Today, as a campus community committed to extending the peace of Jesus Christ, we stand in sympathy and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters caught up in the ugly, tragic violence ignited by virulent racism in Charlottesville.
We especially grieve for those who lost their lives and were injured while standing against hate and attempting to secure peaceful assembly.
Yesterday, beautiful and empowering images of the memorial service for Heather Heyer – the young woman and social justice advocate killed by an angry and troubled young man using a car as his weapon – provided a hopeful contrast to the hate and vitriol from the images of those same streets this weekend. An uplifting companion vigil at the University of Virginia last night brought together thousands of mourners and peacemakers, walking, singing and carrying candles. These loving responses that reknit community can remind us that Christ’s light shines brighter than hatred.
At EMU, we grapple earnestly with our role in the national conversation on race. We have deep awareness of the theories for building peace among deeply wounded peoples, and now more than ever we need conversations about white privilege, our nation’s history — built on an economy that thrived on the labor of enslaved peoples — and the realities that African-Americans and all people of color live with daily in our society. We have renewed and urgent energy to put the theories we teach into practice on our own campus and beyond. Already we have seen our alumni involved in leadership of peaceful organizing by clergy in Charlottesville, through Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduate Brittany Caine-Conley.
As educators, we know that when we confront the worst examples of human frailty and viciousness, we are presented with teachable moments. Now is a teachable moment.
No place for hate. We grieve deeply for those who lost their lives and those who were injured and traumatized amidst the ugly, chaotic violence and the shocking and nauseating display of poisonous racism. And yet we resist the temptation to retaliate, to seek revenge.
No place for fear. The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Peacemakers around the world know that combating fear and violence requires “standing in the gap” and showing reconciling love. We commit ourselves to show reconciling love.
No place for name-calling. Hurling dehumanizing labels does nothing to address cycles of violence. We commit ourselves to resist the urge to vilify in order to eradicate “the enemy.”
No place for failing to act. Martin Luther King once said about racism in America that we could no longer afford the luxury of administering to ourselves “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” We recognize “the fierce urgency of now.” In the spirit of that great civil rights leader, we pray for hope and healing, stand with those on the margins, listen to our citizens of color, and advocate, not for moral equivalence, but for moral clarity around racial and ethnic violence and civil speech in this country.
Please join me in praying as we yearn for peace, restorative justice, healthy communities and the day when “we will be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.”
And as our students return to campus for the fall semester, pray that our educators will have wisdom for mentoring and encouraging students, and that we as campus leaders can facilitate processes that will lead to meaningful change.