Embracing Nonviolence: A Gospel Response to Tragedy

Thursday, June 6, 2024

From Michael Anthony Howard, Minister of Faith in Action,
Living Water Association, Ohio North East, UCC

Tags: Streams of Connection | From Our Association Ministers | Faith in Action

In the wake of the recent tragedy that unfolded in Akron early Sunday morning, our hearts are still heavy with grief and confusion. At a neighborhood community celebration, gun violence once again brought death to our streets, leaving 24 individuals injured and one life tragically lost. We know these acts are senseless, and the broad political will we need in order to change our gun laws still seems out of reach. Problems like these remind us of the urgent need within the Church for a deep, theological reflection on nonviolence.

A theology of nonviolence is not just a philosophical perspective, it is a practical, life­giving, gospel-centered response to the violence that pervades our society. Jesus’ teachings throughout Christian scripture call us to a radical way of living that challenges the norms of retaliation and aggression. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Jesus wasn’t teaching a personal piety that brings inner-spiritual peace while promoting a passive response to violence. The Gospel is an active invitation to build a culture rooted in nonviolence.

In moments like these, it is crucial to remember why our ministry matters. The events in Akron highlight the dire need for comprehensive policy interventions, poverty alleviation, affordable housing, mental health resources, and racial equity— systemic justice. But we know that our efforts cannot stop at policy alone. We, as people of faith, are called to inspire and nurture the hearts and minds of our neighbors, and foster a culture that rejects violence in all its forms.

Churches, along with schools, mentors, neighbors, media, and public leaders, play a vital role in shaping the imaginations, beliefs, and societal norms that underlie the acceptance of violence. We must amplify the voices of victims and survivors, unite in our efforts, and build a strong coalition of peacemakers dedicated to transforming our communities. This is the work of ministry, to change the narratives that promote cultures of violence, rather than common-sense gun laws. We need both cultural change and policy change to keep our joyous gatherings from becoming scenes of tragedy.

The Gospel calls us to a higher standard—a life that reflects the love and peace of Christ. Moments like these are when our commitment to nonviolence is needed the most. The grief of our cities cannot be ignored. The lament should not be rushed or avoided. To remain distant and disconnected would be the antithesis of a Gospel that embraces the suffering of others, works for their healing, and resists the systems that have harmed them. To be faithful to the Gospel, we must stand together as beacons of hope and agents of change. Our response to tragedies like this must be rooted in compassion, understanding, and our relentless pursuit of justice.

Like Jesus, we mourn with those who mourn and seek justice for those affected. The love God has embedded in each of our hearts is the fuel we need for the work of building the future we need —a future free of gun violence. The Spirit in us yearns for us to embody the Gospel’s call for a world of peace, where all of our communities are safe, loving, and just places.

I know “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. But today, I needed to pray, and I didn’t know how. My words felt useless, thoughts jumbled. I drove past the neighborhood. I wanted to say the names of the victims, but I didn’t yet know them.

Then I found myself convicted by the words of Mother Teresa: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that God will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”