Fruit of the Rhetoric of Violence

Several months ago the Executive Committee decided to draft a resolution against violent political speech. Like many other people, we had become appalled at the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric that was being used by political pundits and politicians. Language calculated to incite anger and suspicion was being – and continues to be – broadcast daily, demonizing political opponents in terms that are inexcusable. Already the violent talk bore bitter fruit in unstable people like Byron Williams who was stopped by the police and got into a gun battle with them as he was traveling heavily armed to attack the progressive Tides Foundation on July 18, 2010 in California. Williams pointed to rightwing T.V. and radio personality Glenn Beck as his inspiration, indeed, his teacher.
Though Beck has never straightforwardly condoned political violence, he has frequently warned his listeners that “a revolution is coming,” that blood will be shed and that they are in danger from those on the other end of the political spectrum and they should be prepared. He and others of similar perspective have insisted that their opponents deserve to be hated because “they are taking our freedoms away.” It is not unreasonable to believe armed conflict is being provoked, even if not directly advocated, by alarmist claims and by the unjustifiably harsh depictions of those who don’t share their position on the issues. By no means is all the violent political speech coming from the rightwing. Some on the left are guilty as well, and they, too, need to be called to accountability.
A draft of the resolution against violent political speech had been circulated among the members of the Executive Committee of Disciples Peace Fellowship several weeks ago for revision and response. Just last week I suggested that we shelve the resolution since we intended to sponsor or co-sponsor other resolutions that I thought should be given priority. But then this past Saturday Congresswoman Gabrielle Gibbons was shot along with several other people, some of whom were killed. While much is not known about the motives of the shooter and while he was clearly a very unbalanced young man, the incident was not entirely random but political in some fashion. I have a hard time thinking that his actions were entirely disconnected from the hostile political tones of our times. In view of this terrible event, I reversed my recommendation about the resolution and have supported submitting it to the General Board, adding only a mention of the tragic shooting in Arizona on January 8, 2011.
“The tongue is a fire,” says the Epistle of James, “setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell….From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (3:6, 9-10). Talk has effects. It is not “just words.” Speech has consequences, for good or for ill. It shapes behavior. While disagreement and dissent should be affirmed, the harsh and incendiary political ranting that has become commonplace must be persistently and sternly challenged for the good of us all. The name calling and political conspiracy spinning has become a twisted form of entertainment in some circles. It lacks all wisdom. Yet it is wisdom that we desperately need at our present conflicted time. To cite James once again, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit….And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:17-18).
The resolution that DPF has submitted to the General Board is printed below. Whether – or in what form – it will make it to the floor during the General Assembly is yet unknown. But even if it is not presented, I hope the concern it expresses will be given serious consideration by members of the church, especially in view of the shooting so recently in Arizona. May we keep all the victims and their families in our prayers.
Craig M. Watts
The Church’s Response To Violent Expression in Politics In the United States
Whereas:  Believing as we do that “the wisdom from above is…peaceable” (James 3:17), we who are disciples of Jesus Christ are to stand against those things that lead to the disruption of peace.
Whereas:  We have been called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)
Whereas:  During the last several years violent overtones have increasingly intruded into political expressions in the United States, manifested in such things as
–     Signs at political rallies that have said such things as, “Bush is the Disease; Death is the Cure” and “We Came Unarmed… This Time.”
–     A U.S. Senate candidate, made an implicit threat of violence, suggesting that “Second Amendment solutions” may be needed to bring about the changes some believe are needed in the country.
–     Political Pundits who, while falling just short of advocating violence, inspire fear and incite violence by claiming that those on the opposite end of the political spectrum are sinister and that people must ready themselves because “violence will come.”
–     An incident in which a woman was knocked down and her head was stepped on by someone who disagreed with her politics that took place during a political gathering in Kentucky.
–     The open presence of guns – some of them assault weapons – at protest demonstrations and political rallies.
–     The increasing number of threats that have been made against politicians.
–     The shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing and wounding of several other people at a political event in Arizona on January 8, 2011.
Therefore, Be It Resolved  that  this General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathered in Nashville, Tennessee go on record deploring as incompatible with the way of Christ the increasingly harsh and violent expressions that have intruded into political discourse and activity in the United States during the past several years.
Be It Further Resolved, that this Assembly urge members of the church to practice and encourage other to practice reasoned conversation and to avoid language that demeans, misrepresents or threatens – directly or indirectly – leaders or supporters of a position or party that is at odds with one’s own.

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