Last night was rough. Following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I attended a protest against police brutality in my hometown of Dallas, TX. After listening to several speakers and marching through downtown Dallas, we met at the courthouse, listened to some concluding remarks, and were dispersed. As I walked down the street away from the courthouse, all of a sudden the mass of people in front of me turned around and began running the other way. I ran the other way too. People told me shots were fired. Sirens blared and police cars sped by me.
I walked away from the crime scene, and two of my friends were kind enough to come get me and drive me back to my apartment. I watched the rest on the news. The news was bad. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11th. 12 police officers shot. 5 police officers dead. My heart goes out to the police officers and their families.
As I tried (unsuccessfully) to wind down and fall asleep last night, I thought about how acts of violence often lead to more violence, creating a vicious cycle. I also thought about our long history of racial violence in the United States, and how violent conflicts in other parts of the world have been going on for even longer periods of time. I started to feel depressed.
Is there any way to stop the cycle of violence? To be honest, I’m not sure. Here is what Jesus taught about the cycle of violence: You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Matthew 5:38-39). You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).
It seems like an impossible command. But Jesus practiced what he preached. Near the end of Jesus’ life, a large crowd came to arrest him. When this happened, Jesus’ followers turned to violence. Here is how the Gospel of Matthew records the event: Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus, and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:50-52).
Jesus knew where the cycle of violence would lead, and he was committed to stopping it, even if it meant giving himself up to be arrested and executed.
Every so often there have been people who have followed the example of Jesus and embodied non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks. The unknown rebel at Tiananmen Square. These individuals changed the world in profound ways, because their actions were so counter-cultural.
There is a beautiful passage in the Bible that describes a vision of the prophet Isaiah about the last days. He [the Lord] will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
I long for that vision to be our reality, but we aren’t there yet. Until that day comes, I will be working for love and justice, and pleading with people to put down their sword. I hope you will do the same.