I am a liberal in a conservative state. I am a pacifist who abhors violence. I think the death penalty is wrong. And I believe that my faith informs those places where I stand. I was raised a Roman Catholic but am a member of a reformed church in a quarreling denomination. To use Brian McLaren’s words, I have a “generous orthodoxy.”
And today I am torn.
I have said it before and I will say it again, I believe every human – every human – is made in the image of God. There is a reflection of the divine in each of us. I also believe we each have the capacity to hurt one another. Horribly. We covet what is not ours and take it. We wield power at the expense of those with less. We waste. We ruin. We kill. It happens all over the world and it happens because people who were created in that precious and beautiful image of God also have free will, and we exercise it. And God does not violate it.
I am torn because in the midst of what is happening in the world today and has happened in my own family in the past year, my belief that we are all capable of good is being challenged, that there are people who deserve to die.
My baby sister Cathy was raped and murdered in Riverside, California, on March 24, 2013. That was Palm Sunday when we were all singing “Hallelujahs” and waving our palm branches to begin Holy Week. Cathy was 48 years old. It was a horrible, horrible crime committed by a man with a long record of mental illness and criminal acts. My remaining sisters and I are heading out for what may be the only hearing he receives; there has been none to date. We will be invited to give victim impact statements and I have been weighing what words of forgiveness I can offer this man to be a good example to others of Christ’s example to me. But my mind wants to overrule my heart and my conscience and just let him know my hate and my hurt and that of my family and that as he killed Cathy, he should also be killed. Executed.
I am torn.
The news of what is happening in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon, the relentless murdering quest of ISIS to establish their obscene caliphate over the dead bodies of those they deem infidel and apostate has completely messed with my desire for peace through diplomacy. Last night I just wanted to bomb them back to the hell they came from. I want to beg forgiveness from people I know in Iraq who are now suffering even worse consequences from our 2003 invasion. Why they would ever let me in their homes, I don’t know, but they have. I sit here in Omaha on a sunny day in the peace of an air-conditioned building and thousands of them are trapped on a mountain in 130 degree heat watching their children die of thirst and exposure. And I am grateful that we have dropped bombs on the jihadis who have trapped them there.
I am torn.
And it made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great reformed theologian of the last century who died in a German concentration camp shortly before it was liberated by Allied forces in 1945. His books are read still today: Life Together and Discipleship remind us of how to walk this journey as Christians. And what was his crime? He was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and he was captured, imprisoned and executed for it. He was torn, too.
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds. We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech. Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word. Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? We will not need geniuses, cynics, people who have contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, but simple, uncomplicated, and honest human beings. Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?” (Letters and Papers from Prison)
So, I am torn.
But it seems I am in good company. Today I do confess my sins of hatred and hypocrisy. And I know that God hears and he forgives. And today, that will have to be good enough.