Friday, February 27, 2015

Violence Challenges Our Prophetic Voice

The prophet Habakkuk wrote long ago: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

These words could have been written yesterday.  As we look around there is so much violence:
  •  sexual violence against women as seen in our media and in the lives of professional sports figures;
  • violence on the streets of Wilmington, Del., to the point where people are calling the city “Kill-mington”;
  • violence between Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists
  • brutal beheadings of Coptic Christians and many other innocent captives at the hands of ISIS;
  • the murder of three young Muslims in North Carolina;
  • violence against people of color and violence against the LGBT community.  
Violence seems to be the operating system in our world for solving our social problems and also obtaining wealth and power. We know violence does not produce the works of God and violence cannot be eliminated  by heaping more bombs on the heads of the perpetrators.

On the contrary, retaliatory violence creates an endless cycle of more and more destruction. Having more guns, more sophisticated weapons, more “stuff” to fight back with does not make us safer. 

Habakkuk speaks the word of the Lord to the people living in violent times.  He stresses that the violence of the proud and the evil will end and “the righteous will live by faith.” (2:4) He further promises that “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) And, he says, we should at all times acknowledge the presence of the Lord: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (2:20)

Habakkuk does not sugar-coat the suffering he experienced during his lifetime as a prophet. The crops had failed, there were no herds in the stalls, but still he exulted in the Lord: “God, the Lord, is my strength.” 

This is a word for us too.  But it is not enough to know that God will win in the end, that God will sustain those who have faith.  Those with the God-given strength of faith need to speak out, as Habakkuk did, and call people to a better way. 

At the closing of the “Pastors of Black Churches Convocation” recently in Atlanta, Ga., Iowa Area Bishop Julius Trimble invoked the "I can't breathe!" cry of New York police-choking victim  Eric Garner, which has been been repeated by scores of protesters since his death. Calling it "the collective cry of a people,” Trimble noted “I can’t breathe when churches are secret-societies instead of saving stations. I can’t breathe when we are tip-toeing around our prophetic call.”

Where is our prophetic voice?  Must the stones cry out in our stead while we remain silent?

I applaud the prophetic voice of Governor Tom Wolf, who recently called for a moratorium on Pennsylvania's Death Penalty.   He said in a news conference, “At a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment.”  He is being a prophet by calling on the government to at least consider stopping the use of violence to end violence. 

May it never happen again that someone is executed, killed by mistake. And may everyone who does wrong have an opportunity for redemption and for restorative justice, not retributive vengeance.

I applaud the prophetic voice of U.S. Olympian Lolo Jones who went on record saying that the film Fifty Shades of Grey” glamorizes violence against women. On her Facebook page Jones wrote that every woman is “worth more than what this movie depicts” and that being a gentleman is not outdated.” May Lolo’s prophetic voice begin to stem the sweeping tide of violence against women that is increasing on our college campuses and in every sector of our society. 

I applaud the “non-discrimination” laws for the LGBT Community that are being discussed in the Pennsylvania Legislature.  May there soon be a day when no one in our state can be legally turned away from hotels and restaurants, housing and employment opportunities because of their sexual orientation; and may the incidence of hate-crimes against gay people become a thing of the past.

I applaud the United Methodist Church's Connectional Table members who at a recent meeting affirmed a proposal (but have not yet voted) to create a “third way” in which the church’s long debate over homosexuality can be resolved.”  They propose to remove the prohibitive language that makes it a chargeable offense under church law for clergy to be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals’ or to officiate at same-sex weddings.”

May this bring peace in our churches in the years to come and better understanding about human sexuality and gender orientation.  This debate has done serious damage to our witness, for we are often seen as a church at battle in the midst of a destructive theological war.

Where is your voice? What is breaking your heart, or the hearts of others, that needs your prophetic, healing words? Not just your words, but your witness through action! 

A recent United Methodist historical video, “Methodist History: Mother African Zoar’s Legacy” talks about the prophetic voice of this historic African American Church in Philadelphia that years ago was a first stop for many on the Underground Railroad  that assisted in the passage of slaves escaping to freedom.  That was dangerous! It was against the law to help slaves escape, but church members did it anyway because of their conviction that everyone should have God-given equality, and every law-abiding person deserves to be free. 

Let your voice be heard. Let your actions back up your voice, so that Christ's peace is realized in the lives of those who suffer from violence.  It will not be an easy journey as every prophet will attest.  There is surely push-back and suffering on this road but Habakkuk witnesses to the fact that God “makes my feet like the feet of a deer and makes me tread upon the heights.”  (3:19)  

Jesus was a prophetic voice for people on the margins of life. He spoke against violence, and he urged people to “turn the other cheek.” We can speak and live  that same message to touch the hearts of all who will hear and see. During this Holy Season of Lent, say something and do something to stop the violence!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Bishop Johnson, and perfect for our Lenten contemplations. With your permission, I'm reprinting this on United Methodist Insight (