I want to love violently
I used to believe that violence was never the answer. If there's one thing the last year has taught me, it's that I don't know much about anything. So many things I grew up certain of, I now know not to be true.
That poverty is caused by laziness or lack of will. That the right way to approach racial issues is to say, "I don't see color." That distaste for politics is something to be proud of. That Abraham Lincoln was a hero for social justice and equality.
Those are all things I once believed, hills I once may have been willing to die on. I'm not anymore. I don't anymore.
But "violence is never the answer"—that's something I was always sure about.
I have never considered myself a pacifist. While I don't like war, I have always understood that sometimes war is a necessary evil, one that no one should enjoy but is sometimes forced upon a society. I grew up shooting BB guns at tin cans and playing sports that often meant being hit with balls or bodies. I am no stranger to bruises.
So I'm not sure where my dislike of violence comes from except to say I'm sure it was something I was taught as a child, like most children are, when I hit someone after they frustrated me or took something I wanted.
But considering that I was raised in the Church, on a book filled with violence and carnage from end to end—indeed, worshiping a man who was literally tortured to death—it's interesting to me that along with that knowledge was always this underlying message that violence was evil. Sinful. Always wrong.
As an adult, looking back on this message that we were raised on, I see violence. I see a father raising a knife to kill his only son under instruction from God. I see a woman driving a tent peg into her enemy's head. I see a city crumbling to dust with thousands of people inside.
I see a man who spat on a blind man's eyes to open them, who sent a herd of demonized pigs running off a cliff, who faced up to soldiers with torches and swords. I see a man who was born violently, died violently, but most of all—who loved violently. A man who not only sacrificed his body at the end, believing it would save the world, but who regularly put his body between vulnerable people and certain death.
I want to be like that. I want to love violently. The kind of love that clears tables, that cracks whips at injustice, that speaks harsh truths on stubborn ears and gentle corrections on soft hearts. The kind of violent love that throws itself in front of the defenseless, the hurting, the outcast.
There is much debate today about violence. Is it necessary? Is it ever right?
Arguments can be made either way. I know, because I've seen no end of them for the past week. Since a rally made up of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK swarmed the University of Virginia campus, my social media feed has been filled with endless arguments about whether violence from counter-protesters (I will not say "the left" because I have to believe there were good, passionate conservatives there also) was acceptable.
And, as one friend has pointed out, many defenses you could make for the violence on one side could just as easily be used by the other:
"I was standing up for my beliefs."
"I was defending my country."
"I believed I was in danger."
Another friend, author Bethany Morrow, spoke to me about her thoughts on the responses she's seen for the past week. Her perspective as Black woman sliced through the haze of this issue for me:
"The expectation that hate should be met with passivity and calm—that the expectations differ so wildly that instead of judging the actions of the racist, we are taught to judge the reaction of the oppressed—is intentional. It is meant to uphold the status quo. It is offering a moral victory to distract from the loss of self, life, economic and social justice and reform…It [teaches us] that we should so value that approval that we would be willing to take it over liberation."
To see the truth in this, you have only to look at the "model minority" stories that have flooded the news this week, including a recent account of a Black Lives Matter activist who escorted white supremacists through a crowd to make sure they got out safely. Thousands of people likely shared this story because they wanted you to know that it's normal—that it happens all the time—but thousands more did so as if to say, "Yes, this is how you should behave."
But this shouldn't be the expectation, that the oppressed should have more grace than the oppressor, should be morally superior or "go high" when they go low. It's a great catchphrase, but at the end of the day, if someone is staring you in the face and saying you should die because of the color of your skin, our expectation as a society should not be that you respond to that sentiment with kindness or generosity of spirit.
I knew that I needed to write a blog this week, to process what I was seeing, to understand my responsibility in the midst of it as a white American woman living in Australia. I am not here to make definitive proclamations about the times when violence is and is not acceptable. I am here to say what I saw, and how I felt I needed to respond to it.
I listened to Dr. Cornel West recount how he and a couple dozen clergy members would have been "crushed like cockroaches" if they it hadn't been for a group of anti-fascists swooping in to counter advances from the alt-right. I watched a group of men, some ten years younger than even me, wave flags with swastikas and chant "Jews will not replace us" with their faces bared to the cameras. I watched the Facebook live video of Pastor Traci Blackmon as she left her church under police protection after being held captive with her congregation inside while it was unsafe to leave.
What broke me, though, was the viral picture of UVA students in their sneakers and sandals, boldly linking arms and holding a sign protesting white supremacy. Surrounded by torches and cameras, screams and chaos, they stand quiet. Ready. Some protecting their faces, knowing they will be researched and threatened later if their identities are discovered.
To me, it's the most powerful picture to come out of last Friday.
Regardless of whether they have weapons or are ready to throw punches, these people are loving violently. Their lives and bodies are on the line, and while I don't know who is who in this picture, any other counter-protesters standing ready to defend them from torch-wielding or heavily armed white supremacists are loving violently too.
I don't know all the answers. I don't know everyone's story. But I do know the difference between right and wrong, or at least what my gut tells me is right and wrong. My gut tells me that believing an entire race would be better off dead or subjected to second-class citizenship is a destructive, violent ideology. Whether the purveyors of that belief are dressed in a pointed white hood or khakis and a polo, whether they carry an assault rifle or a Tiki torch, they do not generally respond to reasoned arguments or calmly expressed facts.
They do, as we've seen, respond to people with privilege and means putting their bodies violently between them and the people they would seek to harm. This is what I feel the God-man of the Bible would do, which means it is what he would ask us to do, one way or another.
I have seen many posts and comments this week, ranging from reporters to the president to friends on Facebook, commenting on the violence "on both sides." And there is. There is violence on both sides. But from my perspective, the purpose behind it is different. Let's say a person breaks into your house and holds you up at gun point, and your neighbor sees the attack and rushes in to fight the burglar off. Would you call that neighbor violent?
That neighbor might be one of those guys who's itching for a fight, who has a criminal record. Or, he might be some average accountant who just happened to see your door open in the middle of the day and came to see if you were all right.
Does it matter? Does it matter why he's there or what kind of person he is, when he's standing between you and someone who wants you dead?
We can—and probably will—argue for months about the "correct" response to an ideology that encourages oppression and genocide, like white supremacy does. But if the choice is either standing between my vulnerable friends and those who want to attack them, or just staying silent or staying home, I know which one I will choose.
From a distance in Australia, I may not be able to put my body on the street and stand between a white supremacist and their target—but I can put myself on the line in other ways. Opening myself up to criticism by speaking out; saying something when being quiet would be easier or less confrontational. If I can't put my body on the line, I can put my career there. My words there. I can put it there and hope that I don't lose it, but be willing to anyway because I know it's what is right.
I want to love violently. Sometimes, I think it is the answer.
Feature image by: Ricardo Gomez Angel