The following unsigned editorial titled “Love your neighbor to combat the culture of violence” appeared in the July 17 issue of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
On the day that a Colorado jury was to announce its verdict in the case of a man who opened fire in a crowded movie theater killing 12 people, Tennesseans were trying to make sense of another deadly shooting, this time in our state.
Four people were killed and three others were injured July 16. (One of the injured died two days later.) The incident began when a man drove up to a military recruiting center at a strip mall in Chattanooga, pulled out a rifle, peppered the glass windows and doors with bullets, and then sped off in a convertible. Authorities caught up to the man at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center several miles away and there was more shooting. All of the casualties apparently occurred at the Navy Operational Support Center.
Shortly after the shootings, the press reported that the gunman was killed, but authorities were still trying to figure out his motive.
However the story unfolds in the coming days, the shootings are just another in a long line of examples of how our country and our world seems to be caught in the tight grip of what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops once called a culture of violence.
We see the results of that culture of violence in Chattanooga, in the Charleston, South Carolina, church where a man shouted racist rhetoric before shooting nine people dead, in the case of the Colorado movie theater shootings, in the killings of school children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in the school shootings at Columbine more than 15 years ago. We see it in families warped by domestic violence and in communities where poverty has sapped people of hope. We see the culture of violence at work in the Middle East where the Islamic State uses beheadings and murder to spread terror and to recruit new followers. We see it in the wanton destruction of the Syrian civil war where innocent people caught in the crossfire die daily while the world watches, impotent to stop the slaughter.
It’s not a new story. From the beginning of history, humans have used violence to feed their appetite for wealth, power and entertainment. In 1994, the USCCB released a pastoral message: “Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action.”
“Violence — in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world –is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music and even video games is poisoning our children,” the bishops wrote in 1994. Twenty years later and those words are still timely.
The bishops continued: “Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of a growing culture of violence.”
But there is an antidote to the violence that surrounds us, the bishops reminded us. “Above all, we must come to understand that violence is unacceptable. We must learn again the lesson of Pope Paul VI, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.'”
Our Catholic faith offers tools to combat violence. As the bishops noted in 1994, we can find them in the example of and teaching of Jesus Christ, who himself was the victim of horrendous violence because he offered people peace and mercy;in the biblical values of respect for life, peace, justice and community;in Catholic teaching on the value “of human life and human dignity, on right and wrong, on family and work, on justice and peace, on rights and responsibilities.”
We can’t wait for others to pick up the tools to counter the violence in the world. We each must contribute to a new culture of peace and justice. We must embrace our role in this effort first by reflecting our belief in the sanctity and dignity of all humanity in our actions, large and small. We can be the antidote to violence how we treat our neighbors, how we teach or children, how we welcome the stranger. Or as Jesus taught us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
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