Berkley Forum

Charlottesville: A Tale of Two Gospels

Responding to Firsthand Reflections on Charlottesville

In Charlottesville, on the weekend of August 12 and throughout the entire summer, there were two distinct and opposing crowds who proclaimed two distinct and opposing gospels.

One crowd, black, white, Latinx, and Asian; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and pagan; female and male and trans and genderqueer; typically and differently abled; lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and straight, proclaimed the good news that love wins, that communities will protect their most marginalized, and that fear can only cause destruction and death.

The other crowd, predominately cis-hetero, white, and male members, proclaimed their own gospel, stating that white lives matter, that fear and hate-mongering will win, and calling for a white supremacist, patriarchal, anti-queer, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim country and world.

The stark differences between these two crowds and these two gospels were obvious for all who bore witness. (Many religious and political talking heads who weren’t present in Charlottesville’s streets will continue to spread lies.)

I am troubled, disheartened, and disgusted that many of the white, cis-hetero hate-mongers claimed their gospel under the auspices of Christianity. How can so many white supremacist groups claim a Christian foundation? Why are American nationalism and Christian imperialism bedmates? How can Nazis, confederate apologists, and Klansmen claim Christianity without receiving the ire and condemnation of ALL Christian leaders? Surely we must recognize that our church has been gripped by a potent and pervasive evil.

———

When I was at Emancipation Park on August 12 along with 40 interfaith and interdenominational clergy and faith leader friends, the alt-right white supremacists continuously called us “fake clergy” and spouted their best anti-queer insults. Essentially, they told us that we didn’t represent God. They told those of us who claim Christianity that we didn’t represent the good news of Jesus. 

White supremacy claims that our gospel of love winning, communities protecting their most marginalized, and liberation for the oppressed, is inaccurate. 

However, in one of my favorite gospel stories, Jesus utilizes a text from Isaiah to explain his ministerial purpose and describe the good news.

Luke 4: 16-21
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
     and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus visits his hometown and goes to the synagogue, then reads from the scroll of Isaiah, speaking about good news. All eyes are glued to him as he rolls up the scroll and sits down. I imagine a long, very quiet pause until he alerts everyone that he’s the messiah. “Oh, by the way, I’m here to fulfill the good news.” Mic drop.

Jesus says, “Yes, yes, this is why I’m here, to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; the time for God’s goodness and justice is now!”

Throughout the gospels, the good news is most often demonstrated by the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead being raised. We see the good news when a woman poured out her entire self, all the while being insulted by others for her actions. Jesus talked about the good news as he was questioned and condemned by chief priests. In another instance, Jesus proclaimed that the good news is opposite to riches and power, because “you cannot serve God and wealth.”

The good news presented in the gospels is completely contradictory to the toxic gospels of white supremacy and white nationalism.

How long will we allow these toxic gospels to survive? Why do we allow the good news of Jesus to be intertwined with capitalistic Christian imperialism? Shouldn’t we demand that Christian leaders bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and comfort all who mourn?

It is our duty as faith leaders, educators, and people of good conscience to proclaim and demand the gospel that is actually good news for all of creation, and particularly for the poor and downtrodden, for whom God has a particular loving and hopeful preference.

We can no longer simply respond to the symptoms of a toxic gospel; we must utilize all of our power to eradicate and stomp out the foundations of white supremacy, falsehood, and terror that contradict God’s good and liberative vision for a transformed and transforming kin-dom.

Make it be so.

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