Around 9:15 PM on July 4th, I was leaving Swedish Covenant Hospital when I found myself in the middle of one of the loudest celebrations of our nation’s birthday that I can remember. All sorts of high grade fireworks were being launched from River Park, and it was quite a sight (and quite a sound)!
But in other parts of our city, all too familiar and deadly blasts were ringing out: gunshots, a familiar sound in too many Chicago neighborhoods wounded 102 people, 15 of them fatally over yet another violent Fourth of July weekend.
But Chicago is not alone. A New York City policewoman, the mother of three, was targeted and killed on July 4th. And, lest we forget, just one year ago (July 6, 2016) Philando Castile, a 32 year old African American man, was shot and killed by a police officer while he sat in his car. Mr. Castile was pulled over in a case of mistaken identity; dash cam and other video evidence indicated Mr. Castile cooperated fully with the officer, yet he still lost his life. The officer was acquitted of all the charges related to Mr. Castile’s death, sparking demonstrations and protests across Hennepin County in Minnesota.
On June 14th, our nation experienced yet another violent tragedy: the targeting of Republican members of Congress as they practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game at a suburban ballfield in Alexandria, VA. The shooter (James Hodgkinson, the only one who currently has died), was, by all indications, politically motivated. His brother said that Hodgkinson was disturbed over President Trump’s election and Hodgkinson’s social media posts reflected that.
A June 15th Chicago Tribune editorial reflected on the ballfield shootings, asking this question: “How could he (Hodgkinson) flip from political activist to shooter to someone, who would engage in ‘political rhetorical terrorist acts’, as Rep. Davis (U.S. Representative Rodney Davis, R – IL) described them?”
The editorial continued: “As the days unfold, we’ll learn more about Hodgkinson and the events leading up to the shooting. But for now, in this moment, we know one thing for sure. Violence that stems from political discourse is reprehensible. It does not represent us as Americans.”
The Tribune piece concluded by quoting Rep. Davis: “This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences has got to stop. We as Americans have to take a step back, take a deep breath. We can’t let our policy differences tear this country apart with polarization. It’s up to us to say, ‘enough is enough’.”
There is a violence within our nation that is so far from whom we are at our best. There are many causes for this violence and many manifestations of it: in our speech, our public and private discourse, in our attitudes towards those we perceive as different from us, and certainly in the gunshots that ring out all too frequently in blighted urban neighbors or on a suburban ballfield.
The Apostle James had this to say in regards to our speech:“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10). As followers of Jesus, we must lead others, with both our rhetoric and the example of our lives, away from hateful, demonizing speech It is possible, after all, to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are commanded to do just that.
In a sermon given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at King Chapel on the campus of Cornell College (Mt. Vernon, IA) on October 15, 1962, Dr. King proclaimed: “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
The actions we take (or fail to take) to stem the tide of violence defacing our nation certainly matter. But so does the speech we use. Does our speech encourage respect, understanding, even love of the other, especially towards those with whom we have strong disagreement? As followers of Jesus, our speech should dispel fear, not encourage it and foster unity not division. Actions may speak louder than words, but words matter.