Finding Courage to Address the Root Causes of Violence

This blog entry includes two companion pieces, the first written by Rev. Alexis Brown and the second by myself, Rev. Mary Kay Totty. We had shared reactions to a recent presentation about church security.

Juneteenth, 2019
Luke 22: 47-51 – Jesus Arrested
“47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered,
“No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
“No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”

Today, the clergy of the Greater Washington District of The Baltimore Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church gathered for one of our quarterly meetings. Our speaker, the Rev. Jim Skillington, pastor of Morgan Chapel Charge and the Executive Director of The Center for Public Violence Recovery, presented how to prepare our churches to alleviate the impact of the rampant public violence and mass shootings we experience in this country. This training was to prepare us for the inevitable experience of a mass shooting happening on our doorsteps, in our sanctuary, or in our community. I sat and I listened to all the strategies to keep “us safe” which directly conflicted with our theological task to be witnesses and followers of The Way of Jesus Christ. Jesus, never called us to be safe and insular or anxious and afraid. Let us examine the scripture found in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is arrested and betrayed. The disciples asked the question, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” Peter, not waiting for an answer cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus finally gives an answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man and healed him.
I submit to you brothers and sisters in Christ, that we must begin the hard journey to being what and who we say we are. Jesus, told us, “No more of this!” What is this? I believe this is the belief that we can somehow avoid the root of our brokenness through symptom management.
Systemically, it is our culture in The West to medicate or symptom treat our problems. If we have a head ache, we take a Tylenol. If we have a bad day, we drink a glass of wine. If we have high blood pressure, we take a pill to lower our pressure. The problem with symptom treating is that it is not designed to heal. It is not designed to deal with the cause. Not to mention all of the side effects our medicine has. We have been conditioned to accept the side-effects, as we gloss over the fine print or skim through the dangers of not resolving our problems.

The problem with the presentation today is that it somehow creates this notion that what is happening now is something new and that we have to accept this. It causes us to be scared and afraid to worship. I do not want to live anxiously awaiting another shooting. I want to be able to have the more meaningful conversation towards a cure. Yes, we should plan for “what if’s”, but what about more energy towards “No more?”
Violence has always been a part of our society. It is as ancient as Cain and Able; it is a part of our human inclination and it is a part of our brokenness. Violence and conquest are in the fabric of America. From the genocide of Native Americans and the Chattel Slavery of human beings, mostly from the diaspora of Africa. Violence is here. What is new is that technology and globalization has made our experience with violence more accessible than ever before.
Why is it that we don’t want to deal with the cause of our violent society? Could it be because just like anything we choose to medicate, in order to truly cure our brokenness means changing behavior, and giving up things that make us feel good? Or could it mean that as a church we have to now care and not grow apathetic towards the entire body of Christ? Perhaps, changing our behavior may mean that we would now have to stand up to the powerful force that allows us to live in a dichotomy, that excuses some violence over others –the powerful force that trys to decide who’s justified with and receiving violence and who is not. And I submit to you that we are all prone to violence. We are all prone to fighting when challenged; and as Christians we gather our swords for the honor of Jesus.
I can only imagine how the disciples must have felt as the soldiers and high priest came armed to arrest Jesus. Jesus, the one who performed miracles: by healing the lame, making the blind to see, creating food in the dessert, including those who were marginalized, resurrecting the dead, who gave lessons of hope through words and parables, is now arrested!
I’m sure Peter wondered where His (Jesus’) power was, and since Jesus didn’t do anything, Peter takes matters into his own hands. Peter, felt justified, he thought that he was one of “the good guys.” But Jesus, rebukes Peter’s act of violence and us all, when he says, “No more of this!” Then Jesus shows us who He is once more, by healing the man. He heals the man who is serving the high priest. The man who is on the wrong side of Justice. The man who takes part in the slaying of innocent blood. How powerful of an act both physically and spiritually as Jesus, declared peace and shalom. I don’t know about you but if I saw a man’s ear instantly grow right back with a touch from Jesus that would have made me a believer. I submit to you that it is the power of Love and Shalom that heals us. It is the power to understand that Jesus could have called on angels to destroy the world, but He chose all of us! Our strength is not in weapons, or more guns, or a society that fears others. Our strength is when we choose to say, “No more of this!” I will not participate in the brokenness anymore.

(Rev. Alexis Brown is the Campus Minister at Howard University and Associate Pastor at Asbury UMC 11th and K. She is the daughter to Rev. Kay Albury and the late Anderson Smith. Her father Anderson was a victim of gun violence in 1996. Her brothers were also victims of gun violence, (Lonzel) October 1997, and Jason 1999.)

The Day after Juneteenth, 2019
I John 4:18-19
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us.”
Perfect love casts out fear.
Thank you, Alexis, for the invitation to share my thoughts alongside yours in response to yesterday’s Greater Washington District Clergy Meeting. You and I were both left unsettled by the presentation on preparation for responding to violence in or near our churches. Our unease centered around the seeming acquiescence on all our parts that this is the way the world is and will always be, so that all we can do are feeble attempts to ameliorate the harm of inevitable and imminent violence as we barricade ourselves behind ever tighter security measures. Kyrie eleison.
We are giving into the manufactured fear that has been crafted and wielded to control the populace of this country in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. In the intervening years, as the encouragement to fear one another has been increasing and intensifying, we have witnessed an escalation in work place violence, public space violence, police brutality and militarization, and an ever increasing acceptance that this is the way the world is now.
I believe that as followers of Jesus, it is imperative for us to reject the inevitableness of this violence. We need to resist acquiescing that this is the way the world must and will be.
I John 4:18 proclaims “perfect love casts out fear.” As long as we are engaging in ministry from a place of fear, we give into the violence in the world.
I remember the powerful example of the clergy in Baltimore taking to the streets in the wake of the unrest following a lack of indictment for the officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s arrest and his subsequent death while in a police van. Their presence impacted a volatile situation and said no to violence. Their love for Jesus, for the people of Baltimore, for Freddie Gray cast out fear and enabled them to take to the streets in love.
How can we be providing training in non-violent resistance, in peace-making, in radical love of all God’s children? We have the examples of Jesus, Gandhi, the WWII resistance movement in Denmark, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the women of Liberia led by Leymah Gbowee – how do we follow in their footsteps to turn the tide of violence in our country?
It is unacceptable that we are living in a culture where schoolchildren are trained in lock down, active shooter drills. It is unacceptable that we are living in a culture where violence is so rampant that we are told our best hope is to have an off duty police officer present in worship. It is time to figure out how we can do better at addressing the root causes of rampant violence.
(Rev. Mary Kay Totty is the pastor of Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Washington D.C. She has experienced a couple of gun related incidents which by the grace of God did not result in shots fired or fatalities.)

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