Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


What Defiles Us

Rumors had circulated all week. Details were scant. No time or place was certain, but white nationalists and supremacists were heading into Charlottesville, VA for a Saturday “Unite the Right” rally.  At some point the decision was made that they would also march in a torchlight procession on Friday night—a symbolic gathering meant to evoke sentiments of similar marches by Hitler’s Youth and the Ku Klux Clan.

That torchlight parade would prove to be the catalyst for a horrific 24-hours in the usually quiet college town. Soon it would be seen by our nation and the world as a day of racial rage, hate, violence, and death.

By Friday evening, a column of about 250 mostly young white males began to stretch across a large expanse of grass at the University of Virginia. Organizers told them to light their torches. “Now! Now! Go!”

Racial chants echoed as the group marched past the halls of the beautiful university founded by Thomas Jefferson. They paraded down the middle of the lawn, climbed to the rotunda, and converged at a statue of Thomas Jefferson himself.

A small group of university students—both black and white—had locked arms around the base of the statue to face down the much larger group of torchbearers. The marchers circled them. Some made monkey noises at the black counter protesters. Then they mocked them chanting “White lives matter!”

Within moments there was chaos. Punches were thrown. Both sides suffered injuries. The next day was much worse.

At 8:00 a.m. the park began to fill with rally goers waving nationalistic banners and chanting slogans. Many carried shields and clubs. A large number also carried pistols and long guns. Counter-protesters had also gathered early. There were members of anti-fascist groups, joined by local residents, members of church groups, civil rights leaders, and onlookers.

Then a self-styled militia showed up dressed in camouflage, brandishing semiautomatic rifles.

The rage began to build. A few minutes before 11:00, full-scale violence broke out. Before it was over a car deliberately drove into the crowd of angry protesters, killing one woman. A police helicopter crashed, killing the two officers in it. And hundreds of people were injured, enraged, and pledged to orchestrate more marches.

The Pharisees had that same kind of hate for Jesus. When his disciples failed to wash their hands before eating, the Jewish aristocracy mocked them for violating the Levitical Code.

Jesus gave a stinging retort. “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth… the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” (Matt. 15:18-19)

There are many places in scripture where Jesus openly criticized the Pharisees. Jesus used them as examples of what God didn’t like. Emotions were raw and words were pointed on both sides.

When it was over in Charlottesville, the marchers, the protesters, the counter-protesters, white, black, students, militia—all who screamed across the lines that divide them-- they all defiled themselves when the hate in their hearts spewed from their mouths.

Not just as Christians—but as a nation we must unambiguously stand against evil. We must continue to pray for all those affected in Charlottesville and other places where hate attempts to stamp down, shout out, and destroy love, respect, and freedom.  

We must not forget that the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees also ended in violence and death. Evil attempted to silence love then. It is still trying today.