By BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler

Shock, disgust, deep sadness and grief, disorientation, anger, despair, resolve. I have experienced this full range of emotions since the horrific events of hate and violence that unfolded this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m grateful for the words of witness from Baptist leaders. Their condemnations have been so complete and strong, did I really have anything to add? But I have nevertheless felt compelled to offer my own brief reflections on how this strange and terrifying reality we find ourselves in relates to our work of defending religious freedom for all.

I refuse to label anything so wrong as white supremacy and anti-Semitism as “right,” and the views of this dangerous minority are not just “alternative” but malignant. I stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who are the targets of their venomous epithets and threats.

While the ostensible rationale for their convergence in Charlottesville was in reaction to the decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, their ideology of hatred and exclusion is directed not at one group but at many. Swastikas, “Sieg heil” and “blood and soil” chants, and a torchlit rally are direct references to the Nazis’ genocide of Jews and others they deemed to be inferior. Among the many firsthand accounts written from Charlottesville, this piece by Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel, brought home for me the impact of the aggression on one faith community.

For months, I have been writing, preaching and speaking about how hateful rhetoric and violence targeting religious minorities is as much a threat to religious liberty as any law or Executive Order. These individual acts not only demand responses from our officials, but also from we the people. Mr. Zimmerman’s essay highlights some of the ways that his non-Jewish neighbors showed love and support to his community this weekend.

In these days when many in the faith community are asking what we can do to respond, I put forward one avenue for action that the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee launched this summer. On the “Neighbors” page of our website, we suggest ways to know and love our neighbors, and ask that you share your stories with us so we can promote them. We can counter the hate with our stories of how we are following Jesus’ Greatest Commandment by loving our neighbors.  

I was inspired by the bravery shown by the peaceful counter-protestors in Charlottesville and particularly by those who participated in the “Congregate C’ville” action of faith leaders. The images of clergy, standing arm and arm, praying, singing and ministering in the field show the power of religion free from state control.

Our country faces many challenges right now. In this chaotic environment, we at the BJC will remain singularly focused on defending religious freedom for all, never taking for granted that our First Freedom must be protected as a bedrock protection for all our other freedoms.

Amanda Tyler is executive director
of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
in Washington, D.C.