When I was trying on pacifism in my formative years, my peers would begin the classic argumentative questioning. “Would you kill if someone threatened your sister?” “Would you kill if it was the only way to save your own life?”
The goal — if there was an articulated goal in my society of children and teens — was to prove pacifism flawed because it was impossible to practice.
As a mature pacifist I know that given the right circumstances I could be driven to violence against another. Though I understand the harming of others to be out of bounds, I understand violent urges. I am human.
None of this negates my belief that pacifism is consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the interconnected divinity of creation. Harming another ultimately harms self.
Anytime we resort to violence, in the language of my faith, we sin. Violence, harming of another, is a tragedy and a failure because it breaks relationship. The perpetrator of violence is not the only one at fault. Typically there is plenty of sin to go around.
Context matters. When basic rights and needs are denied, when people are oppressed, and their call for relief and change go unheeded, the likelihood of physical violence increases.
When people go unheard, the ones who fail to listen and respond are at least as culpable as those who are driven to violence. My dog can accurately be called sweet and loving. However, if I were to taunt him, fail to meet his basic needs, and abuse him, couldn’t he be pushed to the limits of friendliness and lash out?
Now is the time for whites to accept our culpability in the pattern of police killings of blacks. Now is the time for us to stop tsk tsk-ing about property damage when our sisters and brothers are being killed!
We must listen to and believe our oppressed kindred and follow them in insisting on change. Despite what our media tell us, this is not about property damage. It is about the taking of lives.