Once it goes this far, you can’t tell much from the photographs… The faces are hard. Angry, maybe, or just scared. There is no beauty in it, no clarity. Force changes things.
Here’s an example; a shabby guy, skinny and flea-bitten. He’s repulsive, honestly, but then you see a soldier jerk him to his feet and drag him outside, toward the gallows. It’s a pitiful sight, but before that – if you’d watched closely – you would have seen him scheming against the government. That’s treason, of course, but then you see the government he was scheming against…
You could take a lot of pictures of this guy and each would seem to tell a different story. Good man or criminal? Loyal citizen or traitor? When the trouble goes this far, it’s hard to tell; dangerous to even talk about. A line has been drawn and people have picked their side.
This – the ugly, brittle, and dangerous phase of any conflict – begins with force. Force changes things. It ends thoughtful discussion. It reduces to two, however many viewpoints there had been before.
The shabby guy knew that, too, (well before he was shabby) and he tried other things. He encouraged his neighbors to think about what was happening around them, but the YouTube and Facebook of his day (called radio) cut off his speech. He wrote and preached until the new ruler threw him in prison and finally cut off his life.
You know the shabby guy as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a middle-aged, balding, mild-mannered pastor. You know his neighbors as the polite, intelligent, and obedient citizens who gave birth to WWII.
Force changes things. It makes people pick sides, and they often pick what seems the safest side. If they guess wrong, it’s soon too late to get out.
However we feel about the current emergency, there’s no question that unprecedented things are happening in America. Parents have been arrested on playgrounds, hairdressers in their shops. Businesses and churches ordered to close. Stores told what they can sell. People told where they can go, who they can see, what they must wear… Our government is using force in a new way; a small number of officials making up the rules as they go along.
Force always divides, and this use of force has divided us. A line has been drawn and it’s sobering to see who ends up on the wrong side. Not, for the most part, criminals or revolutionaries, spoiling for a fight, but people we thought harmless before all this started – barbers, hairdressers, moms, and paddleboarders; even a few middle-aged, balding, mild-mannered pastors. Reasonable people doing normal things – the kinds of things our government was created to protect.
There are two mistakes we can make in response to this force. The first is silence. The second is more force.
The virus is scary and, if there was ever a reason to grant the government new powers, this might seem to be it. But it’s not. There is nothing the government is doing by force that it cannot do better through education and cooperation. There is nothing it is doing by force that does not fundamentally change our system of government.
We should, by all reasonable and peaceful means, call for a reversal of our Governor’s use of force. We are free to speak and we ought to speak, both at home and in Lansing. If we are wise, we’ll speak reasonably, because there are reasonable people on the other side of the line who might listen.
We must not use force or the threat of force. Some want to fight fire with fire, but let’s remember; we’re fighting inside our own house. We want the fire put out and the damage repaired, and there is reason to hope this will happen if we don’t confuse the issue. There may be reason to be angry, but let’s talk about the reason, not about the anger.
We’re not in Bonhoeffer’s shoes and, one hopes, will never be, but this is how it started there, too. The rulers use force and then want us to stare at the line they have drawn, hardly noticing the line they have crossed.