On the one-year anniversary of white nationalist protests that left three people dead in Charlottesville, Va., area believers countered the planned Unite the Right rally with worship and repentance.
Screen capture from NBC
A 2017 white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Va., left three people dead and others injured, a level of violence local officials hoped to prevent on the protest’s first anniversary.
In Washington – where white nationalists planned a first-anniversary repeat of their Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally – police were on high alert, and Christians requested heightened prayer.
D.C. and Virginia believers engaged in “a lot of reflection and a lot of praying” for safety and harmony at rallies and other public gatherings, according to Marshal Ausberry, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Following last year’s racial violence in Charlottesville, churches seem to have become “more overtly sensitive and are encouraging their people to not only speak about respect and love, but to show respect and love,” said Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va. Consequently, the first anniversary of last year’s Charlottesville tragedy is “a golden opportunity” for the church, he noted.
“We’re not in a post-racial society,” Ausberry told BP. “The church, and I think [Southern Baptists] as a convention, is the best hope for the world to see. The world is going to do what the world is going to do, and the church must do what God has built us to do. And that’s to show love and to love one another.”
To that end, a multiracial coalition of evangelical pastors held a community worship service Sunday night, with a theme of “better together” and a focal Scripture of Psalm 133:1. The only requirement for individuals appearing on the worship service’s platform was that they affirm salvation is found in Christ alone. Some 20 churches of various denominations and ethnicities participated.
“People asked, ‘How in the world did you get a permit for’” a worship service at Charlottesville’s downtown mall, said Kyle Hoover, a local pastor who helped found the coalition of ministers who organized the service. “We … really viewed this as a God-ordained opportunity for the church to finally come to the downtown mall ourselves and for us to gather and to proclaim what we believe is right and what we believe is wrong, and to speak about matters of human dignity, but through the lens of what God’s Word says about that issue and what the gospel speaks about racial injustice.”
Amid heightened tension in Charlottesville, the worship service was the only public gathering that was granted a city permit this weekend, Hoover, pastor of Charlottesville Community Church, told Baptist Press.
Rob Pochek, a Charlottesville pastor who helped plan the community worship service, told BP “those who affirm salvation in Christ alone are the only ones who have the answer for our city.”
“Our city has been looking in politics and in legislation and in rules and in government and even in police protection as a way to enforce racial reconciliation,” said Pochek, pastor of First Baptist Church Park Street in Charlottesville. “The reality is that the answer for racial reconciliation is found in the gospel of Christ.”
Pochek told the Biblical Recorder the community worship service drew about 1,200 attendees and was “extremely well received.” It included lamentations over some evangelicals’ apathy toward racial injustice, repentance and rejoicing that Christ will one day end racial strife.
As a follow-up event, evangelicals will meet Aug. 15 at a local Presbyterian church for a “fellowship tables” meal, where believers of various ethnicities will share a meal and listen to each other’s stories, Pochek said.
In addition to his work in Charlottesville, Pochek chaired the resolutions committee at November’s annual meeting of the SBC of Virginia. The convention’s resolution “on Charlottesville and the sin of racism” decried every form of racism and lifted up the need to share God’s love.
Also in Charlottesville, Michael Cheuk, a former second vice president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), told BP he has been participating in a multi-faith group called the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, which came together under the leadership of Alvin Edwards, BGAV pastor of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville.
Before the August 2017 racism and violence in Charlottesville, the Clergy Collective “was kind of a sleepy group of faith leaders,” Cheuk told BP. The group drew an average attendance of 10-12 at monthly meetings. “But we quickly ballooned to about 40 pastors around town coming because they wanted to know, ‘How can we respond [to racism]?’”
The Clergy Collective organized prayer meetings and community worship services for Charlottesville residents of all faiths, both Christian and non-Christian, Cheuk said.
In Washington, white nationalists planned an Aug. 12 rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House, permitted for up to 400 attendees, The Washington Post reported. Fewer than 25 nationalists showed up where they faced hundreds of counter-protestors. According to The Post, “the day felt like a victory, albeit an often tense and angry one.”
Vernon Lattimore, a Washington pastor who is president of the African American Fellowship of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, called on believers everywhere to pray for the nation’s capital over the weekend.
“I would love to see believers begin to pray for God’s Kingdom to begin to come on earth,” said Lattimore, associate pastor of Christian education at Central Union Baptist Church in Washington. “Pray for racial reconciliation, but also … we have to move another step. We have to begin to do that ourselves.
“If we fail to live what we’ve been praying for, it doesn’t make sense to pray for what we are not doing,” Lattimore told BP.
Ausberry, of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship, noted, “If the world can see us loving one another in the Body of Christ, that can be contagious to the rest of the world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)