The other week I told the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph’s brothers chose violence against him. True, Joseph may have been insensitive, as he shared the story of his dreams – which communicated that his brothers would be bowing down to him. True, Joseph’s brothers felt jealous as Dad always loved him best – as evidenced by that special coat he always wore. So at this moment in our reading we may be able to understand the position of these brothers.
If Joseph was using his “favored position” in the family as some kind of safety net - we might actually feel that he has it coming.
And it is precisely this moment within us which needs to be addressed. Just like these brothers - we can fall prey to certain feelings that can (and do) lead us to justify acts of violence. We must confess that some inner feelings can tempt us to excuse certain acts of violence against another.
As followers of Christ, no such permission exists. Yes, the court of public opinion may cheer you on – in your desire to act out against another. But violence to offset “a previous violence” is just not a part of the Kingdom which Jesus had ushered in for us.
I Peter 3:9 tells us plainly, “no one should return evil for evil.” An eye for an eye is no longer helpful as a moderating force in the Kingdom of God. Instead of the world’s norms, we are called to live into forgiveness and reconciliation. The world may encourage us along to seek vengeance, to return evil for evil, but this is not how God’s Kingdom operates.
As Christian Americans we would do well to reject the world’s way of viewing and reacting to the world and adopt God’s work of reconciliation and grace. This, as you assuredly already know, is not easy. Living this way is actually a great challenge because you have to dig deep inside and wrestle with those gut instincts that scream for getting even or balancing the scales of some previous offense.
If we allow ourselves the license to condone violence on another person or group, we have chosen poorly. Violence is not the answer, despite the fact that we all may agree on this moral high ground. The truth is, most of us seem to be inclined to allow violence (or to overlook violence) from time to time. We, all too easily, climb aboard condoning the use of violence when it falls in line with a certain way we feel about a given topic or long held political perspective. Some of us speak against violence in one breath and yet condone another form of it in another. No, I say, violence is violence, whether it is against (or in support of) each of our inner scruples or political views.
For me the rubber hits the road in this ongoing racial tension we are experiencing right now in our country. Some folks are inclined to want to support the Police – for it is a very difficult job to enforce law and order in any community. Others want to support the outcry that too many black men are unevenly suspected and end up dead or mistreated as a result. The support of either group - can lead us to condemn violence on one hand and then accept that it was sadly needed on the other. No! Violence is violence – despite your political position. Violence on black men at the hands of officers is wrong. Violence done by rioters on the street is wrong. Violence is simply wrong. When we come to the place of excusing violence we cheat ourselves of the community we could have together. When we excuse violence, we cheat ourselves out of the peace we yearn to experience. So, no matter which side of this current tension you lean - I hope you can agree with me that Violence is not to be condoned.
I have had many conversations with many of you these past months on the topic of racial tensions. In those conversations, one wise person said, “it comes down to respect. If we respect each other, truly respect each other - that is the practical way forward.” As I pondered that answer. I saw wisdom! As a nation, we need to give respect. As individuals we can make a difference by offering respect. As a group we can make a difference as it impacts the rules and regulations we set forward in our life together. It is true, that as Christians (and not just Americans) we are called even further than that – we are actually called to love. But, if we, as Americans can take a step toward Respect, and encourage others to do the same – this will yield good fruit for us all.
As I end this article there are two practical actions to which I will call us. 1) Give respect to others. 2) Do not excuse (or participate in) violence in any way. May God bless you and keep you as you seek to live in a way that is actually different from the world around. A way that communicates that God is real and changes the way we think and feel and act.