This weekend, we saw that fire of hatred turning against churches in D.C., including one of the oldest African American churches in the nation.
Asbury United Methodist Church, established in 1836, survived nearly two centuries of history unscathed. The Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement all passed without the church suffering vandalism or attack, according to available records.
That peace was shattered this weekend by a group with ties to white nationalists, sporting the ridiculous name of Proud Boys — fueled by the silence of moral Americans and winks and nods from a racist president — that stole the church’s Black Lives Matter sign and burned it in the street.
For Asbury’s senior pastor, the Rev. Ianther M. Mills, “it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head. We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened.”
These pro-Trump demonstrators also tore down a sign from Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church and damaged property at two other churches, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church and Luther Place Memorial Church, according to D.C. police. The attacks are being investigated as hate crimes.
These are the churches where freed enslaved people found assistance, where abolitionists preached, where Mary McLeod Bethune and Frederick Douglass worshiped.
The Proud Boys brandished the flame of hatred that Trump keeps protecting with a cupped hand when they stomped through the streets of the nation’s capital Saturday declaring, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
They drank and brawled and bled and screamed, cheering when the words “Black Lives Matter” went up in flames and jeering when cops, the Blue Lives they champion, tried to demand law and order from them.
The so-called Proud Boys have nothing to be proud about. A better name is the Shame Schlubs.
Trump’s presidency fueled these Schlubs in 2016. His dog whistles and refusal to condemn them lit the torches in Charlottesville in 2017, when his supporters marched and barked “Heil Trump” and “Jews will not replace us!” and killed a counterprotester by driving into a crowd.
When asked to condemn them in a presidential debate in October, Trump said: “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by.”
And on Saturday, when they pinballed mayhem around D.C. streets, Trump buzzed the whooping, cheering crowd with Marine One while he was on his way to the Army-Navy football game at West Point.
Part of White America might be thinking: What’s this got to do with me? I voted against Trump. I don’t support white supremacy or the Proud Boys (let’s make this a thing: “Shame Schlubs”).
It’s the silence of White Americans who inwardly condemn but do not act that gives power to this rise. (The silence of evangelicals is especially deafening after the ruckus they raised in June, when summer protests scorched parts of St. John’s Church across the street from the White House. Then Trump used force to remove peaceful protesters away from the church so he could have a photo op outside it.)
It is on us, White America, to own this problem and eradicate it. Voting Trump out won’t be enough to stop this hatred.
“We have to look in the mirror and take responsibility,” said Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. “It’s not someone else’s job; it’s not on a prior generation. It’s our time, our responsibility to make things equal in this nation.”
The cluster is working on programming and partnerships to help people take action. “It’s incumbent upon us, each and every one of us, the little people, in our person-to-person actions, to make change.”
Because this hatred isn’t about politics or partisanship. It’s not red or blue or about the cops or Fox News or the Trump family.
Extinguishing the groups who march for racism, chauvinism and fascism is about morality. And the founding principles of our nation.
It’s on all Americans — not just Black Americans, who are the victims of this hatred — to protect and fight for those principles.
When the hatred blazed so intensely in 1963 that four girls were killed by the dynamite ignited under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., White Southerners were called to take ownership of the terrorist attack.
“We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play,” Eugene Patterson, editor of the Atlanta Constitution at the time, wrote in one of the greatest newspaper columns ever written by a White man.
He began the column — later read on the air by Walter Cronkite — with a mother holding the bloodied shoe of her dead child at the scene of the bombing. All White Southerners are holding that shoe, too, he wrote.
We don’t need to go to the South to find today’s hatred. The thousands who came to D.C. to hate and to burn came from as far away as Michigan and California. This is setting the stage for another bloody shoe.
It’s on us.
“We — who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.
“We — who raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their n----- jokes.
“We — who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring,” Patterson wrote.
His call may have been heeded in the form of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, but today’s rise in hate warrants a repeat.
Condemn what needs to be condemned.
Raise the hand that needs to be raised.
Do not swallow your opposition to any hatred you see.
It’s never been more important for us to blow with all we have on that flickering flame until it’s snuffed all the way out.
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