People across the U.S. are calling for civility. Conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike claim we just need to be nicer to one another. It’s no different here in Charlottesville, Va., where almost one year ago, hundreds of white supremacists, neo-confederates, and neo-Nazis descended upon our small town with the intent to do harm.
Even with the extreme violence we’ve experienced in Charlottesville, many folks here continue to critique activists and tell people harmed by a white supremacist terror attack to calm down, be patient, let the courts handle it and be civil. Crusaders of civility have even plastered stickers around town with a local plea for “C’ville-ity.”
Our local love affair with civility was most obviously showcased in trial of Corey Long. Corey, a local black man, was charged with a crime for asserting his humanity during the white supremacist mob violence that occurred last August.
Several weeks ago, Corey was convicted of disorderly conduct. In Charlottesville, and everywhere in the U.S., , it is deemed disorderly to protect your own black body and your own black community in the midst of white terror. Corey has been sentenced to jail time and was fired from his job.
During the trial, Judge Downer asserted that the only real victim in everything that happened last August is the reputation of Charlottesville. He claimed that we used to be an all-American town, but since everyone behaved badly on August 12 , our good reputation has been tarnished.
Judge Downer subscribes to the religion of American status quo and civility. He places the comfort and reputation of wealthy white Charlottesville over and above the actual humanity of black and brown bodies.
And, unfortunately, he is not alone. There are many, many white Christians, conservative, moderate, and liberal, who claim they are worshiping Jesus, but are actually worshipping American status quo and civility.
For those of us who wish to be rooted in Gospel specificity, let us remember that Jesus was not civil. Jesus was not the picture of passivity and niceness that we like to paint.
Yes, Jesus fed those who were starving and healed those who were cast out, all the while breaking religious laws and challenging political norms. Jesus shouted. On passover, Jesus held a march, a protest procession, to counteract the military parade held for Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Jesus encouraged his followers to get naked in court, destabilizing the cycle of debt and shame.
Jesus was a threat to status quo and civility. That’s why those in power lynched him on a cross.
This is not a time for the marketplace of ideas. There are people who believe that immigrant children are criminals. There are people who act as though queer folks are an abomination. There are people who consider every black and brown person to be a threat. These ideas are not worth debating. Logical conversations will not dissuade oppressors. Civility has never transformed the reality of the marginalized and it never will.
Real, actual, radical change only occurs when we are willing to risk our comfort, risk our respectability, and risk even our livelihoods. We see this demonstrated throughout the entire book of Acts. Peter, John, Paul and the other follows of Jesus were flogged, brought before council, arrested, thrown in prison, attacked with mob violence, and stoned to death. Meanwhile these followers of Jesus continued to proclaim a new and radical way; they participated in mutual aid, made friends with sexual minorities, overturned religious norms, loved each other, and protected each other.
We mustn’t forget that only one of Jesus’ 12 disciples died in peace. The others were beheaded, skinned alive, speared and crucified. If only they’d been a bit more civil, perhaps the authorities would have spared them their lives. “Civil" societies have always been violent to minorities, political dissidents, and resistors of the status quo.
May we choose the way of discomfort, the way of resisting the status quo, the way of challenging respectability and the way of deconstructing false notions of peace. May we choose the non-violent, non-passive, uncivil way of Jesus.