I am thinking about this in regard to the recent circumstances in our nation concerning the behavior of the police, especially toward black men, and the behavior of citizens when their anger and protest explode into violence and civil unrest. The events of which most of us are aware have been surrounded by most of us as a media witness to those events usually via phone videos. Then we become a witness to the media coverage of the reaction to those events, and we become participants and witnesses as we make comments and react to those consequent events usually through social media.
As we look for opinions that seem to express what we feel, or opinions that we adopt as our own we need a filter inside ourselves to be sure that what we are emotionally caught up in is actually true. Surely some of what we read is ignorance, some articles reveal concern, some reflect sympathy, some reflect anger, some reveal and reinforce racism, and those comments add fuel to the fire of discord.
I think the words of Jesus give us some perspective on how to judge our own opinions and actions. If we approve of police acting as judge and jury in the apprehension of young black men, and so execute (kill) them, whether from innate racial animosity, or from adrenaline, or from fear, or from rage, then shouldn't we want our own sons to be treated this way by the police, if they should do something stupid? I am asking if the logic follows, assuming that we should do to others as we would have others do to us?
I am wondering that if we think it okay to start a fire to burn someone's car, or store, or house, then shouldn't we approve if that fire consumes our own car, and store, and house? It seems to me that the fire you start inevitably burns beyond your planning, has a tendency to not be satisfied until it consumes not just the stranger's house, but your own.
It seems to me that if we excuse violence because we are angry at the way authority has abused its commission, then we should find it acceptable when others excuse their anger and the violence they might unleash on us. If we excuse a stranger being grabbed off of the street, or out of a car, or out of a store and beaten by a mob because of the color of their skin then surely we should have no problem when that happens in reverse to ourselves, or someone of our particular race, isn't that right?
If we find it acceptable for another person's son to be arrested and then while in the custody of police to be brutally beaten, even killed, and then have no one held responsible for it then shouldn't it be acceptable for that to happen to our own sons, and shouldn't we keep our mouth shut and just trust our legal authorities to have done the right thing?
In almost all of these situations of suspected police brutality, all of which were terrible in outcome, but some having if not justification then at least explanation in confusion and human frailty while others were simply murder, there has been correct and righteous outrage and protest. Some of this protest took great courage and real self control. It was done with respect, even when it wasn't given respect. Others in their rage became stupid and in their violence overwhelmed the legitimate voice and cry for justice. Now all our eyes are on them, and some of our eyes are filled with dismay and tears, if not tear gas.
The younger generation may not know this yet, but this never works out well. Order is usually re-established and if necessary brutally so. Some rioters will be terribly injured before it is over, some will be killed, and for a few moments of the feeling of heady power while in a mob, some will sit for a long time in prison. Many will suffer in neighborhoods of burnt out buildings that will sit idle for a decade.
For Christians there cannot be two moralities. One hears people saying stupid things, such as, "if he breaks the law he doesn't have any rights." We have said this about terrorists, about undocumented immigrants, or simply about someone running away from the police. The issue of human rights is dead center when someone seems undeserving of them, that is usually when it is most important to protect those rights, for all of our sake.
One hears stupid justifications of riotous behavior, of the refusal to label someone a "thug" when they act like a thug simply because they are being a thug while black and angry about injustice. Redefining terms to make heroic what is actually ugly behavior doesn't really fool anyone, except maybe the pundits vying for a reputation that they stand for radical justice. Justice is supposed to be blind, so the sword of its execution falls upon all equally.
In case you missed it, I am speaking to both sides in this conflict. We dare not lose our moral compass, and with it the moral gravity of justice, with which we call authority and power to account. If we reduce the struggle to identity politics, black versus white, wealthy versus poor, police versus citizens, then justice becomes relative and we lose the power of a compelling moral authority.