Sunday, July 02, 2017

Return to No Person Evil for Evil

I carry a collection of photographs on this iPad.  Some are of my kids.  (141, actually … pictures, not kids!)  Just edging them out – at 156 pictures – is a collection I call “icons.”  These are images of people – real and imaginary – who in one way or another inspire me.  I’ve got Barack Obama, and Duncan McLeod (of the clan McLeod).  There’s Gandhi and Tich Nhat Hanh, a baby meditating, Ged (from the Earthsea Trilogy), Nellie Bly, Santa Claus, and an icon from the Church of St.John Coltrane.  Two of my favorites were taken during the first and only, extremely brief, meeting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
I’m going to pause here for a moment and give you a spoiler (so if you don’t want to know how the sermon ends, plug your ears).  Okay.  Here goes:  I don’t know the answer.  I have to admit that I find this one insoluble.  I’m going to have to leave this one in your hands and hearts to find the answer that makes the most sense to you, and for you.
So … (you can take our fingers out of your ears now) … back to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.  These men are iconic figures in the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s, and they were seen then, and often still seen, as polar opposites.  One is held up as the embodiment of non-violent resistance; the other is remembered as wanting equality for African Americans “by any means necessary.”
Since for the majority of liberal King is by far the more familiar figure, I want to share some quotes from Malcolm X.
We are peaceful people, we are loving people. We love everybody who loves us. But we don’t love anybody who doesn’t love us. We’re nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us. But we are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.
I don’t think when a [person] is being criminally treated, that some criminal has the right to tell that [person] what tactics to use to get the criminal off [their] back. When a criminal starts misusing me, I’m going to use whatever necessary to get that criminal off my back.
And the injustice that has been inflicted on Negros in this country by Uncle Sam is criminal…
I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American [black's] problem just to avoid violence.

[Our goal is] to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary. 

That's our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary. We don't feel that in 1964, living in a country that is supposedly based upon freedom, and supposedly the leader of the free world, we don't think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D. C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights. No, we want it now or we don't think anybody should have it.


We want freedom now, but we're not going to get it saying 'We Shall Overcome.' We've got to fight to overcome.

Not quite the rhetoric that white liberals were raised on.  We’re more used to the words of Dr. King, which we quote at least around the third Monday in January – (though often out of context).  Malcolm X’s words were not a call to join in the realization of a dream; they were the fiery demand to wake up from a nightmare.

Most weeks we end our worship with the same words of benediction:  “Go out into the world in peace.  Have courage.  Return to no person evil for evil.”  And I want to stop there.  Return to no person evil for evil.  Return to no person evil for evil.

On Saturday, May 14th, a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the feet of the statue of Robert E. Lee in what was then called Lee Park.  They had torches, and made their white nationalist worldview and agenda quite clear:  “All white lives matter,” “You will not replace us,” and the Nazi-era slogan, “blood and soil.”  The next night a group of several hundred people gathered in the same place, holding candles and singing.

On the evening of Thursday, June 1st, there was a direct confrontation in front of Millers on the downtown mall, where Jason Kessler and some of his alt-right cohorts were eating.  There was in-your-face yelling; there was, by some accounts, physical contact.  Acouple of weeks later Kessler was on the mall again, this time “introducing” to Charlottesville the group the Proud Boys, and again there was direct engagement – violent by all accounts, even if the violence was only verbal.

This coming Saturday, from 3:00 – 4:00, members of the Loyal Order of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan will be holdinga rally in Justice Park, what was formerly known as Jackson Park.  And the question on many minds is, “what will our response be?”   Candles and singing, or angry altercations?  What should our response be?

And here’s where we reach the “I honestly don’t know” part of the sermon.  I was raised to value nonviolence.  I was raised to respond to hatred with love.  I was raised to believe that there is good in every person, no matter how crusted over it might be.  I was raised to try to follow the path of reason, and reasonableness. So I am with those who say that there should be no confrontation, no engagement on the 8th.  I understand and agree with those who say that everybody should just stay home; that we should make the klan’s visit to Charlottesville as disappointing as can be; that we just leave them there, by themselves, to “shout their hate to the trees.”

I also understand and agree with those who say that there should be a presence; that there needs to be a demonstration of another way; that there needs to be a witness; and that this presence should be non-confrontational, with no engagement whatsoever.  (There’s been a request sent out that those who feel that they must go to the park should wear all black – to counter the klan’s white robes – and stand in silence, arms linked encircling the klan but with our backs toward them.)

Yet there are others who are saying that there needs to be confrontation, and if it’s loud and aggressive -- even if it’s violent -- it’s necessary.  Things are bad, things are really bad, and things have been bad for far too long – there needs to be a change now.  This struggle isn’t one of philosophy; it’s one of life and death.  Literally life and death.  There simply isn’t time for singing,  Returning to one of those quotes from Malcolm X, “I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American [black's] problem just to avoid violence”

So what are we to do?  I don’t know.  As I said at the beginning, I have to leave this in your hands and hearts.  I know that I will take the nonviolent approach; I know that I will be trying to respond to hatred with love; I know that I will seek, with every fiber of my being, to return to o person evil for evil.

Yet I will also not condemn those who see the need for another approach, who see this struggle as needing a solution by any means necessary.  I have come to believe that there is no one way to respond, and that perhaps all of them have a place.

There is a story told of a time in early 1965, while King was jailed in Selma, Alabama, Malcolm traveled to Selma, where he had a private meeting with Coretta Scott King. “I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult,” he assured Coretta. “I really did come thinking that I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King”

I cannot tell you what to do; I cannot tell you how to respond.  I have come to believe that there may well need to be a whole variety of responses, including violence.  But I cannot tell you how you should respond.  I can tell you that you have to respond.  And I can tell you that we ought to be intentional about that response.

If you decided to stay home, to stay away, to keep your Saturday “business as usual,” that’s fine.  But don’t do it unmindfully.  Make it a choice.  Make it a response.

If you decide to respond in a non-violent, non-confrontational way, that’s fine.  But please be intentional in that choice.

And if you feel you need to respond through direct, confrontational engagement – even violence – I cannot tell you that that’s not fine, too. But please, please do so as a conscious choice, and not merely an emotional acting out.

I cannot tell you how to respond, but I can tell you that you must respond.  Each of us must respond.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith demands it, as does our humanity.

Pax tecum,


The Charlottesville Clergy Collective is hosting a number of events -- before, during, and after the klan's rally.  Their website outlines these, as well as listing many of the other events that are happening around the city on the 8th.