Charlottesville Clergy Collective

Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville

Warning: This post is going to be rather depressing, especially for (a) old-school journalists, (b) religious believers seeking racial reconciliation and (c) consistent, even radical, defenders of the First Amendment.

I really struggled as host Todd Wilken and I recorded this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) and I think you'll be able to hear that in my voice. From my perspective, the media coverage of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., descended into chaos and shouting and the public ended up with more heat that light, in terms of basic information.

The key question, of course, is what did these demonstrations/riots have to do with religion?

That's where this post will end up, so hang in there with me.

But let's start connecting some dots, starting with a shocking headline from the op-ed page of The New York Times, America's most powerful news operation. Did you see this one?

The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech

As a First Amendment liberal, that made me shudder. The whole idea is that the ACLU is struggling to defend its historic commitment to free speech -- even on the far right. In the context of Charlottesville, that leads to this (in the Times op-ed):

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.
After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.
While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.

The key, of course, is that the rally descended into violence.

 

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Imported Charlottesville clergy: When a simple narrative overtakes the complex facts

Imported Charlottesville clergy: When a simple narrative overtakes the complex facts

Everyone is doing their Charlottesville post-mortems, which is why I was interested in what the New Yorker had to say about how church leaders there prepared for white supremacists.

The local clergy, and visiting clergy, played a crucial role in this story and many reporters made little or no effort to separate this group of counter-protesters from the highly confrontational, and ultimately violent, Antifa crowd that came in from outside.

That brings us to this New Yorker piece. What I didn't expect was a romanticized version of local clergy activism and a de-emphasis on the amount of outside clergy reinforcements brought in to maintain that false impression. The key facts: What clergy took part? Who didn't join the protests? Why? Where are the other voices?

The story begins at a historic black school where a few hundred of the town’s residents gather to assess exactly what happened on their streets to cause three people to die there during the recent riots.

One of the local leaders at the school was instantly recognizable to everybody: a sixty-five-year-old reverend named Alvin Edwards. When Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, came to town on Sunday, he went directly to a service at the Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, which is Edwards’s congregation. He’s been there for the past thirty-six years, and during that time he’s also served as the city’s mayor and as a member of its school board. His years in politics have only seemed to strengthen his ties to his parishioners, and he likes to joke, with folksy charm, about his “B.C. days” -- before Christ -- when he lived in Illinois, where he grew up with plans “to make money and to be an industrial engineer.” Edwards marched with the counter-protesters over the weekend, but these days he’s best known for founding a broad coalition of local faith leaders called the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.

The article goes on to describe how the Collective got wind of an upcoming Ku Klux Klan visit and decided to hold a counter rally. Two of the major churches involved were Mt. Zion and St. Paul’s Episcopal.

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