Bishop’s Letter: Breaking the Cycle of Violence
In recent weeks we have witnessed three terrible atrocities on our streets. First, there was the attack on Westminster Bridge, when six people were killed, including PC Keith Palmer, and around fifty people were injured. Then on 22 May Salman Ramadan Abedi set off a bomb in the Manchester Arena, killing twenty-three adults and children and injuring a further 119 people. On 3 June eight people were killed around Borough Market in Southwark and forty-eight injured.
Her Majesty the Queen spoke for many people in the nation when she commented that it was “difficult to escape a very sombre national mood” as we have “witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.”
These mindless acts of violence remind us of the dreadful reality of evil, which has resulted in the murder of innocent people and the maiming of many others. In response to each attack, the police acted swiftly and exercised the power of the state to maintain law and order and protect the innocent (Romans 13. 1-7).
However, we need to ask “What can we do to help prevent further attacks?” and “What is our responsibility as Christians?”
Jesus was quite clear what he wanted his followers to do:
”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Matthew 5. 43-48)
As Archbishop William Temple asked
“What is the Christian method of correction? Not retribution, nor deterrent, nor even reformative punishment, but the conversion of the offender’s heart and will by the readiness of his victim to suffer at his hands. That is the Christian way of meeting wrong-doing.”
In the case of the three recent attacks, it is too late to engage with the perpetrators as they are all dead. However, in cases where it is possible, many people are now involved in the process known as restorative justice, where in certain circumstances the offender can meet the victim of their crime and understand the impact of their actions. One particular expression of restorative justice is the Sycamore Tree Course, which is run by the Prison Fellowship in more than forty prisons in the UK (for further information go to https://goo.gl/ixAEib).
But if we are not able to get involved in restorative justice, all of us can reach out to others and build bridges with them. For example, we know that the vast majority of people in the Muslim communities are as horrified as we are at these atrocities. Many of them are afraid to go out for fear of being verbally abused. How can we get to know people of other faiths and cultures and understand them better?
I hope that our churches will think about how we can be bridge builders as we strengthen our civic life in the communities across the Diocese of St Albans.
Bishop Alan, St Albans