There were a couple of weeks in the early part of 2015 that I found both confusing and heartbreaking. On February 14-15 a series of shootings took place in Copenhagen. An attack at a Free Speech rally at café injuring three police officers and killing one person, the shooting of a Jewish man and a guard at a synagogue and then the shooting of the suspect on the morning of the 15th left many grieving and anxious. The suspected shooter’s religious ideology seems to be part though not all of the cause. Also on Sunday, Jihadists cruelly beheaded 21 Coptic Christians abducted from Libya last month. On Monday, a grand jury in North Carolina indicted Craig Hicks with murder charges. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salah, young students in the Chapel Hill area, were shot and killed last Tuesday. The immediate cause of the shootings appears to have been a parking dispute. However, Hicks had expressed anti-religious sentiment and the victims were Muslim.
In each of these cases religion plays a role, but does not account for the whole of people’s motivations. As people of faith, how do we respond? Are we so far removed from the places effected that we have no business inserting ourselves? Is it acceptable for us to be more concerned with the plight of fellow Christians than we are with people of other faiths? These questions and so many other haunt me. I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of violence and religion. But, as I read the news reports and praying for the situations, I tried to keep these things in mind:
We are talking about real human beings. The people who have been killed and the people who killed them have names, personalities, families, and histories. I believe we must be careful not to turn victims into pawns in our favorite arguments. I have searched for years for ways to talk about the issues that affect people’s lives without diminishing people’s lives into issues. I have failed more often than I have succeeded. I continue to believe that people’s lives have integrity and we need to protect that integrity with our speech as much as we protect the lives with our actions.
Motives are more complicated than we can sort out. Religion or anti-religious ideologies are rarely the sole cause for violence. The experiences of scarcity, powerlessness, victimization, and geo-political realities are just a few of the other contributing factors that lead to violent actions.
Apathy is not an option nor is misguided, partially informed action. We have learned the lesson time and again that that “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing” (John Stuart Mill in an Address before Students at St. Andrews). The fuller context of that quotation emphasizes that actions need to follow careful assessment of the situations before us. History is also full of tragic examples where good people did the wrong thing because they acted without adequate understanding.
For now, I pray for the strength to stay engaged and not turn away. I pray that God will form me into a person who seeks reconciliation. Christ died in order to tear down the dividing wall of hostility may we live in such a way that Christ’s purposes are manifest in us.