As the Presiding Bishop of the Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church, I am somewhat reluctant to issue pious proclamations as I find them to be most often lacking what must follow such statements – action. Our world is full of small minded ecclesial tyrants issuing decrees and expecting uniform acceptance by “the faithful.” I have no such expectations. What’s more, our Anglican heritage is loathe to put statements in concrete, preferring instead in most cases to allow people to find their own guidance from God in their own lives. As an Interspiritual Church, that commitment runs even deeper. We have no desire to tell anyone what to believe, but rather choose to present the options in hopes of generating discussion and journeying with others on their spiritual paths.
Because of the above, we in the UAIC have refrained from making statements in recent years. However, changes in society sometimes compel a response, and so at our annual General Assembly in September we will work on a statement about violence and perhaps one or two other pressing concerns with the understanding that statements without concrete action supporting them are so much hot air blowing in the breeze. In the meantime, I will here posit a personal statement that perhaps can serve as a starting point for our discussions in September.
A Personal Statement on Violence
There is no place for violence in any of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions. In times past, people have projected onto God their own violent proclivities and so various scriptures endorse varying degrees of violence. These endorsements reflect the practice of tribal cultures, not the movement of any legitimate spiritual voice. leader, or tradition. We must understand them as part of our collective history, but not look to those passages as normative or applicable in contemporary society. Simply stated, where any scripture appears to advocate violence, it is wrong.
Violence always emerges from anger, and anger emerges from fear. We must face the fact that we are a profoundly fearful society, and we seem to be waiting for an opportunity to find ourselves insulted or otherwise transgressed upon so that we can lash out. We lock ourselves in our homes and arm ourselves behind our doors. We move to gated communities. In many neighborhoods, we can hear gunshots on a daily basis. Sadly, mass shootings are no longer isolated incidents. None of these issues has a single cause, and none of them will be solved overnight. Therefore, it seems to me that we need to establish some guidelines for our personal conduct at the same time that we work to eliminate fear, anger, and violence.
We must recognize that violence always represents societal and personal failure. When one of our brothers or sisters chooses to act out violently, it means that those around him or her have failed to intervene appropriately at an earlier point in time. All of us are complicit in violence. Violence in speech or action is never an appropriate response and always represents failure. Even violence taken up to defend the weak and innocent represents a failure to act at an earlier, necessary time. Military action always represents a failure of diplomacy. Domestic violence and sexual violence are never acceptable under any circumstances.
In the United States, we have a love affair with guns. The debate around gun control has been laden with fallacy and outright lies for a very long time. These lies and fallacies reflect the fear present in our culture and pervasive on both sides of the debate. It is clear to any reasonable person that the framers of our Constitution had no idea what the future would bring in terms of weapons, and so appeals to the Constitution are irrelevant. What we can say with clarity is that there is no legitimate civilian use for a weapon that fires in fully automatic mode, including those modified with “bump stocks” or other devices. Therefore, such weapons and modifying devices should be restricted to military use only. There is no legitimate civilian use for a weapon fitted with high capacity magazines.
We must also caution those involved in protesting violence in any form that an angry person standing on a street corner screaming about violence reduction makes about as much sense as having an orgy for chastity. We are each responsible for reducing our own fear, our own anger, and our own violence – whether in deed or by speech. The best way to do this is through the spiritual practice of our own choice, if necessary augmented by psychotherapy. Many of us have good reason to be fearful, but it is time to lay that fear down. It is time to recognize that our fear is based largely upon the past, which cannot be changed. If we release that fear, what can change is our society.