We have had to stop once again to reflect on the awful violence we inflict on one another. Paris, the fabled “city of light,” has been visited by a deep darkness. 129 people were killed, and many others had their lives torn apart by this horrific and meaningless violence. We watched and listened in stunned disbelief to the reports on radio or television.
To be honest, my first reaction was a mixture of sadness and frustrated anger. I was sad about how we can be so inhumane towards one another; and I was so deeply angry that my first thought was how we might wreak vengeance on these so–and–so’s.
Then I remembered that I am a follower of the Prince of Peace.
We live in a world dominated by the view that the only answer to violence is more violence. The way of life on earth is to seek power, and the primary tool for that is to use violence. A natural consequence of that is that we spiral down into ever deepening levels of violence.
Jeb Bush called for even greater spending by the US on the military. Never mind that the USA already spends $581 billion on the military — more than the next 10 countries in the world. Ben Carson, who is neck and neck with Donald Trump, has said that the USA must not accept any Syrian refugees. Donald Trump predictably came up with the most outrageous response by suggesting that we have to “bomb the s**t out of ISIS” and that “we should shut down all the mosques” in the US.
European ultra–nationalist parties are also talking about closing borders and refusing refugees who come seeking a new home. This kind of ugliness is raising its head in Canada as well: a fire was set recently at a mosque in Peterborough; windows were smashed at a Hindu temple in Kitchener; a Muslim woman was attacked in Toronto. Thankfully, Prime Minister Trudeau condemned those acts of violent bigotry.
Unlike Republican leaders who cater to the worst instincts in people, Trudeau recognizes that diversity is a strength and “senseless acts of intolerance have no place in our country and run absolutely contrary to Canadian values of pluralism and acceptance.”
I was reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr’s words. In the midst of his non–violent protest against the racist structures of his time, he wrote “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, violence multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Some Christian traditions believe that pacifism is the only option for followers of Jesus who is the Prince of Peace. Notably, Quakers and Mennonites have steadfastly held to that position.
I do not come from a pacifist tradition. I believe that the perpetrators of the violence in Paris and terrorists everywhere should be opposed vigorously, fought tirelessly and brought to justice whenever possible so that there is less violence in the world. We cannot stand by in silence.
But the church also needs to witness that there are limits to the use of such force. We follow the Christ, who pointed to the kingdom of God as a reign which is marked by compassion and love, grace and hope.
Christians have all too often fallen into despair and used precisely those tools of the world to combat violence. They have succumbed all too quickly and, like Peter just before the crucifixion, denied their Lord.
There are other ways. We dare not fall into such despair that the only option we can think of is violence.
So I will pray. I will pray for the victims, their families and friends, all of whose lives have been torn apart. I will pray for the city of Paris and the people of France. I will pray for governments, that they may make wise and faithful choices as they seek to combat terrorism and extremism of all kinds.
I will also pray for the perpetrators of this horrific attack. I follow the One who commanded his followers to love and pray for their enemies. The question is not whether I will love them. The question for me is how.
And then, I will also renew my commitment to live in ways of peace and hope. I will continue to be a witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness and strength through vulnerability, who established justice through compassion and mercy.
I will testify to the One who took the pain of the world into his body as he died on the cross.
I will testify to the One who was raised again from the dead, showing us that Life is stronger than death, that Love is more powerful than hate, and that Light can quench the deepest darkness.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook