A Pacifist Response to the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School

The following was written by a good friend of mine named C.J.  I asked him for his take on the CT shootings and what he thought was a proper response.  What follows is his answer.  I will also say that the views expressed are solely his.  Enjoy his perspective, I was challenged big time – TW



It’s a hard thing to prepare for when a moment comes along that puts into question your very core beliefs. I encountered one of these moments last Friday. They seem to always come when you’re experiencing good things. A group of friends had come into town for a yearly celebration that we have. We were in a local cigar shop and I just realized I forgotten my wallet; but the newscast that was on TV soon made that the irrelevant. This is the moment when I first heard about the school shooting in Connecticut.

As an outspoken pacifist I often have hypothetical situations thrown at me with the intent of making me either question or to admit a lacking of the practicality of nonviolence. This situation brought the same questions. How it differed was the emotional impact that each individual connected it with. In the last week I cannot recall a time where my heart and integrity have been have been called into question with such fervor before. These people wanted answers; they wanted to know I was on their side. There is the need within some for righteous justification of hatred and violence towards this shooter. When I would not mirror their sentiments some of them who questioned me felt or shocked betrayed. They assumed by my lack of sentiment that I did not struggle with the same feelings they did. They thought that my unwillingness to wish the perpetrator torture or further harm meant that I didn’t ache the same way they did. It translated for them that I did not experience the same great loss and confusion that their hearts were burdened with. The truth is I did, I still do, I read through the dedications of each tiny boy and girl and weep while wondering why.

These last few days I question myself what the appropriate response is for someone who wholeheartedly believes that to follow Christ you must also follow a path that rejects violence. I do not like addressing hypothetical situations for the simple fact that they are not  based in reality. I can’t sincerely tell you what I would do in the situation. I also believe in this particular circumstance that it is a distraction. In reality it doesn’t matter. Because we weren’t there; we didn’t have a gun, we didn’t have a clear shot. As much as we would like to believe that if we were there things would’ve been different; we can’t, that’s not reality. So in the same way it wouldn’t be unfair to tell you what I would do as a pacifist.

I believe a misunderstood portion of the pacifist perspective is that being a pacifist is simply about refusing to take an active role when met with violence. In other words, the pacifist is willing to lie down and die rather than fight. Although I have to agree that there are situations where this is the righteous action; that is not the primary role in response to violence. The pacifist is not called to be passive, but to take a stance of proactively making movement against violence. The pacifist will be on the front lines long before the armed soldiers will. The primary mission of a pacifist is to squelch the fires of violence while there are still mere embers of malice and apathy.

Jesus addresses the same principle in the Sermon on the Mount when He declares that you have committed murder if you have hatred in your heart towards another. This is important because it gets to the heart of the matter while foregoing being lost by the matter of the circumstance. I think it is also important to reflect on this tragedy in a similar matter. As the days went on since last Friday we in this country have been grasping at straws and pointing the finger at one another. We have in vain tried to decipher a clear black and white reason behind this horrific event. We do this in order to feel a false sense of control. There are some who wish to simply blame it on the lack of or abundance of guns or G-d in our society. While in reality, this distracts us from gaining understanding.

There is a tendency within us when confronted with unimaginably horrific situations to take that role similar to that of Pontius Pilate when he was confronted with his culture’s desire to bring justice through violence. When confronted Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the situation in regards to desire to sentence Jesus to death. He made the choice to take a passive role and cling to a scapegoat. Now for me personally, I hate guns. I believe they are one of the worst inventions of mankind. However, to say that gun control will bring an end to the occurrence of such violence situations is an ignorant statement. It will only limit the options for the violent; which I believe is a worthwhile endeavor. The fact is on the very same day of the shooting there was an incident in China involving the nonfatal stabbing of 22 schoolchildren. As well, to make the assumption that this is in some way retribution for secularization in our public schools I offer the example of the murders of an Amish community’s schoolchildren in October 2006. This is a culture centered on the idea of honoring G-d.

You see, we have a wrong intention behind our scapegoats. The term scapegoat comes from a Judaic expression of communal repentance and atonement. Israel would yearly choose a goat to symbolically cast their sins upon it before its exile to move towards a better future. It is about searching the ugliness at the heart of our matters and refusing to turn a blind eye to it. The truth of the matter is we must ask where could a caring individual or group of individuals have intervened on the situation before last Friday? This is a mental health issue not just merely a gun violence issue. Clearly this man was troubled and our country is in the midst of a healthcare crisis especially in the area of mental health. It is now believed that the shooter fell within the autism spectrum and often isolated himself. As a follower of Christ I wonder if a community of support, love, and grace surrounded this family if it would have kept this young man out of the clutches of the demons he faced.

In my experience as not only a member of the body of Christ who has a disability but also as one who has struggled with crippling depression that the Church has allowed others like me to remain on the fringes of our community ignored for far too long.  It is time that we as the tangible reminder of G-d’s presence here on earth repent and live out the words of our Messiah’s great sermon.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of G-d.”

We have been readily referring to ourselves as G-d’s children why not fulfill that declaration by being the ones who make peace. Declaring another world is possible, that G-d’s kingdom is possible. – C.J

3 responses to “A Pacifist Response to the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School

  1. I like it, makes sense. I can’t understand pacifism though. In a fallen world groaning under the weight of the curse we need policemen and soldiers. Men and women willing to execute violence with extreme prejudice to engage with and kill those who threaten our families. Please don’t hate guns. They are inventions that can be sanctified. I can use my gun to control vermin and hunt prey. I can use my gun to defend my nation against those who would cause harm. However, the essence of the piece is good. Our need to go our proclaim the Gospel to all people groups, tribes, tongues and nations. We are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves and for me that is the toughest assignment of them all.

  2. Since violence is a matter of perception as well as a measurable phenomenon, psychologists have found variability in whether people perceive certain physical acts as ‘violent’. For example, in a state where execution is a legalized punishment we do not typically perceive the executioner as ‘violent’, though we may talk, in a more metaphorical way, of the state acting violently. Likewise understandings of violence are linked to a perceived aggressor-victim relationship: hence psychologists have shown that people may not recognise defensive use of force as violent, even in cases where the amount of force used is significantly greater than in the original aggression.

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