The Search for a More Peaceable Kingdom

by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational UCC, Beaverton, OR
an eye for an eyeHere’s an old saying that deserves a second look: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Matthew 5: 38-39). Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: Don’t hit back at all. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. (Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)

Despite the massive media coverage of all events violent and brutal, we live in a far safer world than our ancestors experienced. In his recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker documents in 500 pages the decline in violence over human history. “I have to convince you that violence has really gone down…. knowing that the very idea invites skepticism, incredulity, and sometimes anger.” Despite Pinker’s evidence of the decline of violence, many people in this country have become so fearful that they believe that they must take protection and justice into their own hands. Policies, laws, and business practices have moved to reinforce these self-justice and self-protection actions. Do those policies, laws, and business practices escalate moments of violence or reduce them? Strong differences on this question divide us.

The recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman have brought many of these issues to the fore. 


by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, Beaverton, Oregon
Americans are awash in guns. Our history tells the story. The continent opened up before us as we surged across the land. Orderly communities and the law followed the surge. Guns, for good and bad, went with the frontier. Guns provided food; guns provided self-defense; guns gave people, primarily men, a sense of power and identity. The Western movie and the Western novel captured the stories of the frontier. Heroes and villains abound in these stories, and nearly all of them used guns.

The “Western” has almost disappeared from our entertainment library, replaced by war and urban crime movies, and more recently, stories that explore (or exploit) brutality, lawlessness, sadism, and other graphic violence. We have not yet reached the end of our curiosity about our human dark side.

Our faith has given us another story, though it seems hard to wrap it around the violence of much of our culture. In the story of Jesus and in the Easter story, we know the capacity of the human to cause suffering and pain, but we also know of the God-given human capacity for life and love.

As Americans, it seems unlikely we will give up our love of guns or the stories that glorify them. But the death toll is too high, and many of us do not feel safe. Far too many young men end up in prison. Far too many die at their own hand. The collateral damage (the death of bystanders) caused by guns continues. What to do, what to do…….