Reacting to the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, Oak Ridge faith leaders on Monday condemned white supremacy, racism, anti-semitism, and other forms of hatred, and they asked the Oak Ridge City Council to adopt a resolution expressing similar sentiments.
The statement of condemnation of hatred and racism was read by Derrick Hammond, pastor of Oak Valley Baptist Church, during a Monday evening meeting of the Oak Ridge City Council as 14 other clergy members stood by him in support.
It came two days after a 32-year-old Virginia woman was killed and 19 other people were injured after a car plowed into counter-protesters on the day of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. About two hours after the car crash, two Virginia state troopers who both have East Tennessee ties were killed when their police helicopter crashed and burned; the helicopter had been involved in providing surveillance and information during the day, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.
“This past weekend, a 32-year-old young lady by the name of Heather Heyer lost her life, and many others were seriously injured at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the Oak Ridge faith leaders said in their statement delivered to City Council on Monday. “The white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other ‘alt-right’ hate groups were gathered in order to ‘take America back.’
“While the kind of hate, bigotry, and white supremacist ideology that we witnessed in Charlottesville is not new to America, this racist minority movement has been emboldened by what they perceive as support for their un-American world view. Their rhetoric and actions threaten the historic progress our ancestors, from many faiths and ethnic backgrounds, have made toward equality for all. It is now our responsibility and privilege to celebrate the rich diversity of our nation and continue their work.
“Mr. Mayor and City Council, we, the faith community, stand in solidarity to condemn white supremacy, racism, anti-semitism, and any other form of hatred in the strongest terms. We desire to name it for what it is: evil, tyrannical, and antithetical to our Declaration of Independence, which declares, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
The faith leaders asked the Oak Ridge City Council to draft and adopt a resolution that expressed similar sentiments.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said the City Council could re-affirm equal rights for all Americans, and liberty and justice for all, in September.
“Over the last 75 years, the best, the brightest, the most patriotic, the most talented men and women from every state in this country, and indeed around the world, have come to Oak Ridge,” Gooch said. “As a result of that, they’ve worked, they’ve made our county safer, they have enhanced our lives, and we our better for that. Historically, Oak Ridge has celebrated its diversity of views, its diversity of religion, and we are proud of that.
“This isn’t just a moment for us. The world is watching and so are our children.”
The statement of condemnation read by Hammond on Monday was endorsed by Reverend Sharon Youngs (First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge), Reverend Mark Flynn (First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge), Reverend Brian Scott (Robertsville Baptist Church), Reverend Rory Naeve (First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge), Reverend Jake Morrill (Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church), Father Brent Shelton (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), Reverend Annette Flynn (Flynn Partnerships), Reverend Larry Dipboye and Reverend Carolyn Dipboye (Grace Covenant Church), Reverend Steve Sherman (First Christian Church of Oak Ridge), and Rabbi Victor Rashkovsky (Jewish Congregation of Oak Ridge).
Here are summaries of the responses of other City Council members during Monday’s meeting:
Chuck Hope—“All men and women should be treated and acted on equally.”
Jim Dodson—Dodson is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School. Among his first words to students every day, Dodson said: “Treat other people the way you feel they should treat you. That’s one of the more important lessons that we as educators can instill in those young minds.”
Ellen Smith—“People should be able to express themselves in public without fear of being attacked, physically or in any other form, for their opinions and behavior…This is not something we want to see in our community. We condemn hatred and violence.”
Kelly Callison—Like other Council members, Callison recognized the unity of faith leaders from many different religions. That makes the country strong and resilient, he said.
Hans Vogel—Vogel said he is the first generation born here from an immigrant. It’s a diverse and unique environment, and there is diversity in the community and an ability to speak up without being attacked, Vogel said. He said he appreciated everyone coming together and looks forward to the resolution next month.
Rick Chinn—“This community brought people from all around the world together of all races and creeds to work together for a common goal, and we have, as this community, become an accepting community, and I would greatly hope that nothing like what happened in Charlottesville would happen here in the City of Oak Ridge.
“I would also remind everyone, though, that there is hate on both sides, and hate of any kind is unacceptable in my mind. There are good people with white skin, there are good people with black skin. There are bad people on both sides of the issue. I would ask us all to look inside and look at people’s hearts, and not at the color of their skin, and at their race and at their creed. Look into their hearts and accept them, and look for the goodness in everyone, and try to bring this country together.”
It’s a learning opportunity to show how the community can be brought together, Chinn said. He said he views problems as “opportunities for excellence.” “This is an incredible opportunity for us, in my opinion,” Chinn said. “This to me is an opportunity for excellence for us to show as a community how this can bring us together and make us even better.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
You can watch the video of Monday’s City Council meeting here.
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