By Elijah Lutz, Opinion Editor
When the white nationalist and neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville became violent, senselessly taking the life of Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, the world reacted. American politicians immediately released statements condemning these domestic terrorists, calling white nationalism what it essentially is: a pox on society that has absolutely no place in the United States. Celebrities and other well-known figures did the same in their own way, taking to social media outlets like Twitter to express their disgust and denounce the violent protests.
The White House did not have as strong of a rebuke, however. President Trump, on two different occasions, attributed the violence to both sides of the protest, claiming the media was unfairly attacking many on the side of the alt-right and was failing to call out the “alt-left.” Many members of the White House council of business leaders resigned in the wake of the White House’s response to the incident, causing the President to dissolve that council altogether. One council, on the other hand, did not have as strong of a response: the evangelical advisory board.
As a point of reference, the evangelical advisory board is made up of about 25 leaders in the evangelical community, including pastors and other persons of note, such as former congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. Unlike the business leaders, only one member of the evangelical board has resigned.
According to The Washington Post, the only member of the board who resigned in the fallout is Pastor A.R. Bernard, the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in New York City, which has a membership base of 37,000. In a statement released on Aug. 18, Bernard stated that he agreed to be on the board, because “it often takes a gathering of unlikely individuals to shape the future of our nation on issues of faith and inner city initiatives.” He went on to say that “it became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration. I quietly stepped away from my involvement with the board several months ago, and submitted my letter of formal resignation as of Tues, Aug. 15, 2017.”
In an article appearing on the website for Auburn Theological Seminary, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior vice president of Auburn Seminary, called for all members of the board to resign. In it, he said, “It seems incredible to those of us who dare to think that people who profess to follow a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew would be hesitant to call out President Trump….”
As Asbury University students returned to chapel sessions three times a week, Dr. Sandra Gray, president of Asbury, said very frankly “I condemn all forms of bigotry as manifested in white supremacy, anti-semitism, all hatred and sin that divides our country today, and I also condemn those who seek to politicize it for personal gain.” Her condemnation was strong and very forthcoming, calling out those who were clearly living outside of the word of God. While she is not a member of the evangelical advisory board, she used her time in the pulpit to expressly state that hate, bigotry and all other forms of discrimination are wrong.
This is a stark difference to some of the other members of the board, who reaffirmed their support of the President. Pastor Jack Graham tweeted, “The self-righteous condemned Jesus for loving sinners and hanging out with them. We should never fail to love the people He loves.” Tony Suarez, the vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also tweeted, “Could you imagine Daniel, Jeremiah, Samuel, Nation or Isaiah saying they’d no longer advise or speak to the king or government?”
Let’s be very clear here: white nationalism is expressly opposed to Christianity. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Furthermore, the concept of white nationalism is contrary to the word of Christ himself, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” White nationalists do not have love for another, rather they have hate for those who are not white of skin.
So why is it that, despite the words of Christ being clear and supported by Paul, that the strongest actions against the White House’s lackluster condemnation has been from business leaders rather than faith leaders? We Christians claim to be ahead of others when it comes to treatment of others, yet many evangelical leaders have supported those who do not call out the lack of true condemnation of this non-Christian rhetoric. While I am not saying that these leaders represent the thoughts of all Christians, we should hold our faith leaders accountable to the degree we hold our government leaders accountable.
Faith leaders should take a note from Asbury’s president: call out hate for what it is, and be abundantly clear with your words. Hate is not Christian, bigotry is not Christian and supporting those who support this hate is also not Christian. We should all strive to bring those who hate into the loving light of the Lord, for as it is written in the first letter of John, “Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.”
Photo from WikiCommons