This is the third in a series of first-person reports from our ASSIST News Service correspondent on the ground at the University of Virginia where local Christians are now enduring a third week of racial tension and turmoil.
By Bill Bray, Campus and Missions Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — August 29, 2017) — While most local pastors and campus ministry leaders are engaged in a daily battle to dampen racial tensions here in Charlottesville, one group of ministers was doing just the opposite over the weekend.
Clergy from “Congregate Charlottesville” are leading several groups of protest marchers from here to Washington, D.C. from the base of the Gen. Robert E. Lee monument here. One group left yesterday and another this morning.
Two churches related to “Congregate Charlottesville,” a self-defined group of about 10 “progressive-minded” clergy, scheduled the weekend rallies and events to confront white racism. They also issued a “National Call to Conscience” asking local leaders everywhere to extend the fight against white racism here to every community in America.
However, all 250 local evangelical, Roman Catholic and most African American churches boycotted the weekend events. Nevertheless, the actions of the ten “Congregate Charlottesville” clergy have gained almost universal coverage in local news media.
The weekend events included a teach-in at the local community college and sermons by visiting civil-rights era firebrands Jesse Jackson and Robert Lewis. Both clergymen spoke at “Congregate Charlottesville” churches and made other appearances.
Unable to get permits, they had to give up plans for a “Jericho March” around the controversial statue of Confederate Gen. Lee on Saturday. The battle over removing the statue of Lee attracted white nationalists here on August 12 and helped provoke the violence that left three dead and 35 injured.
The clergy that locked arms and blocked the “Unite the Right” Rally from entering the park on August 12 were organized by “Congregate Charlottesville,” and helped spark the violence which broke out soon after. The emotional wounds of the August 12 race riot are deep and will take years to heal. Many are still traumatized.
A palpable pall still hangs over Charlottesville and the University community because of the violence — especially for sensitive Christians who continue to hold daily prayer meetings for peace here.
Protest marches continued Monday and again this morning, blocking traffic on Route 29 to Washington and on local city streets.
“I just prayed, ‘Peace be to these streets’ as they passed,” said one believer yesterday, as marchers blocked her car.
Both speakers attracted standing-room-only audiences of about 500 activists. At the First Methodist Church located on Emancipation Park overlooking the statue where fighting broke out, the Rev. Lewis gave Billy Graham style invitations and preached for over 90 minutes with revivalist zeal.
Dressed in flowing red robes and ecclesial stole, he preached fervently and was interrupted dozens of times by standing ovations from the cheering crowd, an almost all-white audience. Although he said that his speech was not intended to be political, the evening ended with a five-point call for political l action.
About 50 visiting ministers came forward along with local clergy for the laying on of hands. Members of the congregation stood behind them three-deep, praying that they might been given “Love Over Fear” in the long struggle ahead against white racism.
Clergy leaders vowed 40 days of non-violent action in Charlottesville next year and around the country and Rev. Lewis openly called for a new national movement against white racism.
Lewis is a skilled, articulate Christian historian and has done much to make the case for the complete removal of all Confederate war memorials — which he held up Saturday night as a “proof of systemic racism” in American culture.
“You have to be against the statues,” he declared to the cheering audience. “We have to repent of the race-based, evangelical hypocrisy that allows these memorials to stand.”
Behind the scenes, the “Congregate Charlottesville” campaign is a media project sponsored by Restoration Village Arts according to Deacon Don Gathers who founded it with Brittany Caine-Conley. More details of the weekend events are available at www.breachrepairers.org/livestream
The Saturday, August 12 “Unite the Right” rally organized by UVA alum Jason Kessler was almost universally represented here in the media as a Ku Klux Klan style-event staged by white nationalists — a torch-burning event resurrected from a bygone era of racial violence.
As a result, fearful Christians from 250 local churches in the five-county area around Charlottesville boycotted both the Rally and counter-protests organized by “Congregate Charlottesville.” This boycott again continued again over the last two days.
The declared agenda of the “Congregate Charlottesville” clergy includes several pollical and social legislation including, restoring the Voting Rights Act, opposing the Raise Act, and ending funding for the border wall with Mexico. A complete copy of the “Congregate Charlottesville National Call to Conscience” is available from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at firstname.lastname@example.org
For interviews, please contact: Bill Bray, 434-227-0811 (cell).
Photo captions: 1) Interfaith marchers in Charlottesville. 2) The controversial Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. 3) Jesse Jackson. 4) Anti-hate protestors. (http://www.richmond.com/). 5) Bill Bray.
About the writer: Bill Bray, 70, is an author, retired foreign correspondent and frequent contributor to ASSIST News Service. He specializes in covering international student ministries and foreign missions. He has traveled to over 65 countries as a missionary journalist to report on missions and development ministries, returning to some countries as many as 30 times during his career. He welcomes exchange with readers and can be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com
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