Charlottesville Has Revealed Our Moral Crisis

“I think our country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps, it bleeds and each new day a gash is added to her wounds” (Macbeth, Act 4, scene 3). Those words from Shakespeare come the closest I can think of in capturing something of the anguish and pain of our nation during these heart-wrenching days since the tragedy unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and loved ones of Heather Heyer who lost her life. Heather was a bright, dedicated, 32-year-old woman brimming with passion and optimism to make our society a better place. Yet, while she was peacefully protesting, she was struck down and killed by a motor vehicle driven intentionally into the crowd by a 20-year-old neo-Nazi sympathizer. The pressing issue before America in these days is not fundamentally a political one, but a moral one. The political sphere will inevitably focus on such issues as free speech, the meanings conveyed by statutes, the responsibility of law enforcement to keep people safe, and so on. Those are important and vital conversations. But the real crisis is a moral one. The capacity to name any course of action as “good” or “evil” requires a moral judgment. It is important for our leaders to cast that vision and make the moral point unambiguously clear.

It is worth remembering that when tragedies like this occur, reporters, quite appropriately, do not lead off by asking questions about free speech, or the pros and cons of various strategies which city law enforcement officials make in responding to volatile situations. There will be plenty of time for all of that. In the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy the first (and most important) question is always the moral one. The moral question was actually explicitly “named” when the President was asked, “Are your statements creating a moral equivalency between the two sides?” On Saturday, and again on Tuesday, we got nothing but moral confusion. In fact, our President specifically stated, “I am not putting anybody on a moral plane.” But, that, of course, is precisely what must be done in these type situations. There can be no moral ambiguity which creates any kind of equivalency between a neo-Nazi and a young woman who was exercising her freedom of speech. Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, KKK, and associated groups espouse beliefs which are repugnant and obnoxious to the American cultural fabric. As Christians, we must also state that ideas espoused by neo-Nazi, KKK, and White Supremacists are ultimately an attack on God the Father as creator, who created all men and women, of every ethnicity, in his image, and all are equal bearers of his providence and mercy. It is an attack on God the Son who died for every person, of every race. It is also an attack on the Holy Spirit who indwells men and women with his divine presence and empowers us to participate with him as His ambassadors to a world in pain.

700,000 Americans lost their lives in the Civil War. That war was about many important political issues such as states’ rights, economic disparities between the North and the South, etc., but, in the end, the Civil War, like all conflicts, will be judged on moral grounds. On the moral plane the Civil War was about the eternal dignity of all of God’s children. 400,000 Americans lost their lives in WWII. That conflict was also politically complex. But, there should be no doubt about the moral clarity in defeating the ideology of Nazism. There are many political issues which will be discussed in relation to what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. However, we must not lose sight of the moral issues which are before us at this time in our history. It has been said, “strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.” Jesus stood up for us by laying his life down for us. May His example be ours in these perilous days.