Yesterday—August 16, 2017—I heard and then read the speech of Susan Bro at the memorial service for her daughter Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday (August 12) as she protested against the “Unite the Right Rally” organized there by far-right groups associated with white nationalism, white supremacism, and neo-Nazism. Heather died as a result of injuries suffered when a man supporting that rally angrily drove his car at high speed into the crowd of those protesting alongside Heather in order to attack them before fleeing the scene in his car. In addition to killing Heather, he injured nineteen of her fellow protesters. The memorial service for Heather, at which both of her parents spoke, was held at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.
As I listened to Susan speak, I thought to myself, “Wow! This woman really understands the Christian faith and the gospel!,” even though she made no explicit allusions to Christ or the gospel. I thought the same when I read what Heather’s father Mark had said.
Susan ended her speech by saying, “I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I gotta give her up, we’re going to make it count!” When I heard that, what immediately came to my mind were numerous passages from my two-volume work titled Jesus’ Death in New Testament Thought, which I just finished writing last month after dedicating seven years to this project. In this work, I criticize in the strongest of terms the traditional interpretations of Jesus’ death and the New Testament passages that refer to it that have predominated among Christians for centuries. As I listened Susan’s words, I thought, “What she is saying is precisely what Paul meant in Romans 8:32, where he says that God ‘did not spare his child [Jesus] but gave him up for us all.’”
If you want to understand better what the New Testament says about the meaning that Jesus’ first followers ascribed to his death, I would highly recommend that you watch the video of Susan’s speech, which can be seen by clicking here.
Watch this video twice. The first time, simply pay attention carefully to what she says. But when you listen to her words the second time you watch the video, imagine that Susan is God and that she is talking to you about her child Jesus. In your mind, substitute “Jesus” for “Heather” in everything that she says. Doing this will not only reveal many new truths to you but also force you to imagine things such as Jesus using Facebook (rather than the hills and villages of Galilee and the temple grounds in Jerusalem) to proclaim what Heather also did about the need to be “outraged,” while nevertheless being caring and compassionate; Jesus tirelessly questioning and debating with God about what is “fair and unfair” during the countless hours he spent in prayer, while at other times simply talking calmly with his Abba in the way Heather used to talk with her Mom; God’s pain at having to see his child buried so young; God being unable to find pictures of Jesus because he had always been present at his side; Jesus and God repeatedly saying “I love you” to each other while at the same time constantly asking each other, “Are you doing OK?”; God not wanting a small funeral for Jesus (perhaps in a Galilean village) but to let him “go out big” in Jerusalem—not out of a selfish desire to gain fame or recognition for him but to make his message reverberate as widely as possible throughout the world and thus promote all that he stood for out of love for others; what Jesus did as “achievable” for all of us who seek what he did, even though we don’t all have to sacrifice our lives as he did to attain it; God saying to the world, “They tried to kill my child to shut him up. Well, guess what! You just magnified him!”; God’s desire that what Jesus’ death had started not die with Jesus but instead spread everywhere, in part through the “pages and pages and pages” of things that would be written about him; God having “no regrets” in spite of his child’s violent and sudden death, but seeing it as “just the beginning” of his legacy and not its end; God’s calling on those who mourn Jesus’ death to look inside themselves as well as looking at the world around them to discern what injustices they must fight to overcome, rather than turning away from those injustices out of fear concerning the way others may react to their actions on behalf of what is right; the need for all to poke a finger at themselves and “take that extra step” to “make it happen” and find a way to make a difference in the world; Jesus having been a difficult child to raise in his youth due to the argumentative and bellicose nature that resulted from his uncompromising adherence to his beliefs; God’s appeal to us to stick firmly to our convictions while nevertheless actively seeking to engage in that “uncomfortable dialogue” with those whose views are diametrically opposed to ours, listening to them carefully and respectfully and, when the case presents itself, asking them why they are upset; God’s own insistence that it is “not all about forgiveness,” since we must confront those who act in ways that harm others rather than simply “forgiving and forgetting” by shaking their hands and singing “Kumbaya” with them; God’s desire that we channel the anger aroused in us on account of our differences with others not into hatred, violence, or fear, but into “righteous action” that involves giving of ourselves to and for others; the importance of rallying together peacefully in Jesus’ name to have those “difficult dialogues” in which we are not afraid to say things that are “rough” to those whose ideas we deplore, even as we listen and talk to them and one another in nonbelligerent ways; God’s demand that we look around us to find what is wrong, rather than ignoring it and looking the other way, so as to pay attention to what we see, recognizing that if we are “not outraged,” it is because we “are not paying attention”; and finally God’s exhortation that we all ask what we can do to make a difference, since only in that way can we make his child’s death worthwhile. Like Susan, God would reflect on the killing of his Son by saying, “I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I had to give him up, we’re going to make it count!”
