Courtney Allen presented this reflection at an Aug. 16 vigil in Richmond, Va., for the victims of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12.
Robbie Novak is a 9-year-old with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones brittle. You may not recognize him as Robbie, but you may know his Twitter handle, @iamkidpresident, where he encourages the world. Following the attacks in Charlottesville, the wise beyond his years “Kid President” tweeted, “Love is louder. Even if hate has a bullhorn, love is louder. Time to be loud, people. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.”
And Kid President is right. It is time to be loud with our love, isn’t it?
We’ve seen a lot of hate over the last few days. Too much hate, too close to home. Sights and scenes that remind us of previous chapters in our nation’s history and all that still remains broken in our neighborhoods and in need of healing in our world.
Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech titled, “Where Do We Go from Here?” at the 11th annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. It is in this speech that Dr. King famously said, “I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to [our] problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. … I’ve seen too much hate … and hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”
In Virginia where do we go from here when fear and hate take the stage and seem to have the bullhorn? I believe we choose to love and love loudly, even when hate has the bullhorn. Since Saturday I’ve been thinking about where we might go from here in Richmond, a city which must wrestle with its own complicated history around race, including the monuments and markers we pass by each and every day. How might the violence and hatred in Charlottesville embolden us to chart a new course in reconciliation? As a city how will we contend with the history which is behind us and the uncharted path which lies ahead of us?
As people of faith in this great city, I believe we must recommit ourselves to the hard and holy work of reconciliation, which includes listening, praying and discerning a way forward with one another that is rooted in love. But ultimately as a city, a commonwealth and a nation, we must determine together how we might live into the future God most desires for us — God’s preferred future.
Earlier this week Wallace Adams-Riley, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, and Jim Somerville, pastor at First Baptist Church in Richmond, and I talked about questions such as these and possible paths forward in our city. We thought about Monument Avenue and what we could imagine happening along that street. What if, one of them said, we had monuments not just to remember things of the past, but what what we hope to be true about our community, images of our dreams not yet fully realized, but representative of what we most deeply desire for our community? Monuments that would enshrine love and justice and equality as our highest ideals and greatest hopes. Such images and creative expressions would exemplify what is possible even if not yet actualized in our common life. Monuments such as these could point to a shared dream and help us forge a new future together.
As people of faith in this city, commonwealth and nation, do we believe that God can use us to transform the world? Do we hear the lament and cries of our neighbors and one another — and do we believe that a better and more love-filled way is possible? Even when hate has the bullhorn, do we really believe that love is louder and will we join with God make it so? And will our love be so loud that it leads us to dancing in the street, surprising and even disarming the heavily armed, would-be intimidators with our belief that love and justice will, indeed, win the day?
Yes, in the United States of America our First Amendment right to free speech is protected, and this sometimes allows hate to have the bullhorn. But remember that with God love always has the bullhorn. And know that even the heavily-armed intimidators, the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, and the hate-filled tiki torch-carriers cannot stop the powerful force that is the love of God poured out in this world. Despite their best efforts, they cannot stop the love of God.
Yes, there is evil. Yes, there is darkness. Yes, there is real hate around us, and if we’re honest, even within us. White supremacy cannot be ignored. Racism and bigotry cannot be tolerated. They must be called out for the sins that they are. But we serve a God who is the source of all goodness.
And the encouragement and hope we find in sanctuaries like this one tonight are enough for us to wake up tomorrow morning, put our boots on one more day, and partner with God and one another in the hard and holy work of reconciliation, charting a new path toward God’s dream for us.
While some carry torches, we have the Light. We are committed to the path of love and justice. May we proclaim in word and deed that love really is louder and stronger and more powerful that the hate we saw on display in Charlottesville last weekend. And may we embody God’s dream for our city, our commonwealth our nation, and our world. Amen.
Correction: Aug. 21, 2017
An earlier version of this opinion piece misspelled the surname of Kid President. It is Novak, not Nova.