystanders
If we truly took the Bible seriously, we might never get past the first chapter. Push far enough down our respective family trees, the Bible teaches, and we will all end up with the same starting point, Adam. The Bible begins this way, the Talmudic Sages teach, “so that no person might say to another, ‘My father was greater than yours.’”
One of the most fundamental claims Judaism makes about the world is that every human being on the face of the earth – black and white, male and female – is created in the image of God and is therefore infinitely valuable.
And yet day after day, century after century, human dignity is trodden and trampled upon in countless ways – by poverty and oppression, by hunger, illness, loneliness and abandonment. And by racism – the insidious and utterly sinful belief that some people are somehow born worth more than others. Such bigotry is a direct affront to biblical thinking. Racism is an attack on humanity, but it is also an assault on God. (An attack on other people’s humanity is by definition an assault on God. It is unconscionable that many participants in religion forget that.)
To be a religious person is to be forced to live with the gap between what the Bible insists is a core truth about the universe, and what we encounter (and often help to perpetuate) each day. Our theology says that people matter; the morning newspaper suggests that maybe we don’t.
Living inside the gap is excruciating, but it is what religion – real religion, not the religion of complacency and self-satisfaction – requires of us. Living inside the gap also means committing to help close it by living in a way that affirms the dignity of all and working especially for the dignity of those who are exploited, abused and degraded. Jewish theology teaches that human beings cannot perfect the world, but we can and must improve it. God expects and demands no less of us.
Human dignity is (once again) under assault in America – a gruesome reality we saw on display in Charlottesville last weekend. We have a president who without shame (tragically, he appears incapable of shame) has emboldened the forces of hate in ways that are frankly terrifying.
We must commit to fighting him and them. African-Americans, Jews, immigrants and people of conscience everywhere – we are all in this fight together.
When human dignity is on the line, there are no innocent bystanders. Now is the time to stand up and be counted.
Rabbi Shai Held, a Jewish thinker and educator, is the author, most recently, of “The Heart of Torah.”
Franklin Graham: Hatred must be met with love
If there was any doubt our nation – indeed our world – is in need of God’s healing touch, we need look no further than the streets of Charlottesville.
But as long as we continue to turn our backs on God, healing will be far from us.
The church should be the first place this healing begins.
God says in the Old Testament, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
May our churches be the first place prayer and repentance occur. May we be the first to call evil what it is.
White supremacism is a wicked and evil worldview that has no place in a civil society and should be renounced and rejected by people of all backgrounds and faiths.
As my father Billy Graham said after the Oklahoma City bombing, “Evil is real, and the human heart is capable of almost limitless evil when it is cut off from God and from the moral law.”
Hatred must be met with love and a bold declaration that God created mankind in His image and His love extends to everyone.
This is not a new problem – people have been living in denial of these truths for centuries – nor has the answer to this problem changed.
The power to turn from such evil is found in Jesus Christ, who modeled perfect love during His 33 years on earth.
Jesus alone can forgive, heal and change hearts. I pray our nation looks to Him for strength and boldness in the face of injustice and oppression. And I pray we follow the greatest commandments, which are to “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Franklin Graham is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief and evangelism organization.
Father James Martin: ‘Christian white supremacist’ is an oxymoron
How many white supremacists consider themselves Christians? Probably the majority of them. But “supremacy” is the precise opposite of Jesus’s message.
In the Gospels, Jesus asks us to love one another, to place others’ needs before our own, even to die for one another. The idea of “supremacy” is absurd to Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus tells us explicitly that we are never to “lord” power over others, and that we are to be one another’s “servants” (Mark 10: 42-43) The idea that anyone is “less than” because of his or her race is likewise antithetical to Jesus’s message.
For example, in Jesus’s time, the Samaritans (people from the region of Samaria) were despised and even shunned by the majority of the Jewish people (John 4:9). Yet Jesus not only speaks to a Samaritan woman and reveals his divinity to her, he also makes a Samaritan man the hero of perhaps his most famous parable – that’s the person we know as the “Good Samaritan” (John 4; Luke 10). Jesus even encounters a Roman centurion, someone completely outside of his religion, speaks with him, heals his servant and praises his faith (Matthew 8:5-13).
For Jesus, then, there is no “us” and “them.” No one should be made by the community into an “other,” as white supremacists do to non-whites. Racism goes against everything that Jesus taught. It promotes hatred, not love; anger, not compassion; vengeance, not mercy. It is a sin.
In the end, “Christian white supremacist” is an oxymoron. Every time you shout, “White Power!” you might as well be shouting, “Crucify him!” And every time you lift your hand in a Nazi salute, you might as well be lifting your hand to nail Jesus to the cross.
And lest you miss the point, your Savior is Jewish.
Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America, consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication, and author of several books, most recently, “Building a Bridge,” about LGBT Catholics.
