Faith in the Face of Violence

Death of Alton Sterling

A big SALT "thank you" to Matthew Myer Boulton, CTS President and Professor of Theology, and Leah Gunning Francis, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, for issuing the following statement on faith in the face of violence - we needed this today! 

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out into the field." Genesis 4:8

God of life and hope, have mercy on us all.

As the sound of gunfire continues to echo in our neighborhoods — from Baton Rouge to St. Paul, Dallas to Charleston, Newtown to Orlando — so many of us are angry, exhausted, heartbroken, devastated, lost. Violence like this strikes at the heart of who we are, and threatens again and again to divide us, segregate us, polarize us, turn us against our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, ourselves.

Reeling from such turmoil and grief, what can we do? What actions can we take? What difference can faith make at a time like this?

First, with the ancient singers of the psalms, we can together learn to lament. No less than half of the Psalter's 150 psalms are songs of lamentation, lifting up to God feelings of rage, sorrow, confusion, indignation, and despair. "How long, O Lord? How many? Why? You have delivered us in the past — rise, and deliver us again today!"

Second, with the ancient prophets, we can raise our voices in a chorus calling for justice and genuine shalom. We can stand in solidarity with all who insist that Black Lives Matter, and that we must together build a society in which men, women, and children of color can thrive in safety and respect. We can stand in solidarity with those in the law enforcement community who are working for justice every day, and who are constructively improving law enforcement practices. We can stand in solidarity with all who recognize that racism and inequity — what W.E.B. Du Bois a century ago called "the color line" — remain crucial, pressing problems in America, and must be squarely and creatively addressed. And we can stand in solidarity with all who mourn and long for peace, from the victims of violence and their families to the communities and professionals who live in fear, fear for their own safety and fear for the state of the country we all love.

And third, with Jesus, we can reach out. A couple of Sundays ago, many Christian congregations heard sermons on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story commonly taken to be about neighborly mercy for a man on the side of the road. But on an even deeper level, the story is about reaching out across social divisions and learning from people with whom we strongly disagree. Jesus told the parable to his disciples who were deeply suspicious, even hostile (today we would say "prejudiced") toward Samaritans on ethnic and religious grounds. And yet Jesus insists that his disciples learn how to be merciful from "one of them." Likewise, Jesus challenges us to reach out and be willing to learn from those who see the world differently than we do, to actually engage, listen, and build bridges together.

Through acts of lament, solidarity, and reaching out, we can together embody that ancient calling to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). Our faith offers us practices and parables through which we can live, God willing, with dignity and courage — and now is the time to be faithful. 

Now is the time to remember, with the author of Genesis 4, that each one of us is indeed our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper, our neighbor's keeper. 

Matthew Myer Boulton 
President and Professor of Theology

Leah Gunning Francis
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty


A note of gratitude to Jonathan Bachman for the amazing photo above which is part of Bachman's important and difficult photo essay entitled, The Death of Alton Sterling.  If you do nothing else today, please spend some time praying with and through these images!