A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner church in Charlottesville, Va., hosted a community prayer service Aug. 8 in anticipation of an alt-right rally this weekend protesting planned removal of a Confederate monument that has the community bracing for violence.
The 50-minute service at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville is one of a series of advocacy events countering Saturday’s Unite the Right rally protesting a decision earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
Organized by white nationalist Richard Spencer and local activist Jason Kessler, it is expected to be one of the largest white supremacist rallies in recent U.S. history. Congregate Charlottesville, an organizing group, has called for 1,000 clergy and faith leaders to show up in Charlottesville this weekend to confront the protesters.
Charlottesville survived a July protest by the Klan without serious incident, but city officials fear this weekend’s rally could be more dangerous.
During the 50-minute prayer service, University Baptist Church Senior Pastor Matthew Tennant asked God to “keep us from violence” as “some of the news points to what could be a powder keg.”
Jillian Andrzejewski, pastor of Mooreland Baptist Church and 2010 graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, prayed that activists and protesters “will express themselves in ways that are kind, helpful and loving” and “may both sides see each other as humans.”
Allison Hager Jackson, an Alliance of Baptists-endorsed chaplain at Legacy Hospice, prayed for healing for all parties involved.
“Heal the fear that builds barriers and divides us from our neighbors,” she said. “Heal the fear that keeps us seated when you would have us stand up alongside the least of these. Heal the pride that allows us to see the sin of others but not our own sin.”
“We pray that you will heal us that we may heal in our community the systems in which we so often participate that cause people of color and others to be oppressed,” Jackson continued. “We pray that you will heal the fear that causes police officers to react violently when violence is not necessary, and in doing so heal the rift that exists between police and citizens.”
She also asked God to “heal whatever brokenness exists within these people of the alt-right that causes them to spew hatred rather than the love that you so freely give to them and all us.”
Will Brown, associate minister for community at University Baptist Church, reminded the audience that tensions suddenly coming to a head in Charlottesville are nothing new.
“They run deep,” Brown said. “Many have looked at our nation’s history of slavery and Jim Crow, of racial discrimination, and call this America’s original sin. It is a stain on our collective conscience that we just can’t seem to get rid of. There is no easy answer for this. There is no quick fix. This stain is deeply set.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not issue public pronouncements on social issues, but in June the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution denouncing “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”