By Michael Cheuk
I participated in supporting the clergy response against the alt-right rally in Charlottesville.
Recently, my heart was cut to the quick when I reread Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Particularly convicting was the first of two confessions by King:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice . . .”
I identify as one of those “moderates” that King described. In response to King’s confession, I make my own confessions:
I confess that I, too, have been more devoted to “order” than to justice, not realizing that “order” is often just a thin veneer that masks and perpetuates systemic injustice.
I confess that I have preferred a negative peace which maintained my privilege and ease over a positive peace which draws me into the tension, pain and struggle that is the work of justice.
I confess that I have been more worried about what some people might say about me if they saw me working alongside members of “Black Lives Matter,” “Standing Up for Racial Justice” and other more “radical” groups in the cause of resisting white supremacy, than what my conscience would tell me if I did not.
I confess that I have been more concerned about the profanity used by some counter-protesters on that day than the profane oppression that my black brothers and sisters and other minorities have faced for years.
I confess that I was too scared to participate in the non-violent, direct action organized by my ministerial colleagues like UCC ministers Seth Wispelwey and Brittany Caine-Conley. They led a group of faith leaders, including Dr. Cornel West, Rev. Tracy Blackmon and Lisa Sharon Harper, to Emancipation Park. This small group stood and linked arms in front of the park. They were willing to risk arrest, to be physically harmed and even killed in order to offer a peaceful, non-violent witness to the love of Christ even as hate, invectives and violence swirled around them. They were among the first responders to assist victims when James Alex Fields drove his car into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many others.
I confess that my heart was relieved to hear that my ministerial colleagues specifically stated that there was no judgment regarding those members who chose not to engage in direct action. All roles of witness and support were needed and valued.
I confess that as I worked at First United Methodist Church to coordinate media and social media communications for the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, I was inspired by all the volunteers who served as medical dispatchers, medics, legal observers, jail and hospital liaisons, mental health counselors and so many other roles.
I confess that during those crazy, tense hours, I didn’t care if those volunteers were Christian, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, LGBTQ, socialists, anti-fascists, or whatever. All I saw and cared about was that they were human beings willing to put their lives on the line to make sure others were safe.
I confess that I was moved to tears when some of them returned pepper sprayed, tear gassed, and bloodied, seeking medical care. Many of them then returned to the mayhem to continue their work.
I confess that I was slightly taken aback when the men’s restroom at First United Methodist was converted to a uni-sex restroom so that more people could use it regardless of gender.
I also confess that the uni-sex restroom quickly became a non-issue for me and for everyone else in that building.
I confess that my understanding of cooperation expanded exponentially that day. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:60: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
They say that confession is good for the soul.
I pray that my confession may lead to my repentance and to a deeper commitment to God’s work of justice for all human beings.
Michael Cheuk has worked as a campus minister, an associate minister at University Baptist Church (Charlottesville), and as senior minister at Farmville Baptist and again at University Baptist. After nearly 20 years in congregational ministry, he heads a church consulting and leadership coaching ministry. He blogs at michaelkcheuk.com.
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