Responding to a Culture of Violence
It’s glaringly apparent with the recent succession of school shootings—violence plagues American culture. Other countries have long experienced the violence of tyrannical governments, genocide and war. How should we as Christians respond to a culture of violence? Dr. Kevin M. Taylor, an educator at Front Range Christian School in Littleton, Colorado, explains how he’s chosen to face this problem and do his part to stand against it.
by Kevin M. Taylor
“In case there’s ever a shooting at our school, would you be willing to serve on the disaster response team?”
When our secondary school principal asked me this question recently, I instinctively recoiled—both at the prospects of blood-laden training sessions and at the thought that such a thing could happen among young people and adults that I love. I told him I would think about it and get back to him.
I hate violence.
I grew up in a family that hunted birds on the plains of Kansas, and I remember vividly the day of my youth when I moved beyond targeting clay disks and tin cans. As we walked the fields, our dog flushed a covey of quail. I took aim with my shotgun, pulled the trigger, said a prayer of thanksgiving disguised as a huge sigh of relief when I missed, and never went hunting again.
Social theorist Anthony Giddens, in his book Modernity and Self-identity, has argued that one hallmark of the modern world is that death and other phenomena that threaten people’s sense of security have largely been sequestered from their everyday lives.
In my middle-class, suburban world, our greatest exposure to killing lies in the ultra-violent fare contained securely (we think) within the frames of our digital screens. I religiously avoid these first-person-shooter video games and war, crime, and horror movies. This avoidance is more than mere squeamishness. While most gamers or moviegoers probably don’t give a second thought when throwaway characters get offed, I feel the loss. I feel the brokenness of the world in my soul, and I hate it.
But I’ve decided to tell our principal that I’m willing to do the training.
Adorning the wall of my office at school is a photo of Catholic priest Vincent Machozi—a casual friend of mine during our years at Boston University. One day this last year I returned home to find a copy of the university’s alumni magazine with an article describing how Fr. Machozi—whose name means “son of tears”—had returned to his homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he had been assassinated by militia forces who resented the light he was shedding on atrocities committed by those who would line their pockets and fund their wars by exploiting the minerals that power our electronic devices. Images of his bullet-riddled body now penetrate my mind.
Recently I learned that my family, and a team of others from our church, have been matched in a cultural mentorship program with a family who has fled this same war-ravaged land. This evening we will meet them. I do not yet know the story of what caused their refugee flight, but I am sure that they share in a similar suffering.
Mainstream American news outlets presently have little to say about what is happening an ocean away in Central Africa. More pressing in the collective mind are the spate of mass shootings occurring in the hallways and classrooms of our nation’s schools. In fact, hardly a week goes by without reports of another one. In an interview with a local television station, student Paige Curry—survivor of the rampage at a high school in Paris, Texas—articulated the thoughts of many students around our nation when she said, “It’s been happening everywhere; I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going happen here, too.”
My own school provides a highly nurturing environment in which children are known and loved. And, statistically speaking, I know that it is very unlikely that such an event will occur there. Yet this media coverage reminds me that my students in an affluent first-world environment are not wholly shielded from the fear and pain that touch many other places around the globe—from Syria, to Yemen, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, even to less-affluent cities and neighborhoods in our own nation. Indeed, our campus lies less than a mile from Columbine High School—the site of the massacre that provides the cultural script for the current generation of school shooters.
At my school, we speak often about engaging our culture in truth and love. If living a redemptive life as an educator means participating in the training, then I will embrace it.
Like Fr. Vincent Machozi, I resolve to stand against violence. I will do so in lament and anger, recognizing that the forces of evil that tore the flesh of Christ as they put him on a cross continue to wreak havoc upon the world. And I will do so in hope, knowing that death is not the end of the story. The prince of this world stands condemned and another Son of Tears—whose resurrected body also bears the wounds of love—now sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father and will one day put all things right.
I have recently resumed saying a prayer that I used to pray in more courageous days: “Lord, let me see the world with your eyes.” Although I know I’m not prepared for all that this may bring, I will continue to pray these words, and invite any who would read this reflection to join me in praying:
For me, my family, and my church.
For the Democratic Republic of Congo (and those who have fled it).
For the shell-shocked schools of America.
And for the Kingdom Come.
- How do you respond to the violent events of today’s world?
- With violence a part of our “cultural script,” how can the Church be a redemptive presence?
- How is God calling you to stand against violence?
Dr. Kevin Taylor is an educator at Front Range Christian School in Littleton, Colorado. He directs The Renewal Endeavor, a soon-to-be-launched initiative committed to revitalizing America’s Christian schools. He and his family attend Wellspring Littleton Anglican Church.