Earlier this week I wrote of the rising rhetoric and tolerance for hate in this country – or perhaps it is simply a more overt return to the sins of our past. This addressed hatred and dehumanization as the primary motive behind mass shootings.
Before I go further I want to establish two theological points. First, Christians are called to be peacemakers. This is clear from Matthew 5:9 and the example of Christ. Second, Christians are called to seek the good of others above their own good. This is repeated frequently in Paul’s letters but one can look to 1 Corinthians 10:24 for an example. These point are worth volumes unto themselves, but for now know that these are the guiding principles of what follows.
America has a violence problem. We love violence and the tools of violence. I cannot deny my own fascination, particularly with the weapons of antiquity. I said that things like violent video games and violence in the media are not a cause of mass shootings, instead I believe they are symptomatic of this underlying love of violence.
Violence is an easy answer, almost always the wrong answer but an easy one nonetheless, for our perceived troubles. Hit it, kick it, stab it, shoot it. We have created a society in which violence is seen as a tool readily at hand.
All of this goes hand in hand with the dehumanization I talked about before.
How then do we act as peacemakers in such a society?
On the one hand we work to reduce the tools of violence, especially those capable of mass killings, available. This is an controversial topic. I will let people debate those controversies elsewhere. Simply put, there are weapons that are designed for only one purpose: allowing one person to kill lots of other people very quickly. These are military weapons and do not belong in the hands of civilians. For those Christians who will call out that they have a “right” to them I refer back to 1 Corinthians 10:24. By insisting I have the right to something I enable those who would do evil, causing harm to others. Therefore I deny my rights for the good of others. As much as I love the Constitution, as a Christian the basis for my choices must stem from my understanding of the Bible and not my citizenship.
The other way, as hard as the first seems to be, is harder. It is a deeply personal struggle for each. We must answer for our own love of violence. It would seem that violence like sex and the need for community is part of human nature. Just as sex can be channeled in ways that are good and beneficial to the individuals involved perhaps there is a right place for violence. As much as I would want to follow the path of Pacifism and advocate for it, I can find examples where I could not follow it. I do the ethical calculus and determine there are times when violence is necessary, typically in response to the unrelenting violence of another. Thus a struggle.
We are awash in violent thoughts and violent actions. The one does not necessarily lead to the other but they certainly have a relationship. At what point does fake violence lead to real violence? I think perhaps there is a brake that can be applied in there, a lesson that can be taught to keep pretend violence cathartic or entertaining or representative of other struggles and not causative of actual violence.
As those called to be peacemakers, as those called to deny our selves for the good of others, we need to figure these things out. Have real conversations about them. Not just jump on the party line and spout talking points and platitudes.
We must struggle with our natures if we are to truly be called the children of God.