Monday, January 10, 2011

We need to recommit ourselves to non-violence

By Kwok Pui-lan

We need to end the violent and incendiary language in our national political discourse.

The shootings in Tucson, Arizona, cannot be separated from the culture of vitriolic rhetoric we hear on talk radios and some TV programs. Since the election of President Barack Obama as the first black president, such rhetoric has escalated, especially during the health care debate last year.

The comments of Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County have resonated across the world. He spoke on Saturday after the shooting outside a Tucson supermarket left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically injured along with 14 others injured and six dead.

Dupnik said: “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."*

In this month when we ponder the lives of two leaders slain by assassin’s bullets, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy, it is time we considered these issues anew.

In 1965, Episcopal Divinity School student Jonathan Daniels heeded the call of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and went down to Alabama to take part in the Montgomery March. He stayed behind to work for the Civil Rights Movement and to integrate the Episcopal churches. On August 20, he was shot while trying to protect a black teenager at a grocery store. He is considered a martyr of the Church and an icon of him hangs in St John’s Chapel at EDS.

In my teaching, I and other faculty members are careful to promote tolerance and critical engagement with those whose opinions are different from ours. One important guideline used from Visions Inc, is “it is OK to disagree, but it is not OK to blame, shame, and attack.”

In worship and meditation, many of us involved in theological education invoke the words and prayers of spiritual leaders, who have dedicated themselves to non-violence: the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Amid riots and police brutality, King said, “I am convinced that for practical as well as moral reasons, non-violence offers the only road to freedom for my people.”

Most importantly, we take to heart the message of Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). Jesus has modeled for us the courage of pursuing justice, while affirming the radical love of God for all. He said that the sun rises on the evil and on the good, and rain falls on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Today as a nation we kept a moment of silence to honor the victims of the tragedy, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorwin Stoddard, Dorothy Morris and Phyllis Schneck.

I recommit myself to work for peace, to the non-violent resolution of conflict, and a democratic future in which diverse opinions can be expressed with respect.

* Editor’s note: Dupnik has already come under attack from some in the media, with one talkshow host calling for his resignation.

**Kwok Pui-lan is William F Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School. She has written for Episcopal News Service and her blogs also appear in Religion Dispatches and Patheos.


  1. Thank you for this post! I agree with you. In addition to hatred, bigotry and violence, this climate also breeds paralyzing fear in its citizenry. Our critical task more and more is to create and insist upon a culture of openness in which differences of opinion (one among many in the spectrum of difference) may flourish.

  2. As a colleague said today in a theological discussion we also have to look at how we glorify violence in our own traditions, in our own interactions, and in our own verbal rhetoric. Thank you Pui Lan for your leadership in speaking out.