October 26, 2009

Community and Violence

Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO,  is hosting a conversation this evening about how collaborating congregations can address violence in their communities.  I prepared biblical and theological perspectives to offer at the gathering, which I am sharing in this weekly blog, thus a little longer than usual.

            I am grateful that churches care about what is happening on the social landscape. Our congregations too often barricade themselves from the pressing issues in their contexts, and surely violence is a part of each context—whether in the urban core or the suburban corridor. Violence is more than a series of wrongful acts, e.g., stealing, shooting, battering, violating, etc.  There is the larger reality of violence in the very fabric of creation that is inescapable; thus, we must identify and name it that we might create communities of responsibility and communities of care.

I.                   Violence is part of the human condition

Human personality contains a substructure of violent aggression related to survival (Marjorie Suchocki).  Her view is that “original sin” is created through a “triadic structure constituted by a propensity toward violence, by an interrelational solidarity of the human species, and by social structures that shape the formation of consciousness and conscience.”[i]

The long evolutionary background from which we emerge equips us for “fight or flight,” and it means that violence lurks close at hand. This violence can take the form of verbal abuse (maybe more damaging than physical abuse); protection of family or property; or the xenophobia that allows fear of the “other” to permit violent approaches to “cleansing” or “erasing” an ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation that is deemed an affront. Scape-goating the “other” is organized violence.


II.                Violence is systemic

Violence is often embedded in laws, institutional structures, or practices.  Whether it is racism, sexism, militarism, nationalism, classism, ad nauseum, violence is systemic. While one may not feel directly responsible for these expressions of privilege, there is still complicity in allowing the system to remain unchallenged.

The reality of disparities in education, health-care, and financial stability is a form of violence. School children who happen to live in certain areas are violated by inadequate resources, low expectations and, at times, compromised quality of instruction.


III.             Violence must be checked by community

Communities can, indeed, must work together to challenge the varied forms of violence.  Clear expectations are needed; immediate feedback and checking of violation of these norms are required.

There is a project in San Francisco that seeks to deal with recidivism.  Living in community, these former felons are required to do two things:

·         Each person is responsible for someone else’s success. Even if you have only been in the program a day longer than someone else, you begin to mentor and coach them in a new skill.

·         Each person must give immediate feedback, i.e., “call ‘em out,” when they violate the covenant of staying clean, sober, etc.  [This breaks the code of the street or the prison where no one tattles.]

This focus on communal responsibility to re-shape behavior is having a significant impact in this program.

We must educate children, adolescents, and even adults on strategies that curb violent acts.  Also, communities must continue to challenge the structures of violence that lead to destructive behaviors.

            Violence is more than law-breaking actions. Its impact is felt in policies that exclude, legal loopholes that protect the wealthy, and business interests the privilege profit over ethics. Churches must stand as prophetic witnesses against the violence that oppresses and distorts all who participate in it. Working together, we can move our society toward the “beloved community” that empowers all.

            Molly T. Marshall


[i] Marjorie H. Suchocki, The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology (New York: Continuum, 1994), 84-85.

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