On the mountainside in a small rural Guatemalan village, the morning was dark and cold. Everyone was on high alert. The army had entered the town overnight under the cover of darkness. The soldiers demanded that men go to their places of worship for meetings with government officials. The small Methodist church in town sat on the side of the mountain slumped downward. Close to forty men filled the inside of the small space. The men were told if they left the building they would be shot on the spot. No one moved. This was not the first time they were called to the church. After a couple of hours, the sound of a large helicopter gunship filled the air. With a sharp thud, a bomb hit the church. Everyone inside was dead in seconds. The year was 1983.
The church was targeted, because it was deemed a threat to the oppressive society.
Today, I met the man who was the pastor of that church on that dreadful day. He had been exiled to another city and was not present for the fiery deaths of his parishioners. When asked what his response to the tragedy was, he said, “I had to remain neutral and couldn’t say too much, my whole life was on the line.”
There have been few times in my life were my expectations were this shocked to meet such a weak reply.
I am a pacifist. I don’t believe in violence, whether offensive or defensive. I don’t believe that shooting people teaches people not to shoot other people. I don’t believe that spanking children teaches them not to hit people. I don’t believe that this pastor should have taken up arms against his government, but I do believe that Jesus asks the church to lay down our lives. This means refusing to be silent in the face of injustice, no matter the consequences. To remain silent is to be complicit.
As I write…
Queer folk are being targeted for violence and execution. The church responds with neutrality.
Immigrants are living in the shadows and dying in the desert. The church responds with neutrality.
Minorities are being imprisoned and executed at alarming rates. The church responds with neutrality.
Our global economic policies and financial institutions are destroying and extinguishing the lives of billions. The church responds with neutrality.
On and on and on…
How can anyone believe us?
When people are dying, neutrality is a word that grows uglier and more offensive by the hour. I hear people say all the time that their checks, houses, retirements, and comfortable lives are on the line with regards to issues of injustice and they must remain neutral.
No wonder people are not bombing our churches…we are not a threat to the status quo. We have swallowed the belief wholeheartedly that our comfort is more important than the lives of others. Checks mean more than people. Buildings mean more than people. Status means more than people. People are dying and we cling to a fictitious neutrality.
I have a suspicion that many people will be hanging their heads in the future, having been silent in the midst of the grave injustices of our world, just like the pastor I met earlier today.
I pray it not so.