Pastors, Churches Respond to Charlottesville Protests

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The recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., tied to a protest over the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, has prompted a strong response by some in the Christian Reformed Church.

One pastor, Meg Jenista of Washington, D.C. CRC, was in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, as part of an interfaith group of volunteers handing out bottles of water to people near the planned protest site at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. She said she was not near the site of the crash where one woman was killed and several others injured when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of people who had gathered in opposition to the protest. The protesters, chanting racist slogans and displaying Nazi and white nationalist symbols, were eventually barred from the park by police.

Jenista said she met a young person at the event who also opposed the protest. He asked if she was a person of faith, admitting that he wasn’t—but after seeing the response of Christians to the protest, told her he’d consider changing his position.

“It spoke to me about the importance of the church showing up. There are plenty of people out there who have a narrative . . . that the church is irrelevant,” Jenista said. “The white supremacists, I can imagine, have a narrative that says the church doesn’t mind what we’re doing, and there’s a whole bunch of observers who don’t know what to make of faith.”

Meanwhile, Madison CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., organized a Churches United prayer service for Monday, Aug. 14, in response to the violence and expressions of racism. About 300 people gathered at Madison CRC’s Square campus two days after the Charlottesville violence. Pastors and laypeople alike prayed for peace and reconciliation, some offering prayer for those who are part of hate groups. At times, the service became highly emotional, with one pastor fighting back tears as she prayed.

Eric Nykamp, a worship leader at Madison Church’s North campus, and Christina Edmondson, dean of intercultural student development at Calvin College, put the service together almost immediately after hearing the news of the violence. The service not only brought in people from various Christian Reformed churches, but also participants from other faith backgrounds.

“We wanted it to be for the city, not just the church,” Nykamp said. “This isn’t about politics, it’s about heart change, it’s about God.”

Brad Knetsch, pastor of Madison Church’s Ford campus in Grand Rapids, said the service was needed for the community.

“Often times, churches are quite slow in mobilizing to respond to issues that are so pressing,” Knetsch said. “People are asking, ‘Where is God in this? Where is God at work in this?’ That’s the big question.”

Edmondson reminded participants during the service to see themselves in the light of God’s compassion and holiness even in difficult times.

“Our God is bigger and greater, and our God has the final word on bigotry. Reflecting on the goodness of that God helps us go forward,” Edmondson said.

Participants from another Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, Grace CRC, were involved in a Sunday night solidarity march and candlelight vigil in the city’s downtown area. Grace promoted the two events, organized by other groups in the city, on its Facebook page.

About the Author

Greg Chandler is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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