Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville’s Chaos Provided the Reminder I Needed

As I read about the violence that took place in Charlottesville last Saturday, I thought about both what I needed to say in this commentary and what I could say that might constructively add to what has already been said by other concerned commentators. Thinking through these two questions brought me back to a comment a dear friend made to me in 1991.

What needs to be said is that so-called “white supremacy” is evil.

Different people with different worldviews will advance different reasons for that conclusion. Mine is rooted in the fact that I believe God made a real first man (Adam) and first woman (Eve) in His very image from whom we all are descended. The evil of “white supremacy” and all racism is rooted in the necessary denial of those two twin truths. That, for me, is an absolute basis upon which to decry racism, regardless of time or culture.

But the second thing—what could be said—was trickier. I knew that saying certain things would be understood by some and not understood by others. And I could, despite really good intentions, bring more discord than already exists. That’s what brings me back to 1991.

That year I was among a small group of people who were invited to go through a Christian leadership training program in my hometown. The participants, though all Christians, were diverse. We were diverse ethnically, economically, educationally, geographically, and denominationally. Few of us actually knew anybody else in the group.

Early in our first meeting, the leader of the sponsoring organization, who became a dear friend, said, “We are all captives of our own environment.” Over the next few months, I realized how true his statement was.

In our time together we covered what the Bible has to say about any number of topics, but the session on race stood out then and still does now. United in our love for Christ and our shared commitment to develop a biblical view of the topics we covered, we were able to ask honest questions of one another and share candid observations. We wanted to break free of our own environments and build honest, authentic relationships.

And we did. I could call the black men in my class about political issues that touched on race and ask them honest questions. I knew they would help me see the issue from a perspective that was foreign to the suburban, white-collar environment in which I’d grown up and lived. But I also knew that their goal in doing so was not to achieve a political result, but to help me achieve biblical clarity on the issue and communicate that respectfully.

I share that experience because it bears on what I believe must happen if there is to be substantial progress in race relations on this side of eternity. No progress is going to come when the goal is to “win” an argument or achieve a political end.

Progress will come when enough sincere Christians do what those in that leadership class did, put their love of Christ and His Word at the top of their agenda, and begin to build authentic relationships across racial lines in which the balm of Gilead salves the initial pain that an honest question or candid observation might produce.

That doesn’t mean that agreement will be reached between the races on all matters, even as spouses and good friends don’t reach agreement on all matters, but there should not be ugliness in any disagreement. There may even be times when disagreement produces profound sadness, but the larger issue of Christian unity grounded in the Word of God will be the bridge that will allow us to cross over the smaller, particular issue on which we disagree to work on other larger issues.

There will be those who will not want racial reconciliation to succeed; some feed off of division. So, it won’t be easy, but I have seen it done.

Charlottesville reminded me that I still have a lot of my own work to do, but one thing I can do right now is to commend to you the training offered by my friend at

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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