Bullying is not bravery.
To bully from a position of power and privilege does not reveal bravery. To kill without considering potential ramifications is not brave. To threaten war or economic sanctions with no personal cost to you or your family members is not brave.
Most often it is the poorest and most vulnerable who bear the brunt of such bullying actions. This is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, who lifts up the lowly and takes down the powerful. The God who sends away the rich empty-handed scoffs at bullies (Luke 1).
Through history, we see bullies – those who have escalated their own agenda and leave others in the dust – seemingly win and prosper. Herod. Leopold II of Belgium. Hitler, for much of his reign. Stalin. The Ku Klux Klan. And, in the case of displacement of native peoples or Japanese internment, the United States. None of these exhibited bravery.
Making peace is brave.
“The God who sends away the rich empty-handed scoffs at bullies.”
Risking our reputation for the sake of the poor and vulnerable, who cannot line our pocketbooks or wield political influence, is brave. When we strive to make peace, we make ourselves vulnerable in that we recognize our errors and sins. We realize that we do not have all the right answers, and yet are committed to the least of these.
Standing up to the tyrants, the Herods and the Hitlers, and yes, even to the United States, in solidarity with the most vulnerable, poor and powerless, is brave.
Making peace is brave.
Peace and passivity are not the same. As UCC pastor Ellen Sims noted in a recent sermon, “peace is brave, it can even be impolite, and it can sometimes produce nonviolent conflict when peacemakers confront injustice. Conflict avoidance is not peace.”
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we remember a leader who bravely advocated for peace through nonviolent resistance while steadfastly refusing to cower from conflict, often bringing long-submerged tensions into the light. In his 1967 speech at New York’s Riverside Church entitled “Beyond Vietnam,” King outlined the rationale for his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam:
“And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak … of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.”
I’m sure you can see the direction I’m going and the correlations to today, considering our current political climate. President Donald Trump is anything but brave to suggest the U.S. would consider destroying Iranian cultural sites (a war crime). Nor is it brave to put our military personnel in unnecessary danger or to manipulate deployment of troops to score political points or to do end runs on congressional processes.
It is not brave to escalate tensions and put military personnel at risk when we cannot even care properly for our veterans, who disproportionately suffer PTSD, deaths by suicide and other trauma-related issues.
As King said later in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech:
“Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and [sibling] to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours” (emphasis mine).
As the early 17th-century poet John Donne proclaimed in his oft-quoted Meditation XVII “every [person’s] death diminishes me because I am a part of [humankind].”
We are connected to all persons, because we all bear the image of God. We have a responsibility to care for all persons, and especially the most vulnerable, because when we care for them, we care for Jesus (Matthew 25).
May King’s words challenge us today. May we as people of faith be peacefully brave in our words and actions. There is too much at stake to be silent passersby.