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Six blocks from DC protests, fighting hate with faith

We are facing a moment like those in which Dr. King said that silence is betrayal.

Supporters of President Donald Trump who are wearing attire associated with the Proud Boys attend a rally at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

(RNS) — Hate groups protesting the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s loss in the November election will return to D.C. this week, at the president’s strong urging.

Thomas Circle, the D.C. neighborhood where the two churches we pastor — Luther Place Memorial Church and National City Christian Church — stand in sight of each other, is an easy walk from the White House and Black Lives Matter Plaza. It has been ground zero for white supremacist groups’ havoc since before Election Day. Loud mobs, disregarding polite requests for cooperation, have destroyed property and aggressively shouted at church volunteers for months.

Last month, instead of preparing for some of the holiest days in the church calendar, we spent our time looking out for the safety of our neighbors while trying to keep tabs on the Black Lives Matter signs in front of both our churches — in vain, as they were torn down repeatedly. 

Our churches and our neighborhoods are once again at risk. D.C. government and law enforcement have gone into “lockdown” mode with the expectation of significant unrest and possible violence.

The violence threatened by these groups disrupts more than our liturgies and our local peace. Our churches’ more than century-long history of service to the surrounding community has become critically important during the pandemic. Food distribution, space for recovery meetings, office space for nonprofits are just some of the ways we live out our faith and provide for others on the circle.

Our faith’s role in this moment, however, means speaking out against expressions of hatred and violence. 

The role of emperor in organized violence is nothing new. This week Christians celebrate the Day of Epiphany, when the wise sages followed a star to Jesus’ birthplace, subverting the political machinations and violence of an evil despot king.

History, as they say, repeats itself. We are once again facing a moment like those in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that silence is betrayal. Care for our neighbors on Thomas Circle right now means standing up to those who seek to marginalize or hurt them.

The groups arriving in Washington this week are free to express their opinions as part of the democracy in which we live, of course. But two weeks ago, again at the invitation of those who walk the highest halls of power, white supremacists in our streets felt emboldened to threaten the safety and peace of our church grounds and the neighborhood we serve.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we consider opposition to the ideals of white supremacy and white Christian nationalism to be fundamental to our work and witness. We say no to hatred, declare our churches sanctuaries of peace, reject the president’s call to violence and the efforts of all those who would answer him in kind.

We call on our neighbors, city officials and fellow faith communities to visibly resist racism and white supremacist violence and to join local organizers in advocating for ways to create safe spaces. Specifically, we’ve asked our neighbors on the circle, including Washington Plaza Hotel, to limit business with hate groups and to join us in insisting our neighborhood remain peaceful and safe.

And we will keep reinstalling our Black Lives Matter signs until the world knows that the way of Jesus is always a way of radical love and justice for all people.

(The Rev. Karen Brau is senior pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church. The Rev. Amy Butler is interim senior minister at National City Christian Church. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)