Dear Lovers Lane Family,
This letter is a pastoral response to the white supremacist gatherings and domestic terror attack in Charlottesville, as well as the increasingly heated conversation around racism and Confederate memorials.
First, I want to say that we must know and be thankful that we, through our mission of “Loving ALL,” have a message we have been given by the Holy Spirit to proclaim and live out. Friday, Aug. 11, I was on vacation but couldn’t stay away from our children’s musical, Created in His Image. I wish the whole world could have been there seeing and hearing our kids. Racially and culturally our children were like a beautiful tapestry, represented by their colorful presence and in their words of song. Their message was that we are all created as sisters and brothers in the image of God.
The scene in Charlottesville that Friday evening deeply saddened me. The images of young white men carrying torches and Nazi flags, yelling racial epithets and white supremacist chants, quite frankly, disgusted me. As news broke on Saturday of a white supremacist driving his car through a crowd of protesters in an act of domestic terrorism, I was heartbroken, not only for the family of 32-year old Heather Heyer who was killed, but also for the 19 persons injured. I was also saddened for the misguided haters and for our country, which continues to wrestle with the evils of racism, white supremacy, and violence.
As the pastor of our diverse congregation, and with deep East Texas roots, I have witnessed first-hand the realities of racism that are felt even today by women and men of color. Truth be known, few of us who are white can say we have not engaged in racist thoughts and actions, or benefitted from a culture that favors some of us over others of color. What we witnessed in Charlottesville is racism in the extreme, which sadly goes on elsewhere in our country and in our greater world. We must stand against hate, whether it be extreme or moderate, even as we repent and pray that God will “perfect us in love” and rid us of any racist thought or tendency.
I’m not there yet, are you?
Through a vote of its city council, Charlottesville moved to relocate a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and to rename a park that bore his name to be “Emancipation Park”. Many other cities, including Dallas, are finding statues of persons representing the cruel and deadly Civil War of 150 years ago becoming the focus of controversy. More city councils will be voting to move, sell or even destroy such statues. I am definitely in favor for a rally against racism, but I am concerned that focusing on statues can become a deterrent from the deeper problem, which is not primarily the “hot-button” statues, but the racism that for many, they represent. It would be tragic to me if we thought that the removal of Confederate statues will make everything right and good and Godly. Let us not be deceived, issues of race relations, hate and harm, are much bigger and deeper than the largest General Lee statue in the land.
Even as the racists, Nazis, and white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, they did so under the guise that they were protesting the removal of a statue. They were not: It was a rally packed with agenda. They said they were protesting out of love for their country, but were they? I doubt it. They gathered out of deep hatred for our black, brown, and Jewish brothers and sisters. They gathered to show power and inspire fear and violence in Charlottesville and cities all across our country.
Dallas is one of many cities facing the issue of what to do with Confederate memorials and legacy names throughout our parks, buildings, schools, and other public spaces. I want to say that history is of incredible value to any country that wishes to learn from its past mistakes and successes, but what some may see as a somber memorial, others see as revisionist celebration of a dark time in our past. Some have elevated these statues to a position of idolatry, and we ought to remember that as U.S. citizens, the only flag that unites is not the “stars and bars” but the 50 stars and 13 stripes of Old Glory. The only monument that we gather around as Christians is that of the cross of Christ. My mentor used to say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross of Jesus.” In other words, everyone, “ALL,” are those for whom Christ died and offered his redeeming love. Inclusion and acceptance was not an idea that WE came up with, but one that GOD created and punctuated with the Cross.
While we find a way forward as a city to both remember our history in a proper light, and create a city today that is welcoming to ALL who call Dallas home, I want to remind us that the statues are not, in and of themselves, the larger disease of racism. We must not be satisfied with simply moving monuments to museums, or even beating them into rubble, we must work tirelessly to continue bridging the divides that weaken us as a Greater Dallas community. At Lovers Lane, we will continue to seek reconciliation. We have one of the most diverse congregations in our denomination, and yet we have a horizon dream of not simply being diverse, but becoming a “sacred blend” of all God’s children as we, side by side and hand in hand, do mission and ministry, worship and celebrate, break bread together and fellowship around tables that are extensions of the Lord’s Table at which ALL are welcome. Let us hold fast to this dream, let us pray fervently for God’s spirit to continue his work in us, and let us stand boldly for racial reconciliation, not only at Lovers Lane, but throughout this city and the world.