The world is turning its eyes to the future, rebuilding after a difficult two years of pandemic and division. As we do, there are calls for unity. This is to be celebrated. But rebuilding with unity requires us to leave behind certain ideologies that cannot be allowed power in a nation that seeks to have liberty and justice for all.
For example, the Alaska Legislature has recently been wrestling with the question of what to do with Rep. David Eastman. On the surface, they were addressing his involvement in a seditious organization. But at a deeper and more concerning level, attention was being given to his pattern of racist and antisemitic behavior, which extends back much farther than recent events. In response to being called out on this pattern, Rep. Eastman released a statement which said, in effect, that racists shouldn’t be kept out of office, and lamented a world in which “racism cannot be allowed to exist in any form,” as if shunning racism were were a bad thing. This blatant defense of white supremacy would have been considered a confession if it didn’t sound so much like a boast. The statement was revised later, but the edits didn’t change the message: the belief that the ideology of white supremacy ought to have a legitimate voice in our nation.
All people of faith must condemn this belief. All people of faith must stand up and say yes, it’s true, “racism cannot be allowed to exist in any form.”
The practicalities of state law may allow Rep. Eastman to avoid any immediate consequences of his pattern of antisemitic behavior. But people of faith hold to a deeper law, an eternal one that commands us to shine a light on those evil and cowardly things that prefer to hide in the darkness. The sin of white supremacy is one such thing. It is shameful, and has no place in legitimate political discourse. Though the law does not preclude white supremacists from free expression or from holding an elected position, it is our duty as people of faith to proclaim that it must never be granted acceptance in our society.
We must condemn white supremacist beliefs so that our brothers and sisters who are in the minority know that they do not stand alone, and so future candidates know that their beliefs will be held under similar scrutiny. Because this is not about state law, and it’s not about an individual legislator. It’s about what we as a community consider to be worthy of a voice in the conversation. As we enter the next few rebuilding years, we must ask ourselves what morals and values will define us as a people, and whether racism has any place at that table.
This responsibility falls to us all, whether or not we want to speak out. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor whose experience is denied by those who have been poisoned by white supremacist ideology, famously said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” As we consider which ideologies will create unity and compassion, and will build a the future we hope for, we urge all elected officials to take Wiesel’s words to heart, to refuse to choose neutrality and silence, and to condemn white supremacy with clarity and strength. And voters should pay close attention to which elected officials succumb to the temptation of silence, and in so doing, mark themselves as complicit.
These are hard topics, but there is good news: None of this is to condemn a person, but a behavior. This does not condemn an individual, but an ideology. We are building a future of liberty and justice; of compassion and hope. Rep. Eastman is welcome to join us at that inclusive table, but white supremacy is not. Because “racism cannot be allowed to exist in any form.”
Rev. Matt Schultz, an Anchorage pastor, is on the steering committee for Christians for Equality.
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