On September 30, 2015, the state of Georgia killed a woman because she asked a man to kill her husband.
On October 1, 2015, there was another school shooting – this time at a community college in Oregon.
Are these events linked in any way? And how do they connect with police shooting unarmed people – mostly people of color? How do they connect with terrorism and with war?
Is there an underlying culture of violence in the United States of America?
The United States did not invent violence, of course. There have been terrifyingly violent cultures throughout history. The thousands of people crucified by Rome during the time of Jesus are but one example.
Crucifixion can take hours, if not days, to kill a person.
But at this time in history, we have remarkably efficient deadly weapons.
Lethal injection and modern firearms can kill in minutes. Bombs dropped and missiles fired from planes and unmanned drones can kill dozens in seconds. And we continually hear about various nations trying to develop nuclear weapons, which can kill thousands in an instant.
And there is indeed violence all over the world, but I’m concerned about the relationship between Americans and violence. When someone acts unlawfully, there is a cry for retribution. We see it in our popular culture: films and television show “bad guys” coming to violent ends.
We see it in real life: in retaliation for deaths of our citizens and citizens of allied nations, our military kills many more of the enemy. Our courts sentence people to death. Our law officers kill criminals. Citizens are cleared because of justifiable homicide or “stand your ground” laws.
Not only do we justify those killings, but those who kill are often honored as heroes. The firing of a revolver, or of a rifle, or of an automatic weapon is seen as powerful, strong, and honorable when the target is someone we identify as “other.”
Weapons make some of us feel powerful. Killing certain people feels just and right. The solution to so many problems seems to include killing, or at least injuring, someone.
Then they laid hands on [Jesus] and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. – Mark 14:46-47
We very nearly worship violence, and the power to kill.
And maybe that is the problem. As long as we support retaliatory violence, we will continue to have retaliatory violence for every imagined injury.
If violence is the problem, perhaps mercy is the solution.
Suddenly, one of those with [Jesus] put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” – Matthew 26:51-52
Mercy does not escalate violence: in many cases, it deescalates the violence.
Mercy says violence will not end violence.
When those who were around [Jesus] saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. – Luke 22:49-51
Mercy seeks not to increase harm, but to decrease harm.
What would it take to make heroes out of the merciful among us?
What would it take for us to see mercy as strength rather than weakness? And how many people would live full lives if we valued mercy over vengeance?
Cindi Knox holds a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary and is in search of her first call as pastor and teacher in the United Church of Christ. In addition to writing for New Sacred, she also writes for RevGalBlogPals, does pulpit supply, and volunteers with a queer youth drop-in. She lives in Joliet with her spouse of over 25 years, Mary. Find her at http://facebook.com/cindik.online