Violence has been part of the human experience since the very beginning. And it is part of our human experience today. In 1994, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Social Message on Community Violence.
The message acknowledges both the timelessness of violence, and some disturbing modern manifestations of violence. Keep in mind that “modern” means 1994. Some things have changed a great deal since 1994—terrorist attacks and threats; school shootings; police shootings; racially motivated incidents; rise in hate crimes. In 1994, we were exposed to violence not just in our own communities but across the globe by television news. In 2017, we have access to global violence 24/7 through social media. So the perception of increased violence is understandable.
Violence has also become somewhat of a political football in recent years. The reality is that violent crime has decreased dramatically in the last decades in the United States. Round the clock news cycles that compete for ratings thrive on sensationalizing crime.
The message asks: “In the face of this, what are we as a church called to be and do? What resources of our faith can we bring to bear on this apparently intractable predicament? How shall we respond to both victims and perpetrators of violence? What shall we do in cooperation with others as together we seek to counter violence in our communities?”
The first response is theological. We believe that we are all captive to sin and need God’s mercy. We believe that the Holy Spirit works among us to challenge us, heal us, empower us to prevent violence. We also believe that society is to be ruled by the civil use of the Law, and that we have a responsibility to hold government accountable.
The message goes on to make suggestions under 4 categories:
As a Community of Worship:
Through prayer and absolution we remember victims and perpetrators, and also those who protect and defend.
As a Community of Education and Service:
Providing safe places; mediating, educating children and adults on non-violence; building relationships of trust ;supporting efforts to empower communities to change.
As a Community of Advocacy:
Countering the culture of violence in society and media; stem the proliferation of guns; build anti-violence coalitions; protect youth.
As a Community of On-going Deliberation:
Explore how violence has shaped our history; reject racism and fear of violence as a manipulative tool; look at foreign policy options.
The ELCA has produced numerous other resources on violence including Social Statements on The Death Penalty; on Peace, and on Race, and on Criminal Justice, and a Social Messages on Terrorism. In addition, the Bishops issued a pastoral letter in response to the school shooting at Sandy Hook.
This is one of a series of reflections on the Social Messages of the ELCA. The messages are available at www.elca.org/socialmessages . Reflections on other messages and Social Statements are archived at www.montanasynod.org.
Jessica Crist, Bishop