In the aftermath of the chaos in Charlottesville, too many moderates remain silent.
Anti-American, anti-Semitic racists marched through the city brandishing images of bigotry and hate, culminating in a racist white, male, terrorist driving his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and wounding dozens.
The tepid response was chilling, from the president, from some pulpits and from across the cultural landscape. (For example, of 52 Republican senators, fewer than 10 addressed the racist rally for what it was.)
It took two days for the president to read a prepared statement condemning the haters.
There is no equivalency of issues or participants.
One side dehumanizes and delegitimizes the humanity of groups of people.
The other side opposes hate and bigotry.
The United States is built on a promise of equality.
Racists oppose equality.
Racism and discrimination victimizes some people and rewards others.
This is wrong.
It’s pathetic that something so simple has to be explained in 2017.
There is a silent, significant segment of the white population that benefits from racist systems and they affirm it with silence or ignorance.
The situation calls to mind another example of white moderates failing to stand up for justice.
In April, 1963, the six year-old faith-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference assisted with organizing protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
City officials turned water hoses and police dogs on children and arrested the SCLC’s 34 year-old president.
Eight moderate, white clergymen published a letter calling the demonstrations “unwise and untimely,” urging moderation. As the SCLC President, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded with what has come to be known as King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
It is filled with familiar quotes.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
“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 Council0r 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; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.””
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
The day after the murder in Charlottesville, some ministers who preached about the violence and denounced racism reported opposition from their congregations. At least one minister was immediately told to resign or be fired.
Many moderates, including too many Christians, have responded to the traitorous racists in Charlottesville with less than outrage.
King has some words for them.