The following speaks of my pastoral response to the recent violent incidents involving racism, antisemitism, and anarcho-communism in Virginia. It is a slightly revised (see endnote) version of an article in our September edition of Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger:
The Bishop and Bishop-elect of the Virginia Synod of the ELCA, the Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, as well as about twenty local ELCA pastors attended a simultaneous, peaceful ecumenical clergy protest in opposition to white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville. All Virginia Synod clergy were asked to consider attending by Bishop James Mauney.
Following the violent and deadly events in Charlottesville, Pastor Lou spoke at length at the beginning of worship the next day as to why – although invited – he did not choose to participate in the protest. Due to the personal and pastoral nature of his comments, they have not been published in detail or recorded, but as Messiah members, you may request to speak with him at any time. It will be a better discussion face to face. As a local law enforcement volunteer chaplain, he was also asked by a local coordinator* of the International Conference of Police Chaplains to be on stand-by to support local police chaplaincy efforts as needed, but he was not called upon to respond.
Among his comments, Pastor Lou spoke of the need for us as Christians to explicitly condemn the sin of white supremacy in any form. He also condemned the sin of some of those (not involved in the clergy protest) claiming to be confronting hate groups with their own violence – sometimes using such violence against first responders and other innocent people present.** As baptized children of God, he argued that we each should intentionally, prayerfully and boldly discern how we are called personally to work against such sin: prayer, protest, advocacy, voting, letters to the editor, cooperating with law enforcement, confronting its everyday forms as encountered in our relationships or work – there is no one way God might seek to use us.
In response to Charlottesville, you may wish to follow or volunteer with the efforts of the Virginia Synod’s Tapestry Team. This team’s mission is “to empower congregations in the Virginia Synod to be Ambassadors for Christ in matters of diversity and inclusion, walking with God, and guided by the Holy Spirit to bring healing, reconciliation, and justice.” The team provides “resources, facilitates conversations, and fosters networking across the Synod in order to advocate for God’s desire to weave a rich and diverse Body of Christ.” There are also many other worthy groups with which you might choose to support or volunteer.
As Hanover County is considered part of the Metro-Richmond area, Pastor Lou has signed the “Metro Richmond Pastors and Ministry Leaders’ Statement of Unity.” This represents his endorsement only, and it does not imply anyone else’s agreement other than those clergy who signed it. This statement seeks: to explicitly affirm that all people are created in the image of God; condemn the ideology of white supremacy, including antisemitism, as an unqualified evil, as well as that any teaching suggesting that one people, race or nation are inherently superior to others “for God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”; and to have the signers repent of their own and church’s historical or present complicity (intentional or unintentional) in the sins related to racism. In closing, the signers promise to promote healing and reconciliation; leading “in the way of love, and to seek ways to heal the divisions that separate races and cultures in our city.” The statement is a local, grass roots effort attached to no one organization. It is ecumenical, bipartisan, and avoids accusatory or “revolutionary” language found in many such documents of late. The statement does not directly address the local and statewide issue of Confederate statues and memorials. The complete text can be read here: richmondpastorsstatement.org.
Inspired by 2 Cor. 5:11-21, our Virginia Synod has called for its members to be ambassadors for Christ. The ministry of reconciliation is shared by us all. Please continue to pray for those who mourn the deaths of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, all those injured, as well as peace, justice and reconciliation in our commonwealth and nation.
* I inserted the words “a local coordinator” for clarity
**In error, the published article indicated those coming prepared to use violence in Charlottesville under the guise of fighting fascism might have also assaulted clergy. I have been told of attacks on clergy by hate-group supporters, but I’m aware of no attacks on clergy by others. Supporters of Anti-fa (who describe themselves as Anarcho-communists, or claiming an anarchist and communist blended philosophy) and others did (as reported in open sources) come prepared for violence, and assault and battery did occur against law enforcement and others not directly involved with the hate group sponsoring the original rally.
Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2017). Revised version here is dated 24 August 2017.
© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.