The Five Marks of Mission include these:
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
Seven people were shot after two people allegedly bumped into each other outside a bar in the neighborhood of Broad Ripple (Indianapolis) last weekend. A police officer was gunned down in an Eastside alley by a youth with an assault rifle. The same weekend, Chicago saw 16 killed and 82 people shot.
I think it’s critically important for us as a faith community to engage in discussions about community violence. Many are uncomfortable talking about these issues, especially guns. Living in a strong pro-gun state (we hosted this year’s NRA convention), I know firsthand that many feel very strongly about the value of guns in every situation. I have many family members who are strong proponents of carrying a gun at all times. They are good people with whom I happen to disagree on this issue.
I’ll have much more to say on the issue of community violence as a health issue and how we can respond in the coming weeks and months. However, there is one aspect of these discussions I would like to address now: language.
The Language We Use Matters
In the wake of these shootings in Indianapolis, the environment here is becoming scary and I’m not talking about being out late at night. Many who identify as Christians express prayers for the victims’ families and then go on to refer to the perpetrators in terms I won’t repeat here. They describe the environments of those growing up in certain neighborhoods in apocalyptic terms and declare the city a ‘war zone’. These comments are not unique to Indianapolis.
This is unacceptable to me. As Christians, we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. Describing those who commit violence in demeaning terms encourages these individuals to be seen as sub-human, and thus unworthy of respect as a human being. It establishes an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, which leads to increasing vitriol and calls for harsher responses. In Indianapolis, the primary conversation by city leaders has been the absolute need for longer mandatory sentencing for the presence of a gun during crimes.
Our city is not ‘at war’. To describe community violence in this way only heightens tensions and leads to increased violence as everyone becomes more fearful of others, expecting the worst. It changes our view of those who share our city from neighbors to enemies.
As Christians, we may disagree about the strategies our communities adopt to address violence. This is worthy of discussion and debate and not everyone will agree. However, what is not up for debate is our basic responsibility as Christians when we participate in these discussions and listen to others.
Our Baptismal Covenant asks us:
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Let us be mindful of demonstrating in our words and actions that as Christians, we respect the dignity of every human being and challenge violence of every kind.
Episcopal Health Ministries: Violence Prevention Webinar August 14 and August 21
The Episcopal Church: Civil Discourse in America: Finding Common Ground for the Greater Good Live Webcast October 22