By Pastor Anthony W. Williams
W.E.B. Dubois predicted at the end of the 19th century that color would be the number one problem of the 20th century. Dubois’ prediction was right. When we reflect on the history of the 20th century, the color of one’s skin was the focal point. Recently, in a casual conversation with my former professor and colleague Dr. Lynn Mims, retired professor from SMU Perkins School of Theology and currently pastor of Barack Christian Church of St. Louis, Dr. Mims pointed out to me that violence is the number one issue of the 21st century.
We are experiencing as a nation and as a world, the effects of violence like never before. But at this time, the escalation of civilian violence is spiraling out of control. How do we as a society and a world counteract this growing virus?
History was made through the United Church of Christ recently. The various conferences of the Chicagoland community passed a swift resolution that calls upon the U.S. Congress to hold congressional hearings around the issue of civilian violence.
The Chicago Theological Seminary recently held a major press conference with persons of all backgrounds to declare that we must stand as a village against violence because no one is safe. Perhaps those who read this article will say to themselves that we have always had violence. Yes, this is true, but I say to all, we have never seen public violence of this magnitude in our modern world.
One has to be extremely careful and watchful when in public places due to the fact that some sick soul will step out of the darkness and unleash the spirit of violence one’s way. No matter what your economic status, and no matter what your geographical location, no one is truly safe.
I am not writing this to be pessimistic. I am writing to warn those of us who have the moral and spiritual consciousness, to work toward solutions to the pandemic problem of violence. Some will say America was born of violence and it is rooted in the DNA of the American system. Some will say that we as human beings possess within us this spirit of violence and if unleashed, it is destructive to the core of one’s humanity.
I had the privilege of hosting an immigration forum at First Congregational Church of Berwyn. This event was co-sponsored by State Representative Elizabeth Hernandez. In my conversation with the young Hispanic leadership, I brought up the issue of violence and their response to me was that people were leaving Central America due to out of control violence that is taking place. Imagine living in a community where violence affects your life 24 hours a day.
How can anybody live like that? How can a government violently separate children from their parents? Institutional violence is real as a product of the American Black community. I truly understand, based on historical experiences.
On May 19th, which happens to be Malcolm X’s birthday, we met in the basement of First Congregational Church of Berwyn to bring forth a formula that we hope can stagnate this spirit of violence.
Three basic principles emerged that we would like to share with the public at large.
1) To Educate – we must work towards educating persons to the understanding of what violence means. The word violence comes from the word to violate. On a local level we all bear responsibility to give insight on this issue. Gun violence is a distraction as it relates to the real issue of violence. All of our institutions must denounce the violence that exists within their systems.
2) Collaboration and Coalition Building – We must work together from various communities, from all walks of life, putting our negative belief systems aside for the sake of the many. We must talk to each other and not at each other, and we must be open-minded to the fact that the demon of violence wants to destroy us all.
3) Civility – Civility is the ability to agree to disagree; to operate out of a levelness of humanity like never before. It is difficult to move a civility agenda forward due to the fact that persons can be caught in their mental ruts. But civility must be the order of the day.
I am reminded of the gospel when a community of people asked Jesus to go into the graveyard and confront a demon-possessed violent man. In modern context, the local SWAT team had been called in to capture this man and they were unsuccessful. The CIA and FBI made attempts to capture the demon-possessed man and they were unsuccessful. But it was Jesus who asked the question of this day, “What is your name?” The man’s response was “Legions.”
The Legions of violence are destroying our world and all humanity must work together in order that we might transform this culture of violence that will eventually destroy us all.
Perhaps the words of Martin Niemoller, an outspoken critic of Adolph Hitler, speak to us today: First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
Peace to you all,
Pastor Anthony W. Williams