Violence

Ambassador Stevens’ Death: Tragic, Hopeful, Ironic

I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.

There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

A shared meal in Hebron.

A shared meal in Hebron.

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen).  Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.

And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.     

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.

Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  

On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,

“Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

Pope Benedict's Trip to Lebanon Still a Go, Despite Violence in Region

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

The Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon will go ahead as planned, despite growing tension in the region after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by a mob enraged by an anti-Islam film.

The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican was closely monitoring developments in the region but there were no signs of specific security concerns for Benedict's trip so far.

Benedict is scheduled to leave Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon despite rising instability spilling over from a deadly civil war in neighboring Syr

Culture Wars: Blood on the Hands of All Sides

Perkins speaks to reporters outside FRC's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Perkins speaks to reporters outside FRC's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Family Research Council, for now conceding what conservative groups have been loath to acknowledge in recent years: the truth that incendiary rhetoric indeed does contribute to a climate conducive to politically motivated violence.

Never has the moment seemed more opportune to forge consensus around an overdue new rule in the culture wars. Starting now, can we all please watch our words?

Most likely, you're aware of the incident that ignited this renewed debate about rhetoric and violence. On Aug. 15, a volunteer from a Washington, D.C., community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people walked into the headquarters of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative Christian organization, with a gun, a box of ammunition and a burning grudge against the group and its anti-gay politics and rhetoric, authorities said. The suspect, according to court documents, shot a security guard in the arm before he was subdued by that same guard and taken into custody.

Thank goodness no one was killed and that the security guard acted so heroically to prevent the incident from getting far worse. The group's fiercest opponents in the ongoing national arguments — organizations representing ardent secularists and gay-rights advocates — were quick to condemn the shooting, and rightly so. Conservatives have likewise been clear, for the most part, in their denunciations of violence committed against liberal figures over the years.

Here's where the plot gets thicker.

2 Dead, At Least 8 Injured in Empire State Building Shooting

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Updated at 11:22:  New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Jeffrey Johnson, 53, shot and killed a former coworker at Hazan Imports, 41, with a 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Johnson had been laid off from the women's apparel company. 

Nine other people were wounded or grazed as police exchanged gunfire with the shooter. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the injured may have been victims of accidental police gunfire, and none of them were seriously injured.

"I want to assure people that this had nothing to do with terrorism," Bloomberg said.

Updated at 10:30 a.m.: According to Reuters, two people are dead, including the shooter. At least eight were wounded. 

Earlier:

According to the Associated Press, several people have been shot near the Empire State Building in New York City.

From the report: 

"City police say three or four civilians have been wounded in the Friday morning shooting and that the shooter is dead. A fire department spokesman says it received a call about the shooting just after at 9 a.m. Friday and that emergency units were on the scene within minutes."

We at Sojourners offer our thoughts and prayers for all those involved in yet another instance of senseless violence.

 

Don't F— With Me!

Photo: Angry man screaming, olly / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Angry man screaming, olly / Shutterstock.com

Physical violence is what happens when the violent force of words is not enough.

It’s possible that we are just beginning to see the start of that in our world today. The words, language, and rhetoric within politics and religion is growing in intensity all the time. Insults, name-calling, and unfounded accusation are normal and even expected.

When one side is called out for their language, they simply excuse themselves, pointing out that their opponent is doing the same thing. So it goes. But what happens when the force of the rhetoric reaches its limit? Violence.

Activist: Fidel Bafilemba

Fidel Bafilemba

Fidel Bafilemba

“There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture.” — German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

In Goma, the epicenter of Congo mayhem, where corruption and poverty thrive, Fidel Bafilemba embodies the courage to challenge the norm of his home country.

“That’s me—the disorder of this country, but also the hope for a better future. A hope for an educated people. That’s me. Fidel Bafilemba, activist.”

Working for peace in his hometown has been a journey of transformation—Fidel is a militia member turned peace activist. In the midst of chaos, Fidel manifests hope—a hope for a better future where he, his family, and his community can make self-determined decisions for prosperity and reconciliation.

His struggle is to bring to fruition God’s “kingdom come,” even amid the mayhem of his environment, “for the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.” (1 Cor. 4:20).

When others see destruction, poverty, and war, Fidel envisions the future of his people. It is a future of a Congo lush with natural resources and beauty that benefits, rather than destroys, communities. That’s why Fidel refuses to accept impunity and injustice, and seeks to empower others to question and ask, “why?”

“Why don’t we have roads? Why don’t we have education? Why don’t we have, why don’t we have?”

In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, speaks at a press conference August 16. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Image

When I was in junior high, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.”

So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.

Artist: Petna Ndaliko

Petna Ndaliko

Petna Ndaliko

 

“The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” — Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you combat violence, institutionalized rape, a corrupt government, and years of injustice? With more violence, better weapons, or more strategic strikes?

For Petna Ndaliko, you do it through art. In spite of attempts by the Congolese government and militia groups to silence them, Petna created a stage for local youth to express themselves. They sing about oppression, about corruption, and about the people’s ability to overcome.

Art heals. It unites a community. And it can ignite a spark for change. Film can inspire rape survivors to find their voices and tell their stories. From a grassroots level, music moves people to action.

Petna calls himself a small light from which a huge fire starts growing. For many Christians, this echoes Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Petna’s hope is for the flame to spread through the youth of Congo, to carry the message of hope forward to future generations, finding creative ways to combat injustice.

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