Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12: 17-21
When Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, Jehu?” He answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the idolatry and sorceries of your mother Jezebel continue?”
2 Kings 9:22
The idea of peace has quickly gained popularity among friends and family who have watched with apprehension the reactions across the nation to state violence against dark bodies. They want to be reassured that the protests are peaceful, and some give the impression that, as MLK once commented, they “agree with the goal, but can’t agree with the methods.” The primary organizations leading protests in Baltimore, and New York, and Cleveland, and Detroit, and Ferguson, and Oakland, and everywhere across the country, have for the past year held to an ethic of nonviolent direct action. The naysayers have not been convinced.
Perhaps we must ask whether they ever could have been convinced. We as the American church have repeatedly told black organizers that violence is never the answer, that they should not repay evil for evil, that the only the preconditions for liberation are respectability and restraint. I have never in my life seen a church send out a soldier to the Middle East and ask for assurances that they will not participate in vengeance. I have never seen a congregation tell a police officer that they can support him in his chosen profession as long as he swears off violence and only repays evil with good. At this weekend’s Concerned Black Scholars event, it was pointed out that while the judge in the Dylann Roof case compelled the victims’ families to publicly profess forgiveness, no such requests have been made of the victims of the Chattanooga shootings. As the white evangelical church, we have reserved the right to vengeance and self defense for ourselves, but quickly develop new hermeneutical strategies when counseling victims of state violence.
In the midst of overwhelmingly peaceful protest this weekend in Ferguson, there was an unmistakable undercurrent of folks feeling like marching on the sidewalk, or even occasionally in the middle of the street, has not effectively relieved the scourge of police violence. They are right. Police have killed at least 1,083 Americans since Mike Brown’s death. No doubt before I hit publish that number will have grown. Videos of police harassing, assaulting and executing all kinds of bodies, but especially dark bodies, have become commonplace. A year later, there is no peace.
We in the church have been too long caught in a compromise. We profess to serve the Prince of Peace but leave ourselves the option for war. We are quick to play the victim and slow to be with actual victims. As long as we are content to continue in idolatry, to offer up sacrifices to the false gods of security and order and propriety, what peace can there be?