Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The social network noise over George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin has been deafening these past few days. And while I tend to agree with the general disappointment in the verdict, that’s not what I want to write about today.
Because ultimately, at least for me, this is about more than a murder trial. It’s about more than race or guns or a screwed up criminal justice system.
When the above message from the fair trade organization Trade as One appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday, I realized this is not a story about any of that. It’s a story about us.
What this story is really about is an American culture that has drifted far from the teachings of Jesus and the Christian roots we proclaim so proudly but embrace so poorly. It’s about a mindset that turns first to fear and distrust before it even considers caring and compassion.
Our culture has told us for some time that it’s acceptable to respond to violence with more violence. Certainly, that comes as no surprise to anyone. It’s nothing new.
But it’s a very short trip from there to the point where even perceived violence, or, as seems to have happened in this case, the imagined threat of violence, is sufficient to elicit a deadly response. It would even appear that Florida law has gone so far as to codify this principle.
And we have the gall to call ourselves a Christian nation.
Yes, violence and crime are a reality in our nation and in our world. Yes, people have a right to protect themselves.
But somehow, somewhere, we have got to change that attitude where fear and distrust are our default settings. Somehow, somewhere, we have to find a way to put love and compassion first.
If there’s anyplace that can offer hope for that kind of change, anyplace that has the power to make a difference, it is the Christian church. The body of the crucified and risen Christ. The representative people of the man who chose to bless, forgive, and sacrificially surrender to his enemies–to the actual threat of real violence–rather than respond with more violence.
The question is, will the church stand up? Will we take the lead in changing the cultural endorsement of violence?
Regrettably, there is much evidence that, at least in some instances, the church is so profoundly complicit in the American gun culture, in the false doctrines of retributive violence and “just war,” that it is too deeply ingrained as part of the problem to become part of the solution. For many, it has become far too common to equate constitutional rights with biblical mandates.
My hope, indeed my belief, is that such complicity represents a very small minority of American Christians, albeit perhaps the loudest.
But that makes it that much more urgent that the rest of us not only stand up and make our voices heard, but let our actual behaviors speak the gospel we claim to believe.
Maybe it’s time we actually attempted to act like the Jesus we say we follow. Like the savior who rescued us from slavery not just to sin and death, but to the violence which ultimately accompanies it.
Perhaps it’s not realistic to think that in this day and age any of us would offer a stranger a ride home on a rainy night. But can we at least get to the point where we don’t let our suspicions and prejudices and overactive imaginations drive us to violent actions? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable first step?
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to live in that world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home on a rainy night. Maybe we can’t get there today, or tomorrow, or next week or even next year.
But we’ve got to start somewhere.
The Apostle Paul urges the church in Rome to “renew your mind” in response to “the pattern of this world” (Rom. 12:2, NIV). And it is undeniable that “the pattern of this world” is one of violence and fear.
Let us be the people that change that pattern. Let us be the ones that renew our minds and transform the world.
Let us be the ones that say it ends here. The violence and murder and hatred ends with us.
No more children will die because of our fear.
How cool would it be to live in that world?