The events in Charlottesville, Virginia have been front and center in our thoughts. As we prepare for the return of students to OU’s campus, we’re thinking, “Charlottesville is a college town. Like Athens.” And wondering when what happened there will come here—and what we’re going to do about it.
White supremacists are marching and rallying openly in the streets of our nation. In the week since Charlottesville, they’ve marched and rallied in several other cities. They’re advocating policies and practices that give preference to white people and treat nonwhite people (and immigrants, and LGBTQ+ folks, and non-Christians, and women) as “less than.” They’re openly threatening violence—not just isolated violent acts, but a mass campaign of violence—to promote their vision and to force its adoption as policy.
Yet more disturbing is the extent to which they have gained the ear, the sympathy, and the support of key political and government leaders—from the President to members of his administration to leaders of his political party, both within and beyond the legislative and executive branches of government. President Trump’s failure to condemn the words and actions of the individuals and groups who organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, who marched through those streets chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!,” is a stain upon our collective identity, integrity, history, and community. The false equivalency he has drawn between the white supremacist demonstrators and those who gathered to protest the message of hatred, bigotry, and oppression is an insult to our collective intelligence. And the silence—or overt and enthusiastic agreement—of his supporters in the face of this insult is an embarrassment to us all.
This is not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. It goes to the heart of our faith commitments to affirm and promote freedom, justice, and community for all. We have found that in order to be true to our faith (our faiths, really, since we have many traditions represented on our staff, on our Board of Directors, and among our students, supporters, and donors), we must speak to this. And we must be unequivocal. We stand against those who believe that the right to rule this country must be reserved for “white” people. We stand with those who seek equal rights, opportunity, and protection for all people, whatever their race or nationality or immigration status or sexual orientation or gender identity. We recognize the painful and problematic presence of racism and white supremacy in our past and our present, and we are committed to educating and equipping ourselves and our communities to right those wrongs. If this sounds like you, or like what you want to be and to do in this town and this world, we stand with you. We want you to know that you’re not alone in this struggle, and we want to invite you to reach out to us and to each other for encouragement, for support, for challenge or a listening ear. We’re going to need each other.
Because the students are coming back. And they’re talking about this. They’re hurting, maybe afraid that Charlottesville is coming to our college town, in one form or another. They’re going to need all of us—our presence, our heart, our witness, our dedication, our faith. And we’ll need to be prepared, because Charlottesville IS coming to our town, one way or another. Our prayer and intention is that UCM will be ready with a faithful response—our campus and community need that from us. And we need you. Because we’re better, stronger, and wiser together.
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I have spent much of today making the rounds and checking in with people on my campus I thought might be reeling from the results of the election, and from the responses to those results that compound the hurt they experienced during this long and bitter campaign season. And while I hoped I might be of some help to people who are hurting, I find that the act of reaching out and connecting has been balm for my own bruised soul. I’m glad for the respite from social media, even as I am mindful that this virtual space too is my mission field. So I’ve made my way back here with some thoughts and words that had until now been hard for me to find.
To all my women friends, and my LGBTQ friends, and my black and brown friends, and my immigrant and international friends, and my friends from various faith backgrounds (including Christians) or from no faith—I know many of you are hurting right now. I know that many of you experienced this result as a grievous and wounding attack on your very persons. For you, I know, this decision goes way beyond politics and policy and law and government—goes directly and painfully to whether there is a place for you at all in the new nation we all woke up to. And I hurt because you’re hurting.
Thanks to my walkabout earlier today, though, I know more than that. I know that you are amazing in your beauty, power, resilience, and dedication to the well-being of each other and of our community as a whole. I know that however much you might be reeling from what’s happened, you are absolutely and emphatically there for each other—and for me. I’m honored and awed by the privilege of being in ministry with you and to you and on your behalf. And I’m pledging to you right now that I will never stop standing with you and fighting for you and working to bring about the vision of beloved community we share.
At United Campus Ministry, where I am called to serve, we have always held ourselves accountable to the scriptural ideal that the justness of our community is measured by how we treat the widow and the orphan and the stranger, how we treat those on our margins. We have always dedicated our heart and soul and mind and strength to loving our neighbors—all of our neighbors—as ourselves. We have always concerned ourselves with speaking truth to power and with bringing the voices of those whose voices have been disregarded to the ears and the hearts of those who hold and wield that power. These things we have always done are who we are, and there’s no way we’re going to stop now. Because you—all of you—deserve nothing less.
Click on the link above to see a very special message from former UCM intern and Saturday Lunch champion, Shannon Stewart! And here’s a special message from Saturday Lunch founder, Joe Buzzelli!
Join us on October 15 at 1pm to celebrate 10 years of Saturday Lunch, UCM’s 2nd weekly free meal which, along with Thursday Supper, provides more than 5,000 meals annually, hundreds of service hours for students and others, and a unique opportunity to bridge and the build the Athens and Ohio University community!
We are raising $10K for 10 years to renovate our kitchen and dining room. Visit our YouCaring site to donate now through our secure paypal account or send a check to UCM, 18 N. College Street, Athens OH 45701.
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