Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thoughts on violence

So, this past Sunday was one of my weeks to preach. It was just that time in the rotation. It was when it worked out with my schedule and with David's schedule. I spent a better part of last Monday morning reading Acts 9:1-19 (Saul's blinding experience on the road to Damascus). For some reason, I left my e-mail alone and didn't really touch base with the outside world until I got a phone call about the killings at Virginia Tech. I had just spent two hours thinking about call narratives and suddenly I knew I would be spending the week re-imagining the sermon as my community and I faced the violence of 33 dead at Virginia Tech. As the week went on, I kept clinging to the call narrative, because, let's face it, preaching about violence isn't exactly easy. But, after a couple of great conversations with my friend Emily, I decided to tackle the violence of Cho Seung Hui and hold it up next to the violence of Saul and the violence in our own hearts. Tough subject matter. Anyway, after swimming around in that water for awhile, I've come up with the following conclusions (always tentative) and questions:
  • When we persecute anyone, we persecue Christ (Acts 9:4-5)
  • All of us are capable of doing violence to others, and sometimes we do it in the name of justice
  • Violence is never OK, even in the name of justice (sorry, no just wars for me)
  • We need to be more like Ananias who reached out in reconciliation and love to one who had done violence to people he loved and might have done violence to him (Acts 9:17)
  • Why is called a massacre when people die on a college campus but simply violence when it happens in a market in Baghdad?
  • Why do we change the channel when the media tells us how many people have died in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Sudan, etc. but rush home to watch never ending coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting?
  • Why does the Virginia Tech shooting bother us more than those who die everyday in the war in Iraq?
  • Shouldn't Christians care equally and be equally outraged?
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of my own dealing with the current issues of violence in our society and in the world. Comment as you choose. I welcome all viewpoints. I really do ask questions in seek of answers.


Amy said...

Ah friend... I had to preach this Sunday too.

I had such similar thoughts about Saul and the young man, as well as Iraq, not to mention Somalia, Nigeria, Palestine, etc... Hard, hard week to preach. Really forces those tough questions.

Sunday's Child said...

I think that you are asking good questions. However, I do think that there are some legitimate reasons for our different reactions to the loss of life at VT and the loss of life in Iraq. We expect loss of life in a war zone. We know (and those who live there definitely know) it is not a safe place. A college campus is supposed to be a safe place. Those students thought they were safe. Their parents thought they were safe.

We should care and be grieved by the loss of life in Iraq and around the world, but let's give VT their time. They are grieved by the loss of life and the loss of their own sense of safety. Unfortunately, those in Iraq have not lived with that sense of safety for decades.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "sunday's child." The Virginia Tech shooter targeted innocents, whereas the soldiers (American, British; i.e. the good guys, lest you liberals forget) in Iraq are targeting insurgents. That's a rather acute difference, Alan. Am I saying we Americans are always in the right? Of course not, tragic mistakes have been made and will continue to be made, sadly. War is an ugly, imperfect--and, in this case, a necessary--evil. It's wholly unfair to compare the VT massacre with the conflict in Iraq.

--Gus McCrae, Beaumont

Alan Bancroft said...

Gus-thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don't grant the premise of your argument that the categories of "good guy" and "bad guy" are so clear. And, I am completely unwilling to grant that anyone, even the "bad guys" are worthy of violence. In the minds of the insurgents, the Americans and the British are the "bad guys" and are thus worthy of violence. In the eyes of Cho at VT, the rich students were "bad guys" and worthy of violence. It's the same argument we use against anyone we label "bad." My point is that if we would defeat that notion that violence is the answer to defeating the "bad guy," I think the world would be a more peaceful place. I am unwilling to grant that violence is ever necessary. If Jesus Christ, God-with-us, was unwilling to stand up in violence to those who were about to crucify him, then my response ought to be the same.

Anonymous said...

That's an articulate and intelligent response, Alan. You're right about how people can blur the categories of "good guy" and "bad guy." The distinctions aren't that . . . well, distinct. (Now there's a tautology if I ever wrote one!)

However, the American soldiers--get home safely!--did not go into Iraq with the intention to kill anything that moved. Cho, on the other hand, followed precisely that irrational logic. He was shooting indiscriminately. My knowledge of the Bible is not nearly as strong as yours seems to be, but something tells me that it's not very Christian to shoot and kill people simply because they are "rich." Likewise, many Muslim insurgents hate Americans simply because they are materialistic hedonists. That is NOT a reason to kill. If we Americans want to watch TV shows laden with sex and drugs, and if we Americans choose to buy $140 jeans, that is our prorogative. Does such excess make us immoral? Perhaps, if taken to extremes. But does such excess make us targets for extermination? Hardly.

War is always the LAST resort. I suppose you would also condone World Wars I and II as well. The soldiers abroad don't have any other option, I'm afraid--it's kill or be killed sometimes. I'm sure if the soldiers could pray for the insurgents and persuade them to drop their weapons, the soliders would do that. Sadly, however, unsaved souls don't give two flips about Christian peace and love. So the way I see it, in the midst of conflict, when one is being shot at or trying to avoid stepping on IUDs, advocating peace will only get your head blown off.

In my estimation, terrorists who plant bombs in packed buses and crowded markets deserve very little mercy. If God decides to forgive them, that is certainly His right. Maybe I'm just callous, but I refuse to sit idly by while my security is threatened. I'm not a veteran, but I've known plenty of soldiers who have come home from bloody wars with limbs missing. Many, if not all, have told me that Christian virtue is a lost cause on the battlefield. Satan's inexorable pull continues to rule in the demented minds of terrorists.


Alan Bancroft said...

Gus-as I said in my other response, thanks for your continued dialogue. I agree with you that Cho's behavior at Virginia Tech wasn't Christian behavior. I think it was a tragedy. I think it was awful. I wish things like that would never happen. Do I think his reasoning was sane in any way, shape, or form? Absolutely not. It isn't his job, or anyone's job, to kill people for being rich, or materialistic, or hedonists, or whatever. Period. As far as I'm concerned, there is never a "good" reason to kill.

Having said that, I appreciate your words about the "kill or be killed" reality of a war zone. I'm not a veteran either, and I, too, have spoken with veterans who have shared stories about being faced with a "their life or mine" scenario. I think some of my questions are more pointed toward those who make decisions about troop deployment. Would our soldiers have to make those kinds of decisions if they weren't in the middle of a war-torn Iraq? No.

Great questions about World Wars I and II. I struggle with the question of World War II particularly. We (the US) sat out of that war and ignored the holocaust for a long time based on some of my very own arguments...arguments against serving as the world's police, arguments against deciding what was right for other nations. I'm not sure that the situation in Iraq was quite as dire as the world domination being proposed by the Germans, and so I think it's somehow different, but I'm not exactly sure how. Great question.

As for the $140 jeans. Unfortunately, I don't think it's the $140 jeans that lead people in developing nations to "hate" us. It's the discount jeans that are discounted because American companies aren't paying laborers enough, or are buying them from companies overseas that employ sweat labor. Whether it's as extreme as some would have us believe, we do participate in a great deal of imperial behavior all around the world. But, as I said before, even that doesn't justify the violence we see in terrorist attacks all around the world.