Evangelical, Catholic and Episcopalian church leaders from across the US have been condemning the ‘evil’ of racism in the wake of the violent clashes at the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The unified Christian response – which included all but a handful of white evangelical leaders – came despite Donald Trump initially failing to speak out against racist groups involved in the clashes, in which one anti-racist woman died, with the President merely blaming hatred ‘on many sides’.
After Christian leaders and several Republican members of Congress criticised his remarks, however, Trump yesterday read a prepared statement which condemned ‘the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups,’ calling them ‘repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans’.
The comments came after widespread condemnation from Christian leaders, led by Russell Moore, who said that white supremacy ‘angers Jesus’.
Separately, evangelical consultant Johnnie Moore wrote: ‘EVERY evangelical I know condemns antisemitism, white nationalism, and supremacism. The Christian church is proudly and increasingly the most ethnically diverse movement in the world.’
Evangelist Jay Stack tweeted, ‘Racial hatred, violence, white supremacy & Nazism are Satanic. AntiChrist As well as Anti-American!… Praying for @realDonaldTrump. For our President @attorneygeneral jeff sessions, The victims & families, law enforcement, first responders & USA.’
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) vice president Tony Suarez wrote on Facebook: ‘The racism and hate being spewed by the alt-right and white supremacists, that have invaded our state this weekend, is an insult to Christianity and our country. God be our Prince of Peace! As a citizen of Virginia I’m offended these hate groups chose our state to drive their agenda.’
Jack Graham, the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, shared and affirmed a message from a fellow Prestonwood pastor, who told their congregation, ‘Our hearts go out to the victims in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I think it’s important on a day like this that we stand together as a church … to say in the strongest terms possible that we condemn any sort of racial bigotry, white supremacy, prejudice, and intolerance.’
And Paula White, who regularly prays with the president and leads a majority-black congregation in Florida, stated that ‘white supremacy is evil,’ adding: ‘The tragedy of Charlottesville extends beyond the loss of life into the very heart of race relations in America. Dialogue has been overcome by violence. Progress is sacrificed at the altar of fury. We need a renewal of grace. God help us.”
Ralph Reed, a former director of the Christian Coalition, retweeted Kellyanne Conway and Melania Trump’s critical statements, adding: ‘Those who twist the cross of Christ into a swastika exchange his message of love and redemption for one of hatred and evil.’
At the same time, other leading evangelicals spoke out more generally against racism.
Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, who last week controversially claimed that Trump had ‘authority from God’ to take nuclear action against North Korea, wrote: ‘Pray for peace in Charlottesville and across our nation. Let there be no misunderstanding. Racism is sin. Period.’
Georgia pastor Jentezen Franklin wrote: ‘This is evil personified and we denounce it. This is what hatred and sin looks like. Their hate will not win. Racism is still alive and well, the only answer is God’s love and the church of Jesus Christ standing hand in hand with our brothers and sisters of every race.’
Elsewhere, American Catholic leaders including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement condemning ‘the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism’.
They also prayed for peaceful counter-protesters, saying that ‘our prayer turns today, on the Lord’s Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets.’
They continued: ‘Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.’
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that ‘the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted.
‘Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed. Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity.’
Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis called the racist rallies and the violence ‘appalling,’ adding: ‘May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world.’
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted: ‘Racism is a grave sin rooted in pride, envy and hatred. It suffocates the soul by means of expelling from it the charity of Christ.’
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln wrote on Twitter: ‘Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today, for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation.’
Meanwhile, Episcopalian clergy issued their own statements condemning the hatred and violence.
‘Members of ‘alt-right’ groups, Klan members, and Neo-Nazis are not patriots and they are not Christian,’ said the Bishop of Arizona, Kirk S. Smith. ‘They are evil, and we in the Church must be unequivocal in condemning both their ideology and their actions.’
‘No more nice,’ said the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Burlington, in Vermont, Jeanne Finan. ‘I am not condoning violence but we need to start naming this evil, this hate.’