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Ministers with linked arms prepare to face the alt-right

About sixty clergy including Unitarian Universalist Association President Susan Frederick-Gray and Southern Region Congregational Life Field staff member, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 in an interfaith, nonviolent protest against a white supremacist rally (© 2017 Nora Rasman/UUA)

We Are All Charlottesville
We Are All Charlottesville

The violent events coming out of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville two weekends ago have the country on edge. The dangerous rise of white supremacy was on full display as men with tiki torches marched on the campus the night of August 11 and clashed with anti-fascist anarchists August 12.

First and foremost, we honor the dedication and the leadership of the members, staff and friends of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church who have been organizing against white supremacy for a while now. Christina Rivera, TJMC’s Director of Administration and Finance and member of our UUA’s Board, was with the clergy who peacefully marched to Emancipation Park where white nationalists were gathering around the statute of Robert E. Lee. I was there also, with UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Rev. Jeanne Pupke, Sr. Minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, the organizer, strategist and musician who was prominently featured at our UUA General Assembly in 2016.

We came at the invitation of #CongregateCville, a very new group with the intention of rallying a thousand ministers to counter the Unite the Right event. Those local organizers, including Smash Patty and Seth Wispelwey, deserve a lot of appreciation from justice-seeking people everywhere.

I was glad to attend Sunday’s service at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, our UU congregation in Charlottesville, where Rev. Erik ‘Wik’ Wikstrom is the Lead Minister and Rev. Alex McGee is Assistant Minister. Rev. Susan and I offered some Opening Words and greetings from our UUA. Rev. Wik shared readings and the benediction. Rev. Alex gave a reflection on chaos and pain of the weekend. As she spoke, I found myself saying ‘Yes!’ ‘Tell it!’ and ‘That’s right!’ With her permission, I share her advice here:

Congregations in other parts of the country have been reaching out to us on the ministry team to offer help. They have asked, ‘What can we do?’ Here’s what I have said:

  1. Double-down on your congregational efforts to understand systemic racism.
  2. Educate your congregation about the alt-right and take it seriously to halt its spread.
  3. Re-devote yourself to volunteering in religious education programs. The next generation needs intelligent information about how to be involved politically, threats to our democratic system, and how to speak up with love and courage. The children need us to be there for them. The UUA has outstanding curricula for children.

I also want to amplify notes I took while I was on a post-Charlottesville action call that included DiDi Delgado, a leader of BLM-Cambridge. She offered several opportunities for action, which also appeared in this Facebook post.

Our Southern Region is full of monuments to the Confederacy that underscore the exalted place of whiteness in the national imagination. Charlottesville is an example of what could happen in other cities stretching from Texas and Oklahoma on the west to Florida and Virginia on the east. Of course, we know that bigotry isn’t limited to the South, as the Boston Common became the site of a failed supremacist ‘free speech’ rally this past weekend, where our UUA leadership showed up again among thousands of others to counter white nationalist ideology. As Unitarian Universalists, we will continue to resist oppression, fascism and injustice wherever they arise. Even more, I hope we will continue to lift up an alternative way of being — one that emphasizes justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

In faith,

Carlton

#LoveOverFear Fundraising for Charlottesville

TJMC-Unitarian Universalist is accepting donations to help off-set costs for the events of August 12th in Charlottesville. These include housing, transportation, and food for organizers, clergy and support teams. Funding is also needed now to support trauma ministers coming in this week to support our community. Funds raised beyond costs will be used for ongoing racial justice work and pastoral care.

http://bit.ly/UULoveOverFear

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