To the Editor:
The recent cross-burning on the lawn of Clara Montague-Artope and Wesley Artope in Cortlandt, N.Y., once again sends a chilling message to members of the Yale Divinity School faculty: The cross can threaten as much violence now as it did 2,000 years ago. The threat of racial violence linked vividly to Christianity in the flames of the burning cross is alive and well — and not just in the South.
The cross, which stood four feet tall, easily conjures up the dehumanizing specter of cross-burnings and lynchings from the 1800s and 1900s. Even here at Yale, some students used Halloween as an excuse to don blackface. In a separate incident, the side of one of our colleges was defaced with racist graffiti. The cross-burning on the Artopes’ lawn takes on a personal tone because they are the cousins of one of our Divinity School students, but it is just one sign of a larger cultural problem.
The level of hate crimes in the U.S. is now at more than 190,000 incidents per year. As the Nov. 25 op-chart in The New York Times points out, the recent “noose” (read “lynching”) events have increased to an alarming degree since the huge Sept. 20 rally in Jena, La., where thousands protested the racist prosecution of six young black men (known as the Jena 6). It appears that we are in the midst of a virulent white backlash to calls for racial justice. As members of the faculty of Yale Divinity School and as people invested in theological education, we are concerned about the link between such extreme forms of violence and our ability to tolerate or accept every day acts of racist and classist violence.
Such acts include the perpetuation of poor educational systems, continued housing discrimination, lack of access to quality heath care for ever-growing numbers of people, and limited or no access to health insurance for millions. We commit ourselves and encourage people of all faith traditions to mobilize in their communities and worship spaces to send an emphatic “No!” to all forms of racist violence in our communities.
Teresa Berger, Joseph Britton, Harlon Dalton, Siobhán Garrigan, John Grim, John Hare, Vicki Hoffer, Jan Holton, Jeremy Hultin, Martin Jean, Willis Jenkins, Serene Jones, Thomas Ogletree, Sally M. Promey, Chris Scharen, Carolyn J. Sharp, Harry Stout, J. Frederick Streets, Diana Swancutt, Alfred Tisdale, Nora Tubbs Tisdale, Emilie M. Townes, Thomas H. Troeger, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Denys Turner and Robert Wilson
The writers are all faculty members of the Yale Divinity School.