OFFICIAL STATEMENT: Silence Equals Complicity - Denouncing White Nationalist Terrorism

When we started Against the Wall two years ago, we underestimated how provocative our choice of name would be. At the time, the conversation about a physical wall on America’s southern border was in its infancy, and we would quickly clarify that our movement, inspired by the gospel and our understanding of Scripture, is focused on eradicating metaphorical (although very real) walls of racial oppression and division. In spite of making this clear on numerous occasions, we tended to always get roped into the conversation about a physical southern border. As we have navigated those conversations, we have discovered that there are more connections between the two discussions than we may have been willing to concede at our inception. 

This reality became even clearer as reports of the recent shooting in El Paso, Texas was released, followed quickly by another in Dayton, Ohio. In El Paso, the self-identifying white nationalist shooter drove nine hours to the border city with the intent of killing as many immigrants as possible. Of the 22 people murdered in this shocking act of white nationalist domestic terrorism, 8 were Mexican nationals. Twenty minutes before the shooting, he posted a 4-page manifesto online filled with white supremacist language and racist hatred aimed at immigrants and Latinos, and other hate-filled rhetoric such as his distaste for “race-mixing” and his belief that Democrats are planning a “Hispanic Invasion.” Law enforcement reported that the shooter showed no remorse or regret. Make no mistake about it, this was a cold and calculated act of white nationalist domestic terror targeted at immigrants, and Mexican nationals in particular. All reports indicate that the shooter’s belief in white supremacy and his deep commitment to the hatred expressed in his manifesto were the primary factors motivating this act of terror—not violent video games, a mental health issue, or some other secondary factor. While we appreciate the swift responses of the Texico & Ohio Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists, in which they expressed sympathy and denounced the hate and violence, we think it is imperative that we speak in direct terms about the hateful ideology that was informing the shooting in El Paso (the motive of the Dayton shooting remains under investigation). 

We stand in agreement with the Official Statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church drafted in 1990 that called for the ban on sales of assault weapons to civilians. Weapons of war have no place on our streets and eliminating and/or limiting their sale is a common sense regulation that will make these kinds of senseless tragedies much more difficult to carry out. During the ten years that the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons ban was in effect, studies clearly showed a significant decline in mass shootings. After Congress did not re-institute the ban in 2004, the number of shootings began to increase again. 

We are also calling for the following related reforms:

  • Universal background checks that would require all firearm transactions to be recorded and go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

  • A 30-day waiting period for all gun sales, meaning you make the purchase and then wait 30 days to take possession of the firearm, allowing potential emotions and plans for harm and destruction to subside or be addressed by loved ones.

  • As stated above, a ban on assault rifles—automatic, semi-automatic, high magazine guns that are designed for rapidly killing one human after another (the recent Dayton shooter, with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a 100-round drum magazine, was able to kill 9 people and wound 27 others in just 32 seconds).

  • Making illegal all financial contributions to politicians and political parties by corporations and organizations that have vested interest in the manufacturing and sales of firearms, weapons, and related accessories.

  • Universal “red flag” laws, which would allow family members or police officers to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

  • Making the universal age 21 for legally purchasing firearms, whereas now in many states it is legal for a young person to buy a gun before they’re old enough to legally purchase alcohol.

We understand that some people may disagree with these suggestions. We are ok with that, but in the face of the immense amount of pain and grief we are feeling on the heels of yet another wave of mass shootings (these were numbers 249 and 250 this year alone), we found it essential to be specific in what it is that we are advocating for. The time for empty platitudes, “thoughts and prayers” without any action, and dismissive insults are over. The time to be the hands and feet of God on this earth is now. 

