Springfield Faith Leaders Call for More Than Just Condemnation After Racist Acts in Virginia

Aug 14, 2017

Local faith leaders are condemning racist acts by hate groups that occurred Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Members of Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri on Monday specifically called out white supremacists, nativists, nationalists and Nazis before at least 75 spectators inside the Council of Churches of the Ozarks’ Springfield office.

Bishop Edward Rice of the Roman Catholic Church of Southern Missouri said he was “nauseous” when he saw the images from over the weekend in the media.   

“Every morning I pray for our country, I lift our country in prayer always with the end of thinking that the enemy is outside. When I saw those images Saturday morning I realized that we’re tearing ourselves apart and that our country needs healing and reconciliation.”

Reading a statement from Union Reform Judaism Judith Peavy with Temple Israel said the presence and rhetoric of Neo-Nazis in Virginia this weekend “Is a reminder of the ever present need for people of goodwill to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate, and act both to delegitimize those who spread such messages and to mitigate the harm done to the Commonwealth of our nation and to those who are the targets of hate messages.”

Rev. Steve Gardner with Interfaith Alliance of the Ozarks acknowledged that while local churches differ in faith and practice “We stand together in condemnation of the senseless acts of violence and racism in Charlottesville and elsewhere in our nation.”   

The remarks came 48 hours after a violent Saturday in the Virginia college town, where those against the removal of a Confederate monument were met by counter protestors. At one point, a car plowed through a crowd of counter protestors, killing one person and injuring others.

Around the time Faith Voices members were sharing their thoughts, President Donald Trump singled out white nationalists for the first time. He had come under criticism for not specifically naming racist groups in his initial statement after Saturday’s events.

Rev. Mark Struckhoff speaking Monday.
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

The public condemnation by the president was a request of the Springfield church leaders Monday. Rev. Phil Snider with Brentwood Christian Church said such comments “would be a step in the right direction.” He added it was appropriate for the Justice Department to label Saturday’s murder of a counter protestor as an act of domestic terrorism.

Snider called on religious organizations to refuse support for policies and leaders that perpetuate racism rather than stand against it. He noted that actions should extend beyond just condemnations by building communities that value fairness, dignity, equality and justice.

“We are not simply asking for all Americans to come together and listen to one another. No we are asking Americans, particularly those who adhere to or benefit from white supremacy, to do the hard, long work of repentance,” said Snider.

He asked people to not allow racism to go unchecked, noting “silence is nothing less than betrayal.”

“The violence and hate in Charlottesville was horrific. But so are the daily injustices of discrimination in the structures of our society.”

Snider, along with Rev. Mark Struckhoff and others, also used Monday’s event to call public officials to account.

Snider said Trump’s rhetoric is “reckless” and that it has emboldened white supremacists. He specifically called for the removal of “extremist presidential advisers like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka…because of their ties to an Alt-Right, white, Neo-Nazi nationalism.”

Struckhoff read from a statement prepared by Missouri Faith Voices Executive Director Reverend Dr. Cassandra Gould, who said the events in Charlottesville are not an isolated sect.

“They are the fruit of a tree that was not planted by the current administration in Washington, D.C. But this tree has certainly been fertilized by the president and his hand selected appointees,” Gould’s statement read.

It continued by saying that without action, “Our children will face the same demons and be subjected to a new crop of the fruit from the same wicked tree.”

Springfield NAACP President Cheryl Clay, one of Monday’s spectators, afterward reiterated to KSMU the need to be active against hate.

“Silence is acceptance. And this situation is appalling and unacceptable. And our legislators need to know that we are not going to accept this,” said Clay.