An ASSIST News Service first-person opinion report by our eye-witness writer on the ground in Charlottesville, Virginia. Local Christians and churches who boycotted last Saturday’s deadly rally are now grappling with a long-term plan of response—both to a new wave of organized hate-speech on the university campus and to demonstrations by professional agitators.
By Bill Bray, Campus and Missions Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (Writer’s Opinion)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS – August 15, 2017) – Stunned local Christians, churches, and confused pastors gathered here in Charlottesville churches on Sunday morning to face a new spiritual dilemma, “How to cope with Saturday’s day of death?”
Shock and disbelief are settling in — and most are asking the same question in one way or the other; how could this happen here?
“This isn’t Charlottesville; these are outsiders,” they repeated throughout the day trying to comfort each other. “What should we do? How did we let this happen? What went wrong? How responsible are we?”
So, as a resident of this once peaceful city, I also wondered how we should respond in the future? How do we, as believers. respond to the seeds of hate speech, racism and violence that blossomed over our city and our University yesterday? How can we stop it from happening again?
Saturday was scheduled on many Christian calendars as international students move-in day — the kick-off of “welcome week” orientations for the incoming class of 2021. Half a dozen sporting events were also planned by the University and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. All were cancelled — by mid-morning on Saturday, the city had virtually shut down.
Instead of welcomes and games, rioting and street fights started Friday night in a torch light parade to the Thomas Jefferson Monument on University grounds. Early Saturday morning, while several churches and Christian groups held prayer walks in McGuffey Park and vigils in nearby churches, “Unite the Right” rally members picked street fights with willing counter-protestors downtown. By mid-morning, protestors and counter-protestors were gleefully rioting in downtown Charlottesville.
That’s when police, on cue, stepped in and cancelled the Rally before it could begin.
The resulting violence left one woman dead, two police officers accidentally killed in a helicopter crash, and 19 people injured — many with life-threatening injuries.
The Saturday rally was almost universally represented here in the media as a Ku Klux Klan style event staged by white racists — a rally resurrected from a bygone era of racial violence. As a result, fearful and self-righteous Christians from 250 local churches in the five-county area boycotted both the Rally and counter-protests.
The clergy that locked arms and blocked the “Unite the Right” Rally from entering the park were mostly outsiders recruited from up and down the East Coast. Like the Rally participants themselves, they were bused in from nearby states to provoke political theater, damage, violence and mayhem.
Watching the events unfold in horror on Saturday, both Christian and secular political eyewitnesses realized that the deadly violence was highly organized; orchestrated by professional outside forces — organizers welcomed in by naive churches and community leaders.
Local Christian leaders now understand that “Congregate Charlottesville,” the inter-faith counter protest staged to oppose the visiting white nationalists, was masterfully organized by outsiders who wanted violence as much as Alt Right Nazi racists they pretended to oppose.
From the start, most local Christians here realized that “Congregate Charlottesville” and the demonstrators didn’t represent the community — but no one understood their true agenda; how serious and deadly the violence could become.
Now, these same Christian leaders are trying to wash the blood off their hands and hopefully learn a valuable lesson for the future.
For interviews about this story, please contact: Bill Bray, 434-227-0811 (cell)
Photo captions: 1) A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against the white nationalist rally. 2) A member of the Ku Klux Klan during the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP). 3) Local students let their views be known. 4) 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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