Anger and sadness sounded from Atlanta pulpits on Sunday, as pastors reacted to the racially-charged violence this weekend in Virginia.
“We were greatly disturbed yesterday by what we saw in Charlottesville, greatly troubled by that,” Rev. Shanan Jones told a receptive congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Jones prayed for Heather Heyer, who lost her life demonstrating against white nationalists, and for the troopers who were killed trying to monitor the protests from a helicopter. He also prayed for Heyer’s killer, “for that 20 year old who traded the life that God gave him for evil,” he said.
But Jones got the loudest approval for a line that sets him and Ebenezer apart from some other churches, taking direct aim at the lukewarm reaction to the events by President Donald J. Trump.
“Why won’t the president speak out against white supremacy?” Jones asked. “The problem is that the white supremacists that were there mirror the white supremacists that are in the White House.”
Other pastors struck a less confrontational tone.
The Rev. Bill Britt, senior pastor at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, mentioned Charlottesville during his sermon Sunday. He said God calls us to live in harmony with one another, whether in North Korea or Washington, Jerusalem or Charlottesville. “But you can see the gap,” he said, holding his hands apart from and parallel with each other to illustrate, “between what God calls us to do, and reality.”
To those who say we should not give attention to the racists and bigots, Britt suggested it is the church’s duty to speak out and be clear on its position. “I’m afraid our silence would be misinterpreted,” he said.
At Marietta First United Methodist Church Sunday morning, Rev. Brian Smith alluded to Saturday’s violence and the incendiary rhetoric preceding its deadly outcome during his pastoral prayer.
He noted that Jesus ministered to “people who didn’t look like him” and urged his followers to a spirit of grace.
“Jesus in the face of violence calls his followers to put down the sword,” Smith said. “We see and we hear of racism, injustice and hateful words and actions. We pray that all your children, all nations and leaders might embody the spirit of Christ.”
The reaction in Atlanta came a day after a right-wing man from Ohio apparently drove at and killed a 32-year-old woman who came to protest the right-wing demonstrators in Charlottesville, according to police. Two state troopers who were trying to monitor the demonstrations by helicopter also died, in a crash. The “unite the right” marchers rallied with torches against taking down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
After violence erupted people on both sides were hurt, according to reports. But the car that plowed into a crowd of jubilant counterdemonstrators took the largest toll, injuring more than a dozen and killing one.
President Trump initially spoke only against “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
The Rev. Timothy McDonald, the fiery preacher of First Iconium Baptist Church, said it was pastors’ duty to be specific about sin.
“Racism is a moral issue,” McDonald said, after delivering his sermon. “The church has a responsibility here. I talked about the silence of the church as well. The deafening silence of the church.”
At Ebenezer, attendees who were interviewed after the service said they approved of Rev. Jones’ blunt prayer.
“It needed to be said,” said Linden Coper, 25. “The most important person who should be saying it” — by which he meant the president — “isn’t saying it.”
Edgar Flint, 76, said airing the ugly truth is the only way to heal, and to him it was clear “white supremacists” were at the root of the Charlottesville violence and needed to be called out. “I don’t think the president said enough,” Flint said. “It seemed like he was playing to a particular group of people.”
“When Obama was president, (Trump) was always on him for not saying ‘Islamic terrorists,” Flint added. “But he can’t say this now?”
The Rev. Kenneth Alexander of 13,000-member strong Antioch Baptist Church expressed his disappointment in the growing divide in America.
“Without question, these are troubling times,” he said.
“What I don’t get is how America can stand as a moral thermometer for the world and go deal with terrorists in other places and won’t deal with these white terrorist who live here,” Alexander said, drawing a round of applause and amens.
At some point, we have to answer the question are we fighting terrorism or are we fighting black people, he said.
Alexander said he appreciated Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s response to the violence in which he told the protesters to go home. But he said after some thought he had to ask why should these terrorists be allowed to go when others have been sent to Quantico and Guantanamo Bay.
“Seems to me the lighter you are, the lighter the treatment,” he said. “Thank God for those white protesters standing up for what’s right.”
Staff writers Kyle Wingfield, Jennifer Brett, Gracie Bonds Staples and Bo Emerson contributed to this article.