Standing our ground

Standing our ground

Many people raised our voices in loud lamentation last week when a court ruled that a man who killed his unarmed 17-year-old black neighbor was legally justified within Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Much has been written about how the systemic racism plaguing our society was unmasked yet again in the stark injustice of the verdict. I, along with thousands of others, joined “cry for justice” rallies across the nation. Yet the question that nags (more like obsesses) me is: on what grounds does the “Stand Your Ground” law stand?

The law assumes that inflicting deadly harm on a neighbor if you feel threatened makes perfect sense. Why? Because it’s patently evident that self-preservation is the number one human right. Call it what you want—primal wiring, reptilian instinct, visceral vigilance. It doesn’t get much more basic than that. Or does it?

It’s heady stuff all right—to know you have the power to blow away anyone whom you “reasonably” believe could do you harm. To walk around with a gun in a hip holster, ready to kill anyone who threatens you has to be the ultimate adrenaline rush. No wonder massive numbers of Americans have been busy arming themselves to the teeth.

Yet, what is the ground on which we choose to stand? The right to eliminate all that threatens me? That seriously gets in my way?

Two stories from my grandfather illustrate the point. A D Wenger traveled around the world in 1899-1900. He wrote a travelogue which was published in 1902 called Six Months in Bible Lands and Around the World in Fourteen Months. Reportedly, the book was a bestseller among Mennonites soon after the turn of the last century.

While on a ship from Turkey to Syria, Grandpa was approached by a fellow passenger, Mr. Adiassewick, a Russian and a member of the Greek [Orthodox] Church. Grandpa writes: Shortly before our voyage ended he took me to his cabin where he strapped to his body a long sword that hung nearly to the floor, and got two well loaded revolvers out of his trunk; then he said, “This is the way I’ll travel when I get out there. They tell me those people are savage and if they come at me I will shoot. What will you carry?” I replied that I would also carry a sword, a Bible which is “the sword of the spirit.” With that a man is better armed than if he had a deadly weapon in every pocket.

While in Damascus he writes: Three men, ministers of the English Church, after wander- ing over the wild country on both sides of the Jordan for four weeks, came to our hotel on the evening of May 6th, tanned and toughened with their journey. When asked if they were not afraid of the Bedouins they replied, “No, we are all armed.” That doesn’t seem right does it, for ministers of the Gospel of the Prince of peace to carry carnal weapons? And it is not right, for Scripture saith, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.

As our seminary last week began prayers of confession, lament and hope, our call to worship read: “As a community that values the voice of biblical witnesses, what do we do when confounded and in despair? We look to Scripture.”

Why do we look to Scripture? Because Scripture testifies across many centuries, through countless people in untold numbers of places, about a God who works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 

O Lord God of hosts, …
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne…
(Psalm 89:14)

This is the ground on which we stand.

Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
     You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your mind, and with all your strength.
     You shall love your neighbor as yourself
(Matthew 22:37-40).

There is no law greater than these on which to stand, Jesus said.
All other ground is sinking sand.