Dear Hyde Park Family,
How about some good news for a change?
For those who experienced worship last Sunday, you heard me conclude my sermon with the powerful story of Ken Parker, a participant in last year’s gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He was a high-ranking official in the KKK, spewing hatred at people of color, Jews and gay people. At the end of the rally, worn out from heat exhaustion and dehydration, he was doubled over in pain when he met a woman named Deeyah Khan. Deeyah is a British documentary filmmaker of Punjabi descent there to chronicle the event. She saw Ken’s physical pain and approached him, asking if he was okay and if there was anything she could do to ease his discomfort.
That little act alone planted a little seed of doubt in Ken’s mind.
In a recent interview with NBC News, in a news segment that aired last week, Ken said, “She was completely respectful to me and my fiancée the whole time. And so that kind of got me thinking: She’s a really nice lady. Just because she’s got darker skin and believes in a different god than the god I believe in, why am I hating these people?”
Last year, on the Sunday of Charlottesville, I preached a sermon based on the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. We dared to pray for modern-day Nicodemuses, people among the white supremacists who might come to see the way of love instead of hate, just like Nicodemus did.
Six months after that weekend, Ken Parker, still nurturing the seeds of doubt planted by his interaction with Deeyah Khan, noticed some African-American neighbors having a cookout in his apartment complex in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his fiancée approached them, and they began having a conversation. They were cordial with each other. They asked questions. They listened. They really listened.
He didn’t know it at the time, but the black man was a pastor, Rev. William McKinnon III, of All Saints Holiness Church in Jacksonville. That night would be the first of many conversations they would share with each other.
“God was working on his heart when he came to the table that day. It was divine,” said Pastor McKinnon, in an interview with the local Jacksonville news station.
And then last Easter, just this past April, eight months after Charlottesville, Rev. McKinnon invited Ken and his fiancée to church. In an Easter morning service, in a historically black congregation, the two of them worshipped.
A change was happening in Ken’s life. A month later, Pastor McKinnon asked him to stand up before that congregation and give his testimony.
“I said I was a grand dragon of the KKK, and then the Klan wasn’t hateful enough for me, so I decided to become a Nazi.” He said for a lot of people in the church, their jaws about hit the floor and their eyes got real big. But after the service, not one of them had anything negative to say. He said, “They’re all coming up and hugging me and shaking my hand, you know, building me up instead of tearing me down.”
He had experienced the power of love through a community of people committed to the love of God. People who knew what it meant to be angry at injustice, but who also knew how to be angry without sinning.
Ken Parker looked at his skin and saw the visible signs of his hatred, the tattoos that revealed a Nazi symbol, and the words “white pride.” He has since had them removed through laser surgery. But the biggest change is on the inside.
Last month, nearly a year after Charlottesville, he traded in his old KKK robes for a white robe of baptism. Walking hand in hand into the water with Rev. William McKinnon, he experienced the waters of baptism and the grace of God’s forgiveness.
Image from FirstCoastNews.com, WTLV-TV
In the NBC news segment, Ken said, “I want to say I’m sorry. I do apologize. I know I’ve spread hate and discontent through this city immensely — probably made little kids scared to sleep in their own beds in their own neighborhoods.” And now he has a message for white supremacists. “You can definitely get out of this movement. I mean, I was into that so much — it was my life, for six years. I never thought I would get out. Get out. You’re throwing your life away.”
Ken Parker is one answer to our prayers, for modern-day Nicodemuses to be redeemed by the light of Jesus. And we are called to work for more transformations like these in a world addicted to hate and dehumanization. We might wonder: what if the documentary filmmaker Deeyah Khan had chosen to respond to the disgusting dehumanization of the KKK by dehumanizing Ken Parker? What if Rev. McKinnon and his congregation had chosen the easy way of hating Ken Parker?
Now, imagine what can happen when you and I choose to live in love, take the time and watch our words. How many more Ken Parkers might God bring into the light?
As Pastor William McKinnon said, “It is clear to me that love covers all.”
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist