I agree with President Trump.
There probably were fine people at the rally in Charlottesville.
If you define fine as people who get up each day and go to work and do their jobs.
If you define fine as people who say hello to their neighbors and help out when they can.
If you define fine as those who pay their taxes and who don’t get arrested.
If you define fine as those who show up at the Friday night football game. And, maybe even go to church on Sundays.
But, let’s be clear.
It was fine people, often the pillars in the community, who resisted – sometimes violently; sometimes silently – the civil rights movement in the 60’s believing blacks were inferior and did not deserve the right to vote or to swim in the town pool or to serve on the town board or to drink from the same water fountain. It was fine people who were in church each Sunday who forced ministers like Shodie’s father to leave a church because of his position on civil rights and his association with the local black congregation. And, it was the reaction of fine people which led to the resignation of Robert E. Lee IV, a young Episcopal priest and distant nephew of General Robert E. Lee, who resigned his position as rector after speaking out about racial justice and the removal of statues of his ancestor and namesake. It was fine people, people just doing their jobs, who followed Paul Briggs, the former Pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, through stores when he walked in. Why? Because he was a black man. It is fine people who resist Jews joining their clubs. Why? Because of they are Jewish and not Christian. It was fine people who refused a cake or a marriage license to a gay couple or who for far too long said, and sometimes still say, LGBTQ people have no place in the church. And, it was fine people, at least some of them were, who carried torches evoking images of KKK cross burnings and lynchings, who participated in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
And, let’s also be clear and honest about this.
Once you say you are Christian…
Once you say you follow in the way and in the spirit of Jesus…
Or, at least, lean in that direction.
You commit to something more than being nice and being good.You commit to measuring the breadth and depth of your life against the imperatives of the Gospel and the witness of the Bible which, at its core, has something to do with compassion and justice and peace and inclusiveness. Which has something to do with a concern for the widow and the orphan and the silenced and the marginalized. A witness which elevates the needs the others and places it alongside your own needs and wants. A witness which builds bridges and not walls and affirms and recognizes the made in God’s image dignity of every single human being. At least this is how I read the Bible and what I believe.
How did the author of 1 Peter put it?
Once you were not a people. Now you are God’s people.
God’s priesthood. God’s peculiar people.
Do you believe it?
You? Me? Us?
Just as you are and just as I am and just as we are?
Ordinary as we are. Extraordinary as we are.
Broken and pieced back together as we are.
Our lives…who we are in this moment and in each day we have…reflecting that which we know and believe about God onto and into the lives of others and the complex and sometimes heartbreaking circumstances of the world as it is. If, like me, you do believe it or try your best to believe it, how awesome and unsettling and challenging and life-changing that affirmation is. To be God’s presence with all of what that means – light, hope, compassion, generosity, dignity – amidst all the brokenness and need and hunger and hatred and searching which we see around us each and every day.
Paul Alcorn is the pastor of Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford Village, NY.