The brazen, terroristic march of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists through an American city in defense of the Confederacy is both tragic and telling.
It is tragic because it reveals the depth and deadly consequences of a spiritual sickness spreading in our nation 60 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with a motto and mission “To Redeem the Soul of America.”
But it is also telling because it underscores once again the irredeemable and immoral premise of those who would defend the so-called honor of the Confederacy. Let us be clear. There is no such thing.
For years now, there have been those who have sought to make glorious the cause of those who clearly fought on the wrong side of history. They have argued that the Confederate flag and its attendant symbols are about heritage and not about hate. We should all take this teachable moment to recognize that the heritage of those who died in defense of slavery — America’s original sin — is hate. It can no more be defended than can the swastika and other images of Germany’s Third Reich. That is clear to most Germans. It should be exceedingly clear to Americans more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
Indeed, it is the heritage of hate that led a 20-year-old, accused of mowing down a young activist with a car in Charlottesville and spurred another 20-year-old to shoot down seven people in a bible study two years ago in a Charleston church. Both were inspired by a mythological memory of the Confederacy and its commitment to the religion of white supremacy. Likewise, the gang that gathered in Charlottesville with guns, sticks and torches, surrounding a church and seeking to intimidate an interracial and interfaith coalition of clergy was clearly holding vigil for the doctrine of hate and injustice and nothing else.
Ironically, the gentle treatment these gun-carrying, torch-wielding terrorists received from the police and the fact that they all went home alive bears witness to the reality which too many in America deny — white privilege. Charlottesville and Charleston remind us that this kind of denial is dangerous and it can be deadly. That’s why it must be challenged and resisted. We must work to ensure that American school systems do not produce any more 20-year-olds who are confused about the heritage and history of the American slavocracy, its sins and why it had to die so America could live.
This is a leadership moment. Clearly, we cannot count on the President. If Donald Trump wants to defend hate groups, we must do all we can to defend our nation from him. Thankfully, students at UVA and other places are standing up. So are mayors, elected officials, faith leaders and ordinary citizens. We must all stand up and build together what Rev. King called “the beloved community.” That is our challenge in this hour.
Rev. Raphael G. Warnock is pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.