Reverend William J. Barber II: First, drain your own swamp
After white nationalists staged a violent confrontation, assaulted nonviolent citizens and murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump condemned violence “on many sides” and insisted that “there are good people on both sides.” Many elected officials across the political spectrum have rightly challenged the false equivalency of the President’s both-sides-ism.
But the test of any politician is the policy they pursue. Will these same political leaders renounce the mean-spirited, race-driven and socially violent policy agenda of white supremacy that precipitated and emboldened the actions and attitude of white supremacists and nationalists? Will they commit to fully restore the Voting Rights Act?
Jesus made clear that at moments like this, anyone who would stand on the side of truth and goodness must engage in self-examination.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,
But considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
How wilt thou say to thy brother,
Let me pull the mote out of thine eye;
And, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
And then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote from thy
brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, KJV)
To say you are against white supremacy without standing against the rhetoric that emboldens them reeks either of terrible ignorance or deliberate hypocrisy. First, remove the beam from your own eye, Jesus taught. First, drain your own swamp.
After Charlottesville, our nation faces a clear fork in the road. We must make a moral choice. We can take the righteous road of repair, as we were urged to do by the Kerner Commission following several major riots in our largest cities half a century ago – a call that went unheeded in the face of denial.
I pray that now we may find the moral courage to reject leaders who pander to white nationalism and embrace the difficult work of reconstructing democracy in America.
The Rev. William J. Barber II is a Protestant minister, co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, president of Repairers of the Breach, a progressive ecumenical organization, and founder of Moral Mondays, a grass-roots movement for racial and economic justice. He is the author of “The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.”
Reverend Nelson Price: Choose the Charleston model to heal
The Gospel of Mark says, “Out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts….” Indeed, every Confederate statue could be taken down and it would not address the evil thoughts that led to the heartbreak in Charlottesville.
Racism, bigotry and oppression at any time by anyone is wrong. There are too many groups embodying that trinity, and none should be condoned.
Sane voices must be heard; reason must prevail. The faith community was engaged in Charleston at the time of that city’s racist massacre in 2015, and ultimately peace prevailed. Religious leaders took the initiative and became proactive in advocating for calm. They cut across racial lines and held prayer vigils. They spoke openly about healing and accord.
Will America choose Charleston as its model to begin the healing process?
We are a long way today from the biblical admonition in the Gospel of John to “love one another.” But the agencies, institutions and individuals of America must now become proponents of that love Jesus taught. It is not enough to stop the evil; we must cultivate the good.
We must stop shouting at each other across troubled seas of misunderstanding. Members of houses of faith must speak of forgiveness and acceptance.
A charge God gave ancient Israel from the book of Deuteronomy is appropriate for today: ” I call heaven and earth as witness today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live….”
The Reverend Nelson Price is the retired pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia.
Imam Khalid Latif: We still remain slaves to our own minds
In the Islamic tradition, we find a narration in which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is delivering a final sermon to his companions. Among the important things that he reminds them of in these parting advices is, “O people, your Lord is one and your father (Adam) is one. There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white over black nor black over skin, except by righteousness.”
Unfortunately, the reminder is something we are in great need of today.
A failure to acknowledge and deal with illness doesn’t mean that it’s not there. I can pretend like I’m not sick, but my body will let me know otherwise. We can pretend like our society is not in pain and in need of healing, but atrocities like Charlottesville will let us know otherwise. Our indifference to the experiences of those “not like us,” coupled with our own egocentric priorities, places us in the reality that we find ourselves in.
This is reality: A self-identified white supremacist literally drove a car into a crowd of people. Another group of them beat a black man in a parking garage with sticks while others stood and watched. Many of them have been identified, yet most have not been apprehended. They knew what they were doing, but will not be labeled as thugs or terrorists or any other term reserved only for the black and brown people of the world.
Meanwhile, former KKK leaders are thanking President Donald Trump for his remarks and support.
The racism that we are dealing with is not someone calling someone else a bad name, but a racism that is structural and systemic. It is overwhelming in its unfiltered injustice and its institutional efforts to maintain white supremacy. The only way to combat the ignorance upon which such racism is founded it to acknowledge its existence, to educate ourselves about its roots, and then move to obliterate our own passivity and indifference toward the experiences of men and women of color in this country.
What is the solution? First, we must recognize that anti-blackness is the heart of all of this. People of good conscience of all races need to stand and speak in defense of those who are subjected to racism. Denying that racism exists, including on a systemic and structural level, perpetuates blind privilege and rank division.
We have abolished slavery in our nation but still remain slaves to our own minds. This modern-day bondage prevents our hearts from reaching their full potential of understanding, empathy and compassion simply because we cannot look beyond our own experiences and acknowledge the experiences of others.
Take the time to interact, build relationships and learn from those who are different from you. When you see any type of injustice, take steps to remedy it. And at the very least, take a moment every day to reflect on your own biases and stereotypes. We all have them and need to start breaking them down so that we can in turn break down the barriers that separate us as nation on a whole.