The American experiment has, from its inception, been an exercise in violence. Between waging war against the British Empire and decimating First Nations people, violence is so woven in the fabric of national identity that it is impossible to separate America from our violence. The Boston Tea Party, so celebrated in our pursuit of liberty, was itself violent. Without violence, the whole economy of our early nation would not exist.
The Maafa, Slavery, American Apartheid (Jim and Jane Crow): these are the violent pillars of the American economy. Our wrestling with gun violence is as old as our presence on the continent. The trajectory of our violence is now at a point it must be confronted.
The recent tragedy in Florida, where seventeen people were murdered by assault rifle in a public high school, should serve as a wakeup call to the all those who love justice and particularly those of us in the religious sector who are tasked with increasing the moral understanding and capacity of the nation. Laws are designed partly to protect the public from unscrupulous individuals and institutions. Yet as important as legal constraints are, they are not sufficient on their own. The fact that something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s moral (Volf 2011). The task of the spiritual community is to call society not to what is legal alone, but what is right.
Our responsibility as a community of faith is less that of indoctrinating or relating people to an external power and more of that of providing opportunities for people to touch the infinite center of all things and to grow into all that they are destined to be (Spong 1998). This call invites us to take a firm stand against violence. There has been a conflating of nationalism and religion that has silenced the prophetic voice of religious witness to the point that we memorialize children murdered in schools the same way we memorialize soldiers fallen on the battlefield. Militarism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate –media multiplex and a culture industry that has hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of citizens (Jr. 2015). These mind-numbing tributes flashed on our television screen at the close of news broadcasts place the death of our children and those who die in combat proximate in ways that are unsettling to say the least. It is national corporate sin.
Sin, in my theological lexicon, is an inappropriate response to a legitimate need. We legitimately need to mourn the murder of children and the fallen soldier; however, it is inappropriate to mourn them the same way. Sin is a form of brokenness, an assault on and corruption of the spirit. It is a complex phenomenon: it is communal as well as individual (Farley 1990) . What would happen if the Church and other religious institutions were so stirred by the violence in our brokenness that we sought to create new rituals of memorial for those sacrificed to gun violence? What if our need to be safe and bear arms was called into question by our liturgies and our worship moments? How would the ethos of violence in our nation shift if those who claim to be people of spirit would question the role of violence by the ways we sing, preach, and pray?
Liturgy is the ritualizing of deep mythology on many levels. It makes concrete our theological hopes and a large part of what we are concretizing is our eschatological hope. Without denying the legitimacy of eschatological hopes, theology must seek a historical response to evil. Otherwise consolation and hope may denigrate into excuses for remaining passive or indifferent in the face of radical suffering and injustice (Farley 1990). Let us consider the ways which our liturgies speak truth to power as a prophetic critique of the culture of violence we now find ourselves in.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.
Jr., Matin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.