The clergy who stared down white supremacists in Charlottesville

Asked what it was like to march through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, evangelical author and founder Lisa Sharon Harper was blunt.

“It really felt like every step you take could be your last,” she said, later adding: “With each step, I just kept holding on to the call to love.”

Talk of love was hardly the dominant narrative in Charlottesville on Saturday, when white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers organized a “Unite the Right” rally to oppose the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in the heart of city.

Instead, media coverage has largely focused on the hateful vitriol spouted by white supremacists, as well as their violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters (often called “Antifa”).

The street fights—which witnesses say occurred without adequate police intervention—left several hospitalized, and the whole event culminated in tragedy: An Ohio man who authorities say came to support the white supremacists has been charged with mowing down a group of counter-protesters with a car, wounding 19 and killing one woman.

But among the many untold stories of the harrowing day is the account of hundreds of religious leaders like Harper who descended on Charlottesville to resist white supremacy.

While images of prayerful resistance are often less eye-catching than bloody fists, spiritual protesters were still a crucial part of both the counter-protests and relief efforts.

Many stood arm-in-arm while staring down white supremacists—and plan to do it again.

Trapped in a church
The work of faith groups in Charlottesville began weeks ago. Rev. Seth Wispelwey, a United Church of Christ (UCC) minister based in the city, said local clergy started mobilizing earlier this year after the college town endured two other demonstrations by white supremacists.

The result was Congregate CVille—a group formed only five weeks ago—that called for 1,000 clergy to come and resist racism at the Unite the Right rally. Continue reading

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  • ThinkProgress article by Jack M Jenkins, Senior Religion Reporter for ThinkProgress.
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