For nearly 20 years, we’ve been teaching the kiddos here in Kensington that you do not return violence with violence. You do not fight fire with fire. We’ve insisted that Jesus teaches us a way to interact with evil without mirroring that evil.
Dr. King had a powerful revelation as he realized he could not simply speak out against the violence in the ghettos without also speaking against the violence of our government. That meant denouncing the war in Vietnam, and it also meant calling for an end to the death penalty, which he called society’s final assertion that it will not forgive.
Like King, the early Christians in Rome despised death and the death penalty. One great thinker in the third century, Cyprian, pointed out the glaring hypocrisy: murder is considered a crime when a person does it, but it is considered a virtue when soldiers do it. And it is considered justice when our government does it through execution. No wonder our kids get confused.
We must be people who renounce killing in all forms.
I spent much of my life in favor of the death penalty and had an arsenal of Scripture to back up my convictions. But it is Jesus that changed my heart. And it is my neighborhood – and folks like Dr. King, and St. Cyprian – who opened my eyes to what real justice can look like.
Here in North Philadelphia, we are familiar with violence and all sorts of evil. But we are also convinced that violence is the disease, not the cure. We do not rape those who rape or maim those who maim. And we will continue to teach our kids that we cannot kill those who kill in order to show that killing is wrong.
It is wrong to kill. And it is wrong for our government to kill. We follow Jesus â€“ and Jesus teaches us how to overcome evil with good, how to wear down hatred with love.
And this is the stuff that stirred me to write Executing Grace. There are stories from our work here in Philly and stories from around the world. I hope you will join me – and all of us here at The Simple Way – as we continue to work to end all killing the violence on our streets, and the violence of our government, and the violence in our own hearts.