Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
We will gather next month for our annual meeting. Our theme will be part of our on-going Yes We Will! call to follow Christ. This year we will discuss ways to free the captives still in Luke 4:18. Our workshops will help us gain tools to work to end various forms of captivity, human trafficking, incarceration pipeline, and more. We need the time together and the tools to answer Jesus’ call effectively.
In thinking of this problem, I cannot help but think that most of these are symptoms of the fear of the other prisons in which many of us live. Most worrying for me is how that fear shows up in hate much too often in our world. I have also spent months trying to figure out what our role is in all of this. Should we publish our concern and be a visible voice? How much authority do I have to speak on behalf of our churches? Should we encourage our churches to…something? I’m exhausted from worry about how bad things could get, but what can we do?
My strongest desire is to condemn. I want to condemn those in government spewing hate, those who remain silent because speaking out might mean they lose their seat and thus their power. But my strongest condemnation is reserved for all those who minimize our journey to radicalization. All the people who know someone and choose to unfriend them on Facebook. Those who remain silent when they spew the vitriol they learn. All the friends who say, so and so is crazy, just ignore him when he gets on his rants.
The parents and adults who have learned and taught their children to never talk politics with each other. That same community who cannot imagine that anyone who looks like us can be radicalized into unhinged zealotry that leads to murder.
I want to condemn all who want to convince themselves that racism is in the past and that these mass murderers are just sick individuals, that the racist comments coming from our government are not actually racist. All who want to embrace the comfortable blanket of accusing perpetrators of mental illness that frees us from communal responsibility and guilt.
I want to yell out how our casual toleration of racism in private and our silence in the face of it in public do contribute to mass murders, cruel and dehumanizing immigration policies and the flourishing and emboldening of hate.
In the end, I have come to the conviction that one way is to follow Christ into freeing the captives, including ourselves. The how is more difficult. Maybe it is time for organized love. We need systemic love. We need a structure that helps these men (mostly) come to terms with the fact that what they might experience as anger is in fact fear. Fear that is born from our society equating value with supremacy. Fear that if we are not on top they will treat us like we treat the bottom.
I want to condemn yet Jesus calls me to stand in the middle and love. However, I must admit I have not been very good at following Jesus. Perhaps together we can be better?
Join us this October so we may help each other to love all into freedom.
“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Will you join us this October 11-12th?
Rev. Doug Avilesbernal
Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
In John 8:1-8 we find Jesus at a courthouse teaching. While there they brought him a person condemned to death. It is clear her sentence was death by stoning according to the laws. It is also clear Jesus never disputes that the woman is guilty. He also stands between the executioners and the sentenced. He does not challenge her guilty verdict; he challenges her death sentence.
We can quarrel about the places where Jesus might not have been clear, or worse, those issues he did not speak on at all. However, in this case he is clear.
Sadly, our current government has chosen to reinstate the death penalty at the Federal level. They have made their choice.
As far as I have been able to find there is no evidence that the Death Penalty serves as a deterrent to terrible crimes. In our country carrying the sentence out is slow, costly and even then, we have killed innocent people. At the same time, there is no question that, aside from the innocent killed, those sentenced to death have committed heinous crimes. Is it justice to become what we are intending to punish?
We Americans do have a romanticized notion of swift justice. This lust has blinded us to the fact that we have often used the word justice as a façade for racial prejudice, hate, revenge, retribution, and more. We often escape in front of a screen for a couple of hours where justice is served swiftly and accurately. Always to the deserving, by mostly attractive men who are too honorable to wait for the corrupt and slow system. There is nothing swifter in our romanticized eye for an eye world than the death penalty. It is clear, quick, final and it feels good to make them pay. It does not matter that the death penalty does not deter crime. Many of us simply want to make THEM pay.
We have grown comfortable with seeking retribution or revenge and calling it justice.
This earthly sense of justice feels good and leaves us with a very satisfying sense of having received payback.
In response to my position I often hear the comment, “you’re only against it because it hasn’t been your daughter raped or your mother killed.” I do wonder how I would respond, and I don’t know. Is revenge the only response?
When Charles Roberts IV shot 10 girls and killed 5, the families of the girls and their Amish community found another way. The Amish outnumbered mourners at Robert’s funeral and they visited his family to share in their grief together. I have no reason to think that if Roberts had survived these same mourners would have asked for his death.
It makes sense to want strong deterrents to heinous crimes. We should have strong consequences for evil acts. Christ did come to end our eye for an eye sense of retribution.
Is Capital punishment really that bad? Yes, because it is the result of our “us vs. them” world of separation. Our history of humanity has taught us that this type of separation has always ended with the powerful doing its best to destroy the weaker side.
I believe that reinstituting the death penalty is yet another cruel step moving us closer to the Rome of Jesus’ time and away from our Christian principles.
Watching this journey closely is important because we are living historic times in our country and especially for Christians. Previously, Christians have allowed themselves to be carried by fear into a world of retribution, vengeance and hate. Germany, The Balkans, Rwanda and others were all mainly Christian countries who, step by step, followed the path of hate that led them from alienating the other to genocide. Am I comparing us to them? Yes. Will we end in the same place?
Will we be good, obedient citizens and go along? Or will we stand with Jesus against this practice that does not deter horrible crimes but does satisfy our darkest desires for revenge? Will be stand between the hate and the victim and firmly love both?
This is not an easy choice. We will pay a price for standing on the side of love for all, perpetrator and victim. But if we do not, this path leads to open hate and pain that lasts decades.
So, let us remind each other that we all have blame to carry as well as grace and the call to repent and sin no more.
In hope that Love does prevail when wielded firmly and generously,
Executive Minister, EBA