Character counts: Trump failed the nation, but this forgiving family showed true leadership
Character counts. Leadership matters. In crisis, we need hope, faith and love – not hate. President Trump doesn't understand, but this week two grieving, everyday American parents showed how it's done.
White supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia left one person killed, several injured, and a nation grieving and divided once again. The image of a crowd of neo-Nazis, equipped with Nazi flags, Nazi salutes and flaming torches while chanting 'the Jews will not replace us!' made for chilling viewing.
The horror was only exacerbated though, when the nation's President Donald Trump failed to immediately condemn white-supremacy, placing blame on 'many sides...many sides'. He was applauded by white nationalist and former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke.
A later scripted statement by Trump brought the condemnation people wanted, but then the president swivelled again.
Demonstrably unhinged and enraged, he went off-piste in a press conference about infrastructure, taking the opportunity to place blame on 'both sides' of the protests, combatively defending the fascists' right to demonstrate.
A Washington Post editorial lamented in response: 'the nation can only weep'.
The future for Trump is unclear now, but where America's leader has failed, two humble parents have stepped up. Those with the most cause for anger and vengeance have instead pointed to love, hope and the forgiveness embodied by Christ.
Heather Heyer, 32, was the tragic fatality of the Charlottesville violence, killed when a rogue vehicle drove into her and injured 19 other counter-protesters. Soon after though, Heyer's mourning parents preached a simple message: Stop the hate. Forgive.
Mark Heyer said: 'I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this. I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, "Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."'
Heyer said he was proud of his daughter and hopes good can come of their tragic loss: 'My daughter was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone...she had more courage than I did.' he said.
'My thoughts about all of this stuff is that people need to stop hatin' and they need to forgive each other.
'I hope all of this stuff...isn't twisted into something negative but there comes a positive change in people's hearts, in their thinking and their understanding of their neighbour. We just need to forgive each other.'
Heather's mother echoed the redemptive sentiment, imploring people to channel their anger 'not into hate, violence, fear...let's channel that anger into righteous action'.
She emphasised the need to engage disagreements and have difficult conversations. 'Find what's wrong, don't ignore it, don't look the other way...look at it and say to yourself, "What can I do to make a difference?" and that's how you're gonna make my child's death worthwhile. I'd rather have my child but by golly if I gotta give her up we're gonna make it count.'
Meyer's parents have demonstrated the profound truth of life that many miss: loss is tragic, painful and wrong – but by God's grace good can be brought from the ashes of despair. And your deepest injury, your loudest lament – can be the grounds for something beautiful.
This is true leadership. Not simply waging wars or enacting legislation, but embodying an ideal, giving people something to strive toward. Forgiveness may not come naturally to people, but if shown the light they can be inspired. Any tempter or fool can feed on what is worst in people and incite dark division. True leaders bring the scattered together and help them to look up. It's not about saving the day, only leading the way.
As Barack Obama tweeted after the Charlottesville tragedy, quoting Nelson Mandela: 'No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or the background or his religion...people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.'
If like Trump you think that being president is all about 'winning', you might miss this. An insecure leader sees only his power under threat, and not the people he serves.
The current deficit in American leadership is tragic. Defending Nazis is simply deranged. That Trump's backers on the Christian right haven't condemned him is grievous and a blow to the Church. But perhaps we look for leadership in the wrong places.
A humble, hurting family have shown the nation what it needs. If like me you're tempted to be cynical, keep your eyes open: grace and truth endure. And like Heather Heyer's father said: consider Christ.
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