Called to Love Our Neighbor and Seek Justice for the Oppressed
On Saturday, August 12th, we learned of the violent and shocking clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, between members of a rally for white supremacist groups and counter-protesters - a situation that resulted in the deaths of Heather Heyer, two police helicopter pilots monitoring the situation from above, and injuries to 19 others. I have been reflecting in the days since on what this event means for our aspiration to be a servant seminary educating leaders who will work for the well-being of all persons and creation.
There have been many responses and a torrent of public outcry from various quarters to the horror of Charlottesville. We have heard severe criticism for our President’s failure to immediately denounce white supremacy and racism, and for equally blaming both protesting groups. We have also heard some others trying to explain and defend his position.
Wherever we may fall in our own responses to this public discussion, what we do know without question is that extremist commitments are very dangerous and result not only in severely damaging social consequences, but also in violence motivated by hatred and fear of the other, even genocide. We have experienced this first hand in our US history with the killing of indigenous peoples, participation in the Atlantic slave trade and its economic industry, and in our continuing structuralized racism expressed in so many ways. As a nation, we also participated in the slowness of the world - church and state - to acknowledge and take action against the killing of 6 million Jews during World War II. There is nothing about following the way of Jesus that would support these behaviors, nor the white supremacist/nationalist groups that celebrate the ideologies of the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis.
During these days, I have turned to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), a parable so familiar to us that it risks being relegated to a superficial, “Oh yeah, we know what that one is about.” I call us to consider it again in light of the events of August 12th. We remember it was precipitated by the lawyer’s question to Jesus regarding the commandment to love one’s neighbor, “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps the most surprising feature is the dimension of racial/ethnic prejudice that surfaces when “the one who showed mercy” to the Jewish traveler who had been robbed and beaten is revealed as the “hated other,” a Samaritan.
We are called to love our neighbors, essentially all persons. Garrett-Evangelical remains committed to increase inclusive welcome and hospitality and we join the chorus unequivocally denouncing white supremacy and all expressions of hatred of the other, subtle and overt. We seek justice for those who are “robbed and beaten,” in one way or another and left by the side of the road, and we must render care unto them. We will continue to search our own institutional hearts considering how we fall short of embodying these commitments in our ongoing life together at the seminary. At the beginning of the school year in just a few weeks, we will engage our student council, our faculty, and our staff in strengthening these commitments. For now, know that Garrett-Evangelical remains steadfast in our mission to equip leaders who can proclaim the Good News of the gospel and who can stand in all their places of ministry with strong prophetic voices, working with all others who seek love of neighbor and justice for those who are oppressed.