Like many of you, I anxiously awaited the results in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. When the guilty verdicts came in on Tuesday, I breathed a sigh of relief. While I was well aware that such verdicts shouldn’t be this rare, I was grateful that there was at least this small step toward increased accountability and this bit of hope for reform of our systems of police engagement and criminal justice.

The next day, however, I spent time with students at Carthage College and others impacted by the tragic shooting deaths of three people at the Somers House Bar in Kenosha over the weekend, and then with members of the Sikh community in Brookfield as they held a prayer vigil for those killed in the recent shooting spree at the FedEx center in Indianapolis. All this, on top of the stream of news reports of police shootings in Columbus, Chicago, and elsewhere, and mass shootings in Austin and Boulder and, and, and….

I recognize that each of these situations is unique, the causes are many and complex, and the solutions, be they legislative, political, economic, psychological, social, or spiritual, are often distant and elusive. I don’t want to become numb to the violence, pain, and tragedy all around us, nor do I want to despair that we’ll ever find our way through it all, but the words of the prophet Habakkuk seem to be pointedly descriptive in these days:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

And then, hope finds a way to break in. I see what a difference it makes to just show up and weep with those who weep; I hear of those working to respond to violence and injustice with acts of beauty, mercy, and compassion; I am reminded of the power of listening and honoring another’s story.

The road before us is long, and the work of establishing the beloved community of justice, mercy, and love will never be complete, but I am convinced that, if we come together to find ways to honor the inherent dignity and beauty of each and every one of our fellow humans, if we work to hold one another and our leaders accountable, if we summon the courage and humility to dismantle unjust systems, we can begin to reweave the torn fabric of our common life.

In tentative hope,
Bishop Paul Erickson

4-22-21 A Pastoral Letter on Violence and Justice

© 2017 Greater Milwaukee Synod

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