“Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart.”
The words of the Rev. Billy Graham came quickly to mind Saturday, minutes after news broke of the deadly, race-fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Va., where three people were killed and dozens more were injured.
The melee broke out soon after white nationalists assembled in Charlottesville, dressed in their own brand of riot gear, to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters massed in opposition.
In the most extreme incident of the day, a 20-year old nationalist plowed his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19. That man now faces second-degree murder charges. In an incident related to the clashes, two state troopers were also killed when their helicopter, which had been assisting with the police response to the rally, crashed outside the city later the same day.
Hatred was at the heart of the attacks, and at the core of the extremist reactions from all sides.
This hatred — born out of mistrust, misunderstandings, constantly regurgitated publicity and an anger that seems to be boiling over in many Americans today — must end.
And it has to start in our homes, in our communities and in our churches, where the mantra must be to overlook extremists opinions and, instead, to look within our hearts and remember how we’ve been brought up to love one another and to respect one another’s opinions even if they differ from our own.
We’ve forgotten our raising, if we were, in fact, blessed enough to have been raised to be human beings who love one another, stand up for God and country and to walk side-by-side with people whose skin color differs from our own and whose beliefs might not be exactly as our own.
And once and for all we have to stop letting extremists — rioters who attack police officers, white supremacists who condemn people of color, individuals who think only certain lives matter over others — stop running this country. They don’t deserve the attention; it only fuels their cause. To douse it, we must turn a deaf ear, refusing to allow them to get into our heads and fuel anger that exists in our hearts.
As we see it:
• There should be no room for any group who promotes hate and who believes the only way to voice their opinion is through fighting and attempts to incite trouble;
• We cannot rewrite history, nor should we want to. Knowing and understanding history is what makes us grow and become better people. We shouldn’t live in the past nor dismiss it; we should learn from it.
• There are far more good people in the world than extremists haters, and if we promote unity, peace and love, they cannot win.
• The will to win is in our court. We can sit on the sidelines and allow politics, our one-sided views and our desire to be right win out over what should be a bigger desire to stand up for the greater good, a good that starts and ends with a unity of people of all colors, free to choose their religion, their lifestyle and their politics without interference from others.
None of this is easy, but people with a will to do better will, in fact, do better.
We’ve seen it happen time and again in our communities, where race and socio-economics are set aside as we raise money for people who are sick, stand shoulder to shoulder during community events and fight together against crime and other injustices.
If we can do it in our communities, why can’t we do it in the larger expanse of our great country?
Saint Francis of Assisi once prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
That is our prayer today as we try to move past the hatred and bigotry stirred Saturday to find the peace, unity and love that makes us Americans.