States of Violence
Theologian Justo Gonzalez writes:
"For many of us, violence is limited to acts of violence--to strike or kill another, to take up arms against others. But we are less likely to recognize that there are also states of violence. This is particularly difficult to see for those of us who seldom suffer under such states. In a state of violence, people die not because someone kills them directly, but because the social order is such that it leads to death.”*
Our communities have been besieged by acts of violence, most recently this week by the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN. My heart broke when I watched the video of Mr. Sterling die and my bones were chilled when I saw Mr. Castile was killed within a mile of my seminary. These horrible deaths shock me, but they are no surprise to the African American community; but then again, I seldom suffer states of violence. People of color, on the other hand, are assaulted daily by our social order.
An order that identifies black men as "thugs"
An order that targets brown men and women in traffic violations.
An order that gradually erodes the self-worth of people of color.
The horrific acts of violence capture the headlines, but they point to pervasive states of violence. How are we to respond? If we retaliate violence with more violence, the cycle of death accelerates. If we look away or simply sigh because the problem is too great, we permit violence to perpetuate. But there is another way. Gonzalez writes:
"The way of Jesus is different from all these options. Jesus refused to respond to acts of violence with further violence, in which violence begets and apparently justifies a violent response that in turn results in more violence. But he also refused to let violence continue unrecognized and unchallenged. He knowingly pursued a course of action that led to the cross. And he invited his disciples to follow that same course.
The cross may be said to be the ultimate act of violence against violence....What Jesus does is to take violence upon himself, to direct it at himself, and to respond to it in the one way that violence cannot abide: with love and forgiveness! This is so radical that violence is defanged, and does not know how to respond.
This is the way of the cross. The ancients used to say that in the cross and resurrection Jesus “killed death”; we can likewise say that in the cross Jesus did the ultimate violence to violence: he laid it bare, and still did not succumb to it.”*
We are called to follow the way of the cross. God, help us.
*Justo Gonzalez quotes from "Luke" a volume from the Belief Commentary Series, pages 123-125.