The administrator of the Diocese of Nashville has called on the local community to pray for the conversions of white nationalists who are organizing two rallies in Tennessee later this month. “On behalf of the Catholic community of the Diocese of Nashville, I ask for your prayers that the hearts and minds of these individuals be changed through the loving presence of the Holy Spirit,” Father Mike Johnston said Oct. 20. Johnston is administrator of the diocese, which has been vacant since the June 3 death of Bishop David Choby.
“Their message is not one of peace and tolerance, but rather it is one that seeks to divide us and demean the dignity and respect of men, women and children who have survived intolerable conditions, trauma and extreme violence.” The rally is being planned by the Nationalist Front, a loose coalition of several neo-Nazi, neo-confederate, or white nationalist organizations including the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party, League of the South, White Lives Matter, Vanguard America, and others, The Tennessean reports.
Some of the groups were involved in the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which featured strong tensions between rally attendees and counter-protesters over a Confederate monument. That event turned deadly when one attendee drove into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Organizers have applied for permits in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro on Oct. 28. The Shelbyville rally is intended to oppose refugee resettlement, one organizer has said. The neo-confederate League of the South held simultaneous demonstrations in both cities in October 2013.
Father Johnston defended the presence of refugees. “Our neighbors, some who have come to us as refugees, only ask to live in peace,” he said. “Let us not allow the voice of hate to overshadow the message of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor as our self — may we keep God’s commandment at the forefront of everything we do.”
He cited “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” a 20th century prayer which is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, declaring that this prayer “inspires us to use our voices to call for peace and demonstrate our love for our neighbor, no matter a person’s race, background, country of origin or faith tradition.”
“I lend my voice to the many speaking out in Middle Tennessee to decry the hatred and intolerance of certain groups against the most vulnerable among us,” Johnston said.
The upcoming events have also attracted critics and counter-demonstrators. Critics of the rally include The Tennessee Anti-Racist Network and several other partners, who are organizing counter-protests. Groups of “antifa,” militant self-described antifascists who often cover their faces to remain anonymous, are also planning a response, The Tennessean reports.