Trick Question: Is America Houston or Charlottesville?

In the wake of the tragic events of Charlottesville and the devastation of hurricane Harvey in Houston, there have been a number of social media posts and commentaries that contrast the two events. Comments typically fall along the lines of “America is Houston, not Charlottesville.” The implication being that the hatred and violence seen in Charlottesville do not define America, while the sacrifice, aid, and neighbor love demonstrated in Houston does define America and her citizens.

I understand the sentiment. I feel a sense of pride and patriotism when I witness countless individuals and groups rally around the nation’s fourth largest city. There is much in this country for which to be proud and encourage patriotism. The attitudes and actions displayed in Houston are a prime example. On the other hand, I do not believe the good witnessed in Houston erases the evil perpetrated in Charlottesville.  It is easy to view the events and Charlottesville and dismiss them by saying, “Oh, that is not what America is about. America is Houston, not Charlottesville.”

In truth, America is both, and unless we are willing to own that truth progress will be hampered. It is good and right to lift high the generosity of Americans in disasters such as Houston, but it is equally good and right to critique, condemn, and reject the hateful, racism seen in Charlottesville.  

Neighbor love is on display in the midst of the Houston tragedy. Tangible needs are being met. Yet, fellow Americans experience another tragedy daily. Americans are disrespected, dismissed, considered less valuable, and in some cases losing their lives because of the color of their skin. For the good of the country, this tragedy cannot be ignored. This tragedy demands the same sacrifice, generosity, and neighbor love displayed in Houston, or it will not end. Most of the country is moved by Houston, understandable, Americans are suffering.

Sadly, portions of Americans suffer daily with stings from the arrows of racism. Will we be moved? True patriotism says we should. It recognizes that we are interconnected. Martin Luther King Jr. highlights this interconnectedness in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ” Explaining why he left his home in Atlanta to stand against oppression in Birmingham. He writes,

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . . Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

As Americans Houston affects us. As Americans, Charlottesville should affect us. Both should spur us on to love and good deeds, and it is the church that should be leading in the love and good deeds. Churches and denominations were some of the first on the ground in Houston, as it should be. The church should be the shining example of love in our nation. Do we, as the church in America, lead the way in confronting the hurt racism causes? Are we going to remain indifferent to the suffering? We have an opportunity to set the standard. Will we take it? To borrow again from Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter,

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . . So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

The church should be the leading voice against racism and bigotry and the example for all Americans.

By |September 8th, 2017|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |

About the Author:

Dr. Adam York (Ph.D. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), is facilities manager and media and technology director at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, in Lexington, Kentucky