Michael Cheuk (third from the left in the red clergy stole) marched at Justice Park in Charlottesville, in opposition to a rally by the Ku Klux Klan on July 8, 2017. David McNair/The DTM
On Aug. 12, 2017, I spent the day at First United Methodist Church, helping counterprotesters and faith leaders communicate while white supremacists, neo-Nazis and racists marched the streets of Charlottesville, my home town. The church was a sanctuary for counter protesters, where I witnessed people seek care after being bloodied and bruised by the violence that day.
Even though I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years, the experience changed my understanding of sanctuary.
In the weeks and days leading up to Aug. 11 and 12, 2017, I did not think I would directly respond to the Unite the Right rally.
I am a founding member and secretary of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, an interfaith group formed to address racial justice after a white supremacist killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Churc in Charleston in 2015. When the Ku Klux Klan planned to demonstrate against the removal of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue in July 2017, we heard that local police recommended that residents stay away from downtown. Some members of our collective were receptive to this suggestion, but others vehemently disagreed because they believed faith leaders should publicly show up to confront white supremacy.