By Ryan Dunn
Two “White Lives Matter” rallies, organized by white nationalist and supremacist organizations, were scheduled to take place in Middle Tennessee in October of 2017. They didn’t quite happen as planned. Why?
I showed up for a counter-rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I went with a fair amount of uncertainty about what was happening. The objectives weren’t clear to me. I didn’t know what activities were planned or what role I had to play in any of it — or if it was even safe to be there.
The confrontations around similar events in Charlottesville, Virginia, were definitely on my mind. My fears weren’t alleviated much when the counter-rally organizers began forming a barricade of large trucks between our gathering spot and the road.
Yet a different mood developed amidst the gathered people. There were too many smiles to feel very fearful. In short order, it became clear that this was not an angry mob bent on confrontation. It was a gathering dedicated to sharing love.
The white nationalist and supremacist groups chose this area of Middle Tennessee for the rallies because they thought they’d find wide support here. This gathering came about to say, “We support love.”
Organizer Abdou Kattih clarified the objectives of our counter-rally, noting that we were not to greet the nationalists and supremacists with the same hostility with which we expected them to greet us. We were, instead, to greet them with eyes of pity and the hopes that they could grow to be more loving than they are.
Our job was to personify that love. “Today we’re not marching against them,” he said. “We’re marching for us!”
I considered staying home that day. The idea of the white supremacists preaching to no one, to a vacuum, held some wisdom. What ideas could they spread if there was no one around to hear them?
But love can’t be experienced in a vacuum either. And this counter-rally became an opportunity to preach love in the face of fear and hate.
Hundreds of people showed up for the counter-rally. There aren’t official numbers, but I did hear a figure of around 500. It was quite a community.
I’m thankful that I showed up. I’m thankful for all who showed up, because by showing up we all supplied a playground for love.
There’s power in showing up, even when we’re unsure of the outcomes.
I believe the presence of God was there, too. Many say that wherever two or three are gathered, there God is. If God is love, then this is certainly true.
Love was definitely present that morning, and love’s presence grew throughout the day. There was a spirit moving in the community, and it was spirit counter to the intentions of the white nationalists and supremacists.
As our band of counter-protesters took to the streets, our numbers swelled. Many folks who were simply driving by felt compelled to join in the rally of love. Others voiced support through car honks and peace signs.
The media showed up. People live broadcasted the experience through social media — they were eager to share. All were moved by the spirit. And they were welcomed.
The confrontation I feared with white supremacists never happened. After a small morning rally, they cancelled their subsequent activities. Perhaps they felt the spirit, too.
As the Rev. Jacob Armstrong noted:
“I’ll remember the White Lives Matter guys not showing up. There are many reasons for this we can point to. Certainly, the response of the city leaders and police and the way they handled it. I think the counter protestors played a role, but mostly I think the Holy Spirit turned their hearts to turn their cars. Thankful.”
The Spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum. It requires some attendance. When we do show up, when we attend to matters of the Spirit, something undeniably powerful seems to happen. It’s a reminder for those seasons when I feel spiritually disconnected.
There is another lesson I’ve gleaned from this experience: Love shows up.
Ryan Dunn is the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, son, mother-in-law, and flock of furry family members. He really hopes you'll check out his podcast.
Posted November 7, 2017