What is this? Hard to miss the anger, hatred, and violence at the White Supremicist protest in Charlottesville this month. Whether you call it Neo-Nazi, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Alt-right movement, it is sheer evil that claims that Jews, African-Americans, and other ethnic and religious groups do not qualify as real Americans or even real people. If you are like me, you are still stunned, saddened, and sickened that this public rally happened IN AMERICA IN 2017. This month a controversial, graphic, and disturbing movie, “Detroit”, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Hurt Locker”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) was released. The story, based on true events, is set during the Detroit race riots in 1967. The black working class neighborhoods have become a powderkeg. Amidst the looting, fires, and sirens, the National Guard has been called in. The action zeroes in on the Algiers Hotel, where twelve young African-American men and two Caucasian women seek refuge from the chaos in the streets. As the result of a police raid on the hotel, three black men are murdered and everyone else is brutalized as racist officers aggressively take control in the name of bringing peace to the emergency. It is so difficult to take in such racism, inhumanity, and evil. You are torn between being drawn ever deeper into the story and having to look away from the calculated, cold-blooded violence.
What does this mean? It seems every white character is wearing a uniform of some kind. While not all are as clearly prejudiced as the purveyors of violence and murder, they do not stand up to the officers in charge. Makes you wonder if their passivity is as big a sin as the pain inflicted on innocent victims. Critics give “Detroit” mixed reviews. The action is riveting, the characters are convincing, and it is a story worth telling. But, some say it is hollow, lacking coherence, and over-the-top with violence and victimhood. I am glad I saw the movie, as disturbing as it was. Evil and racism are hollow, hateful, and violent, and evil is by nature chaotic, incoherent, and bent on destruction. Check out the Book of Revelation if you’re not sure about that. I don’t know how you tell a story with that magnitude of evil and expect logic, clarity, or some resolution. Don’t expect in this blog, either. Maybe we have to witness the evil of Charlottesville, hear the story of the Algiers Hotel, seriously listen to the marginalized, the victims of prejudice, to comprehend the depth of the evil in our midst. With some trepidation, I recommend “Detroit”. In the same way, I’d encourage you to read “Stand Your Ground” by Reverend Kelly Brown Douglas. Douglas is a black, female pastor who traces the American history of white exceptionalism that fuels racism.
What is the takeaway? As “Detroit” is difficult to watch so “Stand Your Ground” is difficult to read. Douglas speaks as an African-American mother who has struggled with the number of young black men who have been shot like Trayvon Martin in the name of our “Stand Your Ground” culture. My sense is her voice is prophetic, calling the white church to repent of our participation or at least our passivity in the systemic evil of racism. I will say, I certainly was convicted. Of what? Of not being more aware, more discerning, and more outspoken about the racial evil that still haunts our nation. Some have said that slavery is our original sin, or perhaps, brutally taking the land from the Native Americans. Granted, this is our American history, but what do we do now? Like you, I wrestle with what God would have us do. I was fascinated by the response to the attempted Alt-right rally in Boston, where it seemed like the overwhelming numbers of counter-protesters were mostly silent yet surrounded and by and large silenced the voices of hate. This seems in line with Jesus’ silence in the face of evil, persecution, and death, especially in Mark’s Gospel. Martin Luther King claimed non-violence is a forceful response to such evil. Douglas catches me off-guard when she compares the cross with the lynching tree, “Lynching is about power standing its ground against anyone it deems a threat. It is a deadly reminder to a suspect community of its proper place in society.” The very same thing could be said of the Roman cross that Jesus was hung on at Golgotha. The good news is God takes the crucifixion tree and makes that into the tree of life. So may God continue to inform, indict, and inspire us to embrace his transformative life, death, and resurrection in Christ! Gustavus Gutierrez says salvation is the cure of sin in this life.