Tennessee faith leaders are raising their voices, calling for love, faith, prayer, peace and solidarity with immigrant and refugee neighbors as the people of Middle Tennessee prepare for white nationalists who plan to rally on Oct. 28 against the foreign-born people settling in their communities.
The "White Lives Matter" rallies planned for Saturday in Shelbyville, and Murfreesboro have prompted more than 170 clergy from across the state to join together to condemn the white supremacist rallies and lift up local community members who have been holding daily vigils and doing neighborhood outreach in support of the immigrant community in those two cities.
The group of interfaith leaders — which include the Rev. Marie Bacchiocchi, Interim Conference Minister, Southeast Conference (SEC), United Church of Christ and the Rev. Heather Fosburgh Bardole, SEC Associate Conference Minister — has banded together to counter the hateful demonstrations planned by The Nationalist Front, the League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party and other organizations associated with the "Unite the Right" gathering in August in Charlottesville, Va.
"We have been reaching out to the clergy in the area to see how we can best support them and the response,"said Fosburgh Bardole. "For the most part, the response that the local clergy are doing is to meet the hate with love, and creating alternative events during the rally that focus on creating community and understanding among our diversity."
As the faith statement notes, "We proclaim that our great faiths call us to welcome our neighbor. This gathering does not represent who we are as Tennesseans nor who we are as people of faith. Against their vision we stand with all of our neighbors in solidarity and love."
Rabbi Shana Mackler from the Temple Nashville said, "As an American, I agree to the constitutional right to free speech. As a Rabbi, I cling to my right and responsibility to speak up and out against bigoted rhetoric, xenophobia, racism and antisemitism of these groups coming into our state. There is moral clarity here: Hate is NOT a religious value. My faith teaches to see the Divine image in every human being and to celebrate the dignity of difference, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to seek peace and pursue justice. We know where this dark road leads. Hate begets hate, and we've vowed 'Never Again.' People of good faith, standing together against that hate — that is the antidote."
The religious groups are holding vigils every afternoon this week in Shelbyville, gatherings where people of faith stand together for equal human dignity and against racism, with the last one being Friday, Oct. 27. The group is also holding a community prayer service at noon Friday at the First United Methodist Church in Shelbyville.
Residents are preparing for the Oct. 28 demonstration, doing community outreach to strengthen relationships with neighbors, putting up signs against white supremacy in business windows, and getting ready for a community response to show that there's no room for hate in Middle Tennessee.
A committee of Shelbyville immigrants is planning a community cookout on Saturday morning to thank their supporters and provide an alternative space for Shelbyville residents and visitors to enjoy art, activities, and food together at the pavilion of Purdy Court Park.
Margaret Ernst, associate student pastor of the Brookmeade Congregational Church (UCC) will be providing spiritual care, serving on a street chaplaincy team at the counter event and cookout in Shelbyville. "I plan to be there for people who need pastoral care or just need someone available to talk. I want to be of service any way I can."
Ernst, serving a church about an hour southeast of Shelbyville, an MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School said, "Our collective salvation depends on the struggle against white supremacy.
"As a minister in formation in the Nashville area, I stand by Shelbyville and Murfreesboro residents and religious leaders who refuse to let their community be defined by a narrative of scarcity, hate, and fear," she continued. "Those who seek to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ must speak up and resist the idol of whiteness in the many ways it seduces us, whether in the form of Neo-Nazis recruiting white people into their ranks or racism that corrodes our progressive spaces every day. We can and must be strategic in organizing our communities and resources for the long-haul journey out of the nightmare of white supremacy and into being 'new creation' together, everywhere we are and wherever we call home. If we don't, the rallies happening in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro will be a precursor to signs of many worse things to come, not anomalies."