Just the mention of “what happened in Charlottesville last year” caused Captain Steven Chumley to drop his gaze to the floor and say, “It was an emotional time.”
Chumley has worked in law enforcement for 32 years and has been Captain in the Virginia State Police for the past 12 years. He also actively serves at Parkway, where his family has spent most Sunday mornings for the past 13 years. He’s on the pastor support and leadership teams, and also tries to lead a mission project each year. But his favorite role at Parkway is playing bass guitar in the worship band.
If this isn’t impressive enough, Chumley said it took him not more than two weeks to memorize 1 Corinthians 13. How? He wrote the 13 verses on 3x5 cards and posted them where he could see them throughout the day. The classic 3x5 card method works for a lot of people, but something about the message in this chapter seemed to have captured his attention. And it’s easier to memorize something that you can’t get out of your head.
“Honestly, I first started to memorize it [because] our pastor asked us to,” Chumley said. “But it wasn’t until I started memorizing it that it really started messing with me. It just really rock[ed] my world.”
For Chumley, memorizing “love is patient” was very different than just reading it in a devotional time. Focusing on every God-breathed word in 1 Corinthians 13, which is mostly about love, affected Chumley more deeply than he experienced before. And it prepared him for an event he hopes to never experience again.
By the time white supremacists from around the country gathered in Charlottesville, VA for their “Unite the Right” rally, 1 Corinthians 13 was hidden in Captain Chumley’s heart. That weekend (August 11-12), he lead 100 State Troopers in what he called a “battle of evil.”
“We knew it was going to be a battle because we [saw] every white supremacist group from across the nations diverge onto Charlottesville,” he said. “We knew there were going to be fights [and] there were going to be problems. We were worried about the city being destroyed.”
Local and national media heavily covered the event, trying to make sense of it in the aftermath. But the scene Captain Chumley described is pure chaos.
“It started Friday night,” he said. “And Saturday was a heavy day with protests and violence.”
He saw “a car wiz by and bodies flying everywhere,” later learning that’s when Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was counter-protesting the event, died.
“Shortly thereafter, two of my really good friends flying above us in the helicopter crashed,” he said. “It was an emotional day and emotional time.”
Those two friends were Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 the next day. In the midst of such deep hatred and loss, the 100 men and women under Captain Chumley’s command were getting discouraged. “We were defeated mentally,” he said.
The next day, Jason Kessler, who organized the “Unite the Right” rally, attempted to hold a press conference, but the crowd yelled, drowning out his voice, and began attacking Kessler.
“Literally, we had to go in and rescued this man from being beaten to death,” Chumley said in his recorded testimony.
“After all that was over, there was a gentleman sitting in the grass,” Chumley said. “He’s shouting at us – not too kind words. I started talking to him and it’s like the Holy Spirit said, ‘this is it.’”
Chumley had good reason to be afraid about trying to have a conversation with anyone at this intense scene. People had died, and no one was listening to the other side. But Chumley didn’t feel fear.
“When you know that Christ is really directing your path, boy, there’s no greater feeling than that,” he said.
The man was telling Chumley all about his hatred and how he viewed the government and police. Chumley asked him if he knew what God said in 1 Corinthians 13.
“Oh yeah, that’s found in Romans,” he answered.
“No, no.” And Chumley began to recite the chapter about God’s love and explain what the verses meant. He told the man:
“You know, if anybody had a reason to be angry, it would be me. We lost two of our dear friends yesterday protecting your right to spew hate, but I’m not bitter at you because this teaches me that true love does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not boast, it does not envy — it lifts up. If you truly want to change the world for the good, this is how you do it. Not here, in this way.”
The Word of God brought this man to tears, and Chumley said the man told him: “You know I came here this weekend to hear a good speech, and I haven’t heard one til now.”
“It was in that moment that I realized if but for nothing else, God wanted me to memorize that Scripture for that moment,” he said. “And if there’s one good thing that came from out of Charlottesville, it was that.”
Chumley doesn’t know much about the man, just that he’s from South Carolina and that he had a fresh encounter with God’s Word that weekend.
When Chumley set out to store 1 Corinthians 13 in his heart, he didn’t anticipate using it in a moment like this. But God saw it coming and helped equip Chumley, months in advance, with the necessary tools for victory in the upcoming battle.
Since that day in Charlottesville, Chumley said he remembered and quoted the chapter about God’s love in lots of different circumstances: on a recent mission trip to the Philippines, at VA State Police Trooper’s memorial service, and in daily life with his family.
Memorizing Scripture has proved to be a continual blessing in Chumley’s life. He said he wants to challenge others to memorize verses and chapters in the Bible, not only read them. When he’s working on memorizing a portion of the Bible, he said, “I’m hanging on every word, and it just takes on a whole different meaning.”
“It’s good to read the Bible – it’s good to read [a] chapter, have quiet time, and prayer,” he said. “Those are great things. But when you hang out there awhile, you start thinking on the words and what they mean – it changes your mindset.”
Some of these quotes were transcribed from Chumley’s video testimony.
Written by Emily Hall.
A member of Parkway Baptist Church