While I was fascinated and profoundly moved by what Susan said, I believe it is important to clarify one of her affirmations. She said Heather “was a firm believer in whatever she believed” and that everyone should in essence follow their own convictions and act passionately on that basis. But in fact that is precisely what the white nationalists and neo-Nazis were doing at their rally as well. While like Susan I think it is important to listen to the strong convictions that other people have rather than simply condemning, censuring, and seeking to silence them when we find those convictions unacceptable and even repugnant, I would insist (as she undoubtedly would) that we must be careful to make a distinction between “acting passionately” and “acting violently” in the way that the man who killed Heather did. However, using language I have used elsewhere, I would also clarify that, from my perspective, protesting in the way that Heather did is not actually nonviolent but is a form of “nonviolent violence” or “violent nonviolence,” since shouting at others, protesting openly, angrily, and vehemently against their ideas alongside a multitude of others doing the same, and holding up signs that condemn the views of others while asserting one’s own views over against theirs is in my eyes very violent, even though it is at the same time nonviolent.
Thus, in response to Susan’s call to avoid acts of violence like that which killed her child and instead to have the “uncomfortable” and “difficult dialogues” necessary to engage views we find revulsive and respond to them rather than merely dismissing them, I would enthusiastically exclaim, “Amen!” If we want to fight against hatred and racism in our world, rather than calling people names and labeling them as bigots or evil people, we need to listen to them calmly and respectfully to hear their stories and understand what has led them to adopt the views we find so offensive, no matter how painful or “uncomfortable” this may be. Only then can we develop arguments that can respond effectively to those views and hope to convince them of the harm that they do, not only to others, but to themselves as well by adhering to such views and promoting them. When we instead attempt only to silence and crush them, we end up fanning further the flames of violence and exacerbating their anger, driving it underground where it will only fester and intensify until it explodes again with even more force and destruction, like lava from a volcano.
Of course, there are many, many ways in which Heather’s death does not and cannot compare to that of Jesus, and by no means do I wish to limit the significance of Jesus’ death to that of Heather, nor to suggest that Heather’s death compares with that of Jesus except in certain aspects, such as those I have mentioned here. But I thank you, Susan, for your words and the courage you displayed when you spoke at your daughter Heather’s memorial service. Both what you said and the way you said it has touched me more deeply than you can imagine. I only hope that others will listen to your words again, not only to recall and celebrate your daughter’s life and be moved to constructive action by her death, but to reflect on what true love for others consists of and the ways in which we should respond to those who take from us what is most precious to us on the basis of beliefs that we find abhorrent. And whether or not you intended to do so, through your words and the way you spoke them, you illustrated for me more vividly than anything I have ever read what Paul meant when he wrote that God “did not spare his child [Jesus] but gave him up for us all.” Like you, God never wanted to see his child die, and much less in such a violent manner; yet given the reality of such a death, he could only hope as you do that it will not have been in vain, but will instead impel others to dedicate themselves to struggling for what is just, right, good, and fair, as Heather did, moved by the same caring and compassionate outrage and indignation that characterized both her life and that of God’s child Jesus.
David A. Brondos
August 17, 2017
Mexico City, Mexico
Revised and published on 94t.mx on July 16, 2018
 See my online article “Resurrecting and Rearming the Warrior God Crucified by Gregory Boyd,” at my website http://94t.mx/.