The news over the weekend was filled with reports of a tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ. Reports of the apparent primary target of the shooter, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, have focused on the history of political discourse during the last election cycle. The use of violent language by many candidates, from no so thinly veiled threats such as “it may be time to exercise our second Amendment rights” to remove Harry Reid from office; to Sarah Palin’s website picturing Congresswoman Giffords and other political leaders with targets drawn on their faces; to the support of such tactics and employment of violent language themselves on the religious right and the Tea Party (more than 50% of whose members are also members of the religious right; has finally come to the attention of at least a plurality of Americans. Sadly, while responsible voices are calling for an end to the violent actions and rhetoric, the individuals and groups who have employed such rhetoric and are at least partly responsible for this tragedy are denying that their impropriety had any influence on the shooter. Ms. Giffords’ primary opponent in the last election, a Tea Party candidate, was pictured dressed in combat gear and holding and M-16 rifle. His message to his supporters? He encouraged them to be prepared to fire their weapons in support of him.
As Sarah Palin’s staffers were scrambling to remove the targeted faces of her political opponents, the spin doctors were claiming that the shooter is mentally ill and none of these improprieties caused him to pull the trigger. As anyone with even a modicum of experience working with the mentally ill can tell you, there is nothing about being mentally ill that makes a person unable to watch television or read political materials. Even more importantly, if Ms. Palin’s “targets” weren’t inappropriate, why would her staffers remove them from her website?
Of course, the problem here isn’t only Sarah Palin, or the Tea Party, or the Religious Right – although they assuredly are all a part of the problem. The problem isn’t even that we live in a culture of violence – although, most assuredly, we do. The problem is that as war mongers, hate peddlers, and spin doctors have increasingly ramped up their rhetoric, those of us who are from moderate to progressive on the political and/or spiritual spectrum have remained silent as our current culture of violence was growing. The truth is that all of us are part of the problem. If we have any hope of fixing the problem before it is too late, those of us who have been silent must speak up. I propose three areas is which we all exercise due diligence and speak up regularly:
1. Christianity. Those of us who are Christian must speak out against any and every self-proclaimed Christian who does not understand that Jesus was called the Prince of Peace for a reason. We must educate our ignorant brothers and sisters (and there are more than enough of them) that while the Jewish people expected a Messiah who would be a violent military conqueror, the Messiah we Christians find in Jesus whom we call Christ was a peaceful man of non-violence who was no supporter of the status quo, no supporter of the regime in power, but rather advocated for the full inclusion of all people without exception in the full life of religion and society. He spoke against inequality of every kind, including but not limited to inequality of economics, social status, gender discrimination, and oppression of the sick or disabled. The only people Jesus spoke harshly of were the religious authorities of his day, who put massive burdens on the backs of the faithful in an attempt to control their thinking and behavior. Finally, Jesus was not a Christian, he was an observant Jew.
This is who Jesus was, and when anyone tries to cast him differently or to use him to defend positions that Jesus would never have defended, we must speak out against such a misrepresentation of one of history’s most important spiritual figures. If we fail to speak out, we will be complicit in the violence that is justified through misrepresentations of Jesus.
2. Politics. Regardless of our political affiliation, we must speak out against every political candidate or elected official who uses the rhetoric of violence. We must demand their censure by their political party. We must act decisively and non-violently, including engaging in acts of civil disobedience when necessary to change our current political rhetoric into what it should be – peaceful and fact based – not what we currently have – an exercise in making untrue, absurd claims that candidates know are false in the hopes that some fools may believe them and change their vote because of these lies.
3. Society. We must all work to reduce and finally eliminate the use of violent language and action in society. This is no mindless call to political correctness. It is a recognition that when human beings say something long enough they start to believe it. If we are to change from our unacceptable level of cultural violence, we must begin by immersing ourselves in the language of peace. Our greatest obscenity must be, “I could kill you/him/her/them.” We must work to end violence wherever it occurs: Domestic violence, gang violence, police brutality, and every other example of violence of speech and action.
These changes will not occur over night. We cannot know how long it will take to implement the changes we so desperately need, but however long it take we must persevere. Our society is regressing to a day long past when everyone on the street was carrying a weapon because there was no other way to guarantee the safety of person, property, and family. Before that day returns, we must regain control.
Some years ago WWJD? bracelets were very popular. The answer to that question today is crystal clear. Jesus would stop the violence.