From time to time, the fabric of society is torn asunder by a moment too outrageous to ignore. From time to time, individuals and communities who consider themselves nonviolent are forced to witness violence of which they are undeniably a part. Both were the case in a tragedy this spring in Pensacola, Florida, and they reveal a moral crisis of the most profound nature.
On March 10 the life of Dr. David Gunn was brutally extinguished by three shots from a gun fired in cold blood outside an abortion clinic. That violent moment exposed the raw nerve of a social dilemma that threatens our individual and common integrity.
Values perceived as absolutely non-negotiable by some have come into direct conflict with values perceived as absolutely non-negotiable by others. Sometimes disengaged, honest, objective persons are able to identify in such situations the blindness of one side or the other--or both--and to cast the moral debate in a manner with which both sides can live.
But in some cases no one is able to identify acceptable middle ground and the explosive encounter that follows seems beyond the reach of all mediation. Then people of clashing opinion can react to each other in a number of ways.
They can, for example, go to war. They can turn to state-approved or privately implemented intimidation and terror, even going so far as to execute the less powerful opposition. (Too many death squads and repressive governments have chosen this option!) They can withdraw from the public debate and focus on the rights of the individual or retreat into silence to avoid the painful conflict. They can try to influence each other by propaganda or disinformation. Or they can engage in honest debate and dialogue from different points of view, all the while honoring the other's humanity and respecting their right to act in good conscience.