Some Christian leaders were quick to condemn the Charlottesville attacks in specific, strong terms. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called them “abhorrent acts of hatred.” Cardinal Blase Cupich, who leads the Archdiocese of Chicago and is widely see as a close ally of Pope Francis, seemed to criticize President Trump’s initial statement on the attacks, which cited “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” “When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it,” Cupich tweeted.
Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted that “the so-called alt-right white-supremacist ideologies are anti-Christ and satanic to the core.” Jack Graham, a Texas megachurch pastor who serves on Trump’s evangelical advisory committee, wrote that “white supremacy and its movements are evil to the core and are to be condemned.”
Other white Christian leaders spoke only in vague terms, much like the president. For example: Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, asked his Facebook followers to “ pray for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, law enforcement, and everyone struggling to deal with the chaos and violence that reared its ugly head in Charlottesville,” citing neither “racism” nor “white supremacy.”
Traci Blackmon, the executive minister of justice-and-witness ministries for the United Church of Christ, was at the protest in Charlottesville—a video clip shows her getting pulled to the side to avoid getting swept up in a fight in the middle of an interview with MSNBC. She expressed exhaustion on Facebook. To her fellow pastors, she wrote:
Might you consider beginning your worship tomorrow morning with prayer for our nation and the people of Charlottesville in particular?
Will you pray for the wounded. The healers. The witnesses. The warriors. and the dead inside? Will you pray for the families of those who have died? And will you call out white supremacy by name and rebuke it in the name of Jesus?
Many prominent church leaders called on their fellow pastors to do the same this Sunday morning. At the non-denominational Protestant church I was at in northern New Jersey, the pastor spent several minutes ahead of his sermon talking to his congregation about what had happened.
“To see American streets with people walking down doing the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute is just disturbing,” he said. He asked the congregants to pray for America. “We live in a pretty politically divided country, but as followers of Jesus, we need to make sure that whatever we think politically, we clearly and loudly condemn any ideology that espouses bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and violence,” he said. “We are called to testify and be ambassadors to a kingdom that’s going to be summed up with every tongue, every tribe, every nation worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ on the throne.” To those who are afraid, he said, “remember that Jesus overcame the world.”