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What is violence?
What is violence? Lately I have been interested in the definition of this one word. I know what it is when I see it, but I always have trouble knowing where it ends. Usually when we want to understand the strict definition of a word we usually look to the Webster dictionary for definitions or more recently to Wikipedia. Yet, there is always something clinical, something too precise about looking toward words for a definition. It always makes me feel too separated from the real impact of a word’s definition. Who can really define precisely love, mercy or faith? They are something we see, feel and touch. I just can not trust written definitions alone to give me those words full meaning. So, you see my conundrum when I come to word like violence.
So, what is violence?
What I know of violence, I know from personal experience. Some which is too deeply personal to relate, but one incident in particular informs my perspective on violence. I was new to working in inner city Chicago’s Cabrini Green.
Each week we would take a van to pick up children from the front of each of the projects and transport them back to a ministry for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade children called Sonshine Gospel Ministries. While there we would play games with the children, but the main reason we were there was to “teach” them Bible lesson. I taught the 3rd graders.
One time while we were pulling to one of these front entrances and one of the ubiquitous groups of gang members was congregated in a circle. As we got closer we saw that they were beating a person in the center with their fists. As he was let out of the group the others taunted and catcalled him.
I asked, “should we do something?”
The leader said, “No, he is from a rival gang and is sending a communication. This is how things are done on the street.”
Even though inside I though it was immoral, we did nothing.
I learned that there is a reason they are called senseless acts of violence and since that time I have come to believe that all acts of violence are senseless. They are senseless, they are barbaric, they are about dehumanizing another individual or group and are all wrapped up in issues of power.
When the United States tortures a terrorist and threatens the rape of their mother it is about power. When women are systematically raped during war it is about power. When a woman hits her child it is about power. Even when cowardly terrorists strike innocent civilians they must hit those more vulnerable than themselves instead of the states that they have a real grievance against. I fear that we become increasing a scared society that believes that the threat or real course of violence is an antidote for all the worlds ills. Crime should be punished with death, shouting matches are called political debate and people are even brandishing weapons and placards that insinuate assassination at presidential functions.
True, I believe that Christ followers are not pacifist or naive idealist. Resisting our sinful urge toward violence comes from being a realistic follower of Christ. Violence so far has been completely counterproductive in bringing about the intended results that our country has sought: harmony, security and peace. We have been sold a bill of good for years. Being told we must not show vulnerability, we must have détente with obliterating weapons, we must not show weakness. These may be political points that make Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu proud, but we are followers of Jesus Christ. The reality is that the gospel message runs contradictory to power for power sake. It is even antithetical to violence to bring about peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus preaches and it is still a message that we have trouble hearing 2000 years later. People have a million reasons to be hypocritical when it comes to peacemaking, but in the end I think it comes down to control and power. These are two things that many will not ever want to give up.
In the district Marion Barry and one big steeple pastor in the African-American community have decided to say that if gay and lesbian marriages happen there will be a “civil war”. Meanwhile two trans-gendered humans are stabbed in a district that has one of the highest percentages of hate crimes in the United States. One was killed and another injured in what the police believe may have been a hate crime. Some of us have stood up and said no to the polarizing language of division that is coming from Marion Barry to describe our brothers and sisters. Their loving relationships are not causing a war. The violence is one-sided and has exclusively to do with power. I am convinced that w as Christians have a duty and responsibility to stand up against those who are suffering violence whether a stranger, a prisoner, a outsider, the poor, the refugee or the man who is convinced that he is really a woman inside. This stand will get you in trouble politically on both sides of the fence. Yet, violence only makes one side strong at the expense of another. It is against Christ’s admonitions for unity and it dehumanizes both the aggressor and victim. The only way to stand for peace in this world is to actively take a stand against violence.
So, what is violence? It is physically, emotionally, spiritually negative contact with others that seeks to dehumanize them and in the process makes the perpetrator less than fully human. As Christ followers we must work for the destruction of violence in our own lives and in the world that surrounds us. Then we can be full participants in the unity and peace that Christ asks of us.
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