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While we will continue to refrain from stating a public opinion on whether or not a physical wall should be built on our southern border (we do question the effectiveness of such a strategy), we absolutely cannot be silent about the way that this subject has negatively affected the broader conversation about immigration in this country and the hateful rhetoric aimed towards Latinos—many of which are seeking asylum and refuge from their country of origin. Since his candidacy for president began, Mr. Trump has targeted Mexican nationals and other Latino immigrants with racist rhetoric, most notably when, while announcing his candidacy he said (about Mexican people), “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Just this past May at a rally in Florida, after asking the crowd how they could stop migrants from trying to cross the border, someone yelled out, “Shoot them!” In response, as reported in the media, “Trump paused and smirked, before responding, ‘that’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.’ The crowd cheered for nearly ten seconds before he continued.” Mr. Trump has not only condoned this kind of hateful rhetoric, he has used it to his political advantage. As people of faith who are committed to tearing down walls of racial hatred, division and oppression, we categorically denounce Mr. Trump’s racist rhetoricand call on him to fully account for his racism and be the leader that the position of President requires him to be.

Having said that, it would be too easy for us to simply lay these problems at the feet of Mr. Trump. While his rhetoric, behavior, and policy positions certainly have not helped move us toward a “more perfect union,” the ills of racially motivated violence pre-date him by centuries. Contrary to contemporary attempts at revisionist history, America’s original sin of human chattel slavery was primarily motivated by the same belief in white supremacy that motivated the El Paso shooter to target and take away lives that he considered to be inferior to his. White supremacy’s dehumanizing effects extend not just to the image bearers of God that are falsely labeled as inferior, but it also extends to the white person who sadly falls into the lie that God made them superior and so they can do whatever they please to the “lesser” groups of people. This false belief in a hierarchy of human value must be eradicated wherever it rears its ugly head—from our politics, our schools, our communities and, of paramount importance to those who claim the banner of Christianity, from our churches. 

We see this work as some of the most vital of our time because, at its foundation, racism is a system of oppression fueled by an ideology of ethnic superiority designed to justify economic advantage. There are corporate and financial implications of the system that are informed and entrenched by individual and attitudinal beliefs and behaviors. It is important to understand that racism created what we know to be racial classifications—it didn’t happen the other way around. The racist ideology behind creating a hierarchy of human value is what drove this country’s (and our world's) need for racial distinctions, chiefly between those who are white and those who are non-white. As James Baldwin brilliantly posited, "What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n***** in the first place, because I'm not a n******, I'm a man, but if you think I'm a n*****, it means you need it." Racism created race. So, then, simply saying, as some do, that we can just do away with racial distinctions and differences and that doing so will "solve" the problem because "we are all a part of the human race," misses the real point. Originally, it was actually the denial of that fact—that we are all a part of the human race—that fed the need for racial distinction (which has racism at its roots).

When we begin to tackle those deeply rooted issues, we can move toward more tangible frameworks that would enable us to create a better future. We invite you to join us in commiting to the work of anti-racism. Simply put, anti-racism means that you consistently and affirmatively stand in opposition to racism. Anti-racism isn’t reactionary, it requires individuals to take proactive steps to root out the ills of racism. "Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably." A great place to start on the anti-racism journey is the work of Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginningand How to be an Antiracist

We call on the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to release an official statement denouncing white nationalism. We also believe that it is way past time for the church to write a theological statement on the topic of racism and take an honest, transparent look at the legacy of systemic racism that has plagued our global movement for decades. We plan to send a petition to the leaders of the General Conference, the North American Division, and the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. Our church can no longer remain silent in the face of the rise and horrible impact of white nationalism and the racist belief in white supremacy that fuels it. Racism's effects go beyond the interpersonal level and are deeply rooted into the fabric of America and will not be eradicated until the institutions in this country address those roots wherever they can be found. Please join us by signing this petition as we insist, in the name of Christ, that the leadership of our church remain silent no longer on this vital gospel issue. 

There are several other great works of literary art that can help you along the way, but we believe that the first step on this journey is making an affirmative declaration that you are Against The Wall. As our first call to action, we would encourage you to go over to our declaration’s page and tell us why you are Against The Wall. We will follow up and request a hi-res photo and post your declaration on our website. We hope to build a human library of hundreds—or even thousands—of people who are committed to eradicating walls of racial hatred, oppression, and separation. As you join us, we will share more resources to accompany us along the way on this collaborative journey. Please visit our blog as well and if you are inspired to contribute beyond just your declaration, reach out to us and let us know how we can partner together. We are Against the Wall. Are you? 

-The Against The Wall Team

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