Starting in Ferguson and most recently extending to Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and back to Baton Rouge, America is in the grips of the seemingly surprising re-emergence of conflict between its African-American communities and the police responsible for protecting these samecommunities. Looking from the vantage point of the Brexit-divided British isles, the Economist magazine on July 16 seems perplexed, stating:
America has problems, but this picture is a caricature of a country that,
on most measures, is more prosperous,
more peaceful and less racist than ever before.
So, what gives? Why is a seemingly post-racial country that has unprecedentedly elected its first African-American president and that experiences greater prosperity than most parts of the world facing renewed racial conflict?
There are plenty of pundits seeking answers from a secular (but confined) perspective. For a few brief moments, consider the alternative divine perspective of the author of both conflict and peace.
During his brief earthly ministry, Jesus comes across as being on both sides of the question. On the one hand, in speaking what are known as the beatitudes to a large audience overlooking the Sea of Galilee, proclaiming:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Sounds like the typical liberal, coddling, approach to human conflict resolution. But that’s not the full story. For on yet another occasion, Jesus forcefully articulates an opposing viewpoint as he rhetorically asks:
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
This Jesus not only expects conflict; he actively seeks to create division and disunity. Sounds like the Donald.
So, what is the answer? How are we to resolve Jesus’ expectations of conflict coupled with the countervailing exhortation to making peace?
Shortly after making his this seemingly incendiary statement about conflict, Jesus does provide a way out. It’s not a direct answer but a formula. And a formula that is illustrated in legal terms as Jesus throws the resolution right back to those in the middle of seemingly intractable division – by asking:
Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate,
try hard to be reconciled on the way,
or your adversary may drag you off to the judge,
and the judge turn you over to the officer,
and the officer throw you into prison.
I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus answer is one not of paternalistic enabling but of tough love. He expects, even creates, conflict. He then demands that we each take responsibility to work out our differences. Before getting to the courtroom, or rioting and looting, or mercilessly beating and casting aside the perceived enemy.
Jesus tells us what to do, not how. The how is left up to rational, emotional, even in-the-moment, antagonists.
And if we don’t work it out? Well, the consequences of delayed action can be even more dire than the initial conflict itself.
What do the Donald & Hillary Say?
The re-emergence of racial and class conflict represents a somewhat surprising but nonetheless pivotal litmus test for the two presumed nominees in the 2016 run-off for the U.S. presidency. The liberal candidate takes the path of the peacemaker, the enabler – to the point of glossing over the violence and destruction and illegal and anti-social behavior. The newcomer to law-and-order conservatism overplays justice and retribution at the expense of mercy. Left to their own devices, the approach of either candidate runs the risk of deepening rather than rectifying the great tear in America’s social fabric.
For the voter, expectations should rise above business as usual. Vote the candidate that demonstrates reconciliation on the way to but before further conflagration.
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