Thursday, December 15, 2016

Statements of Support and Solidarity

The situation of Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy and his tweets continues to be a rather heated topic of conversation for people in the wider community and, I know, among some within ours.  It is a situation which would appear to put different values at odds with one another.  There are those who are very solidly pro or against; there are others who don't know quite what to think.

I stand with Wes.  I recognize that not everyone in TJMC will agree with that position, so it is good that "we need not think alike to love alike."  I respect those with different perspectives.  And while I cannot -- and will not -- speak for the congregation unless I have been directed to do so, I will always speak my understanding of truth whenever and wherever I believe it needs to be heard.

A couple of weeks ago I took the step of writing a letter of support to Dr. Pamela Moran, Superintendent of the Albemarle County Schools.  This morning I wrote a letter to the Daily Progress.  In both I spoke for myself alone, yet it seems to me that you all ought to know what your Lead Minister is saying and doing in the community, even when doing it in his own name.  So here is the text of my two letters.  

Dr. Moran, 
I am writing to you concerning Wes Bellamy.  I imagine that you’ve been receiving a lot of letters, emails, phone calls, and probably even comments in the grocery store!  To say that the issue of whether or not Mr. Bellamy’s past tweets disqualify him to serve as a teacher has engendered many strong opinions would be a serious understatement.  Nonetheless, I would like to offer own opinion for your consideration.  I write as a local area pastor, a white man who is committed to the work of confronting and dismantling oppression, a husband, and the father of two multi-racial children (currently in 6th and 9th grades). 
I do not know Mr. Bellamy well.  He and I have a passing, mostly professional, acquaintance.  I know him primarily through what I’ve seen of him in his public life, as well as the “feel” I get from him when we have talked face to face.  I join with others who agree that what he wrote in those tweets is unacceptable. Homophobic slurs, anti-white prejudice, and misogynist rhetoric are all symptoms of deep societal ills, and their propagation only exacerbates the problem.  As I said, I do not know Mr. Bellamy well, so I do not know him well enough to say with certainty that he has, indeed, changed his thinking.  Yet I also don’t know him well enough to know for certain that he hasn’t.  
There are two things I do know, however, without any doubt: 
The man who unearthed and then publicized these tweets is motivated by his own racial animus.  His racist opposition to Mr. Bellamy has been made clear before the blog post that gave rise to this situation, and he and many of those who are supporting his “cause” have made little to no attempt to hide their contempt for who he is (a strong Black man), and the work he has dedicated himself to (creating a more just community for people of color, to be sure, but for all who call this region home).  Their motivation does not absolve Mr. Bellamy of his responsibility for his past actions, of course, but it does provide a context for their efforts.  The outrage being expressed is largely not at what he said but, rather, who he is, because who he is is anathema to them and their world view. 
The other thing of which I am certain is that the work Mr. Bellamy has done, and is doing, are antithetical to the positions represented in those tweets.  Whatever his motivations then for writing them, his actions now are anything but misogynist, anti-white, homophobic, or in any other ways derogatory and divisive  He shows up wherever a voice for inclusion is needed, and he, himself, is often a driving force for creating such opportunities.  I know for certain that he has made, and is making, a real difference in the lives of many and, in truth, in the life of our community. 
I do not write on behalf of the congregation I serve, yet as an ordained clergy person I believe in repentance and redemption, and in the power of transformation.  How could I not?  And, so, how can I not hear Mr. Bellamy’s powerful words of apology, and his acknowledgement of a willingness to be held accountable for what he said in his past, and not be willing to believe he has changed?  Especially in light of the good works he has been doing.  I find myself thinking of the passage from the Christian scriptures, James 2:18 – “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  You could easily substitute the word “beliefs” for “faith,” and I would say unequivocally that the works Mr. Bellamy does demonstrate beliefs far, far different than those he expressed in the past. 
Your job, though, does not end involve deciding whether Mr. Bellamy has changed, or deserves a second chance.  The decision you must weigh is whether it is appropriate, given those past sentiments, for him to be teaching the young people of our community. Obviously I am writing to encourage you to resist the pressures I can only imagine you are under to remove Mr. Bellamy from his teaching position.  As I said earlier, I have two children in the Albemarle school system, and I would be quite pleased if a man like Mr. Bellamy were one of their teachers.  My boys live in a world where the kinds of things expressed in those tweets are part of common parlance.  Perhaps increasingly so right now.  The example of a man who has apparently left such beliefs behind, and who condemns such a way of thinking through his every public utterance and action – that is the kind of role model I would want my boys to emulate.

If I can be of any service, please do not hesitate to be in touch.  Know that you are in my prayers during what is no doubt a difficult time.

And here's my letter to the Daily Progress:
As a member of the clergy I believe in redemption.  I believe in transformation.  And I believe in Charlottesville's Vice-Mayor, Wes Bellamy.  In no way do I condone the language and thoughts expressed in the recently discovered tweets.  They are, simply, hateful.  And Mr. Bellamy has said as much.  But I believe him when he also says that they are the thoughts of a young man, a man who has since matured in his thinking as he has had more life experience.

In the Christian Scriptures, the author of the book of James challenges, "Show me your works, and I will show you your faith."  Put another way, "let me see how you act in the world -- that will show me what you believe."  The actions of the Wes Bellamy of today demonstrate a radically different world view than the one he expressed in the past.  The angry words of exclusion have been replaced by works dedicated toward loving inclusion.  His previous "black and white" thinking has been replaced by actions committed to celebrating and expanding our multi-color reality.  And his call for radical inclusion embraces not just differences in skin color, but also ethnicity, religion, class, gender identity, sexual orientation -- wherever we are divided, he can be seen at work today calling for unity.
Some say that since the tweets continued until just a few years ago, there is no way his apparent conversion could be real.  In the Christian tradition we are told that Saul of Tarsus went from persecuting Christians to promoting the faith in just three days.  Within the Zen tradition it is said that enlightenment can occur in an instant.

Repentance, atonement, and reconciliation are themes found in every religion we humans have ever developed.  I believe in these ideas, and I believe I have seen them at work in Wes Bellamy’s life.  I have two multi-racial children in the Albemarle school system, and I would be pleased to have a man like Mr. Bellamy be their teacher.

I am happy to speak with anyone who would like to talk about these public statement of supports.  I'd be particularly happy to speak with people who disagree with me.  Our ability to respect differences of opinion is one of the hallmarks of our Unitarian Universalist faith.

Pax tecum,

Rev. Wik

“We are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love.”