March 26, 2013

Another Way pt. 2

Yesterday, hundreds of Christians gathered to witness against gun violence in the U.S. Attention has been drawn to the issue, now the hard work of embodying another way is before us. I continue to ask myself a question I posed yesterday, what can churches do to address violence in our neighborhoods?

For the Christian, this begins with a biblical imagination. Reading, studying and discussing the role of violence in Scripture is crucial to shaping how we address violence in our own lives. Throughout the history of the Church, followers of Jesus have done incredible, creative work to reduce violence due in great part to how they read the Bible.

During World War II, thousands of conscientious objectors were assigned to work in mental health institutions through the Civilian Public Service. More than half of those serving in these facilities were Mennonites–Christians of the Anabaptist tradition. At the time, mentally ill persons were treated terrible, often suffering physical abuse from those who cared for them. In response, there was frequent violent behavior on the part of the patience. Facilities were dismal. Refusing to treat patients in the typical manner, Mennonites demonstrated a compassion and humanity which patients positively responded to. The dramatic change in care brought to mental health facilities through the presence and influence of these Christians resulted in revolutionizing mental healthcare in the U.S.

For these Mennonites, the way in which they read Scripture led them to resist the use of violence. But what is more, it led them to treat others with human dignity. Those that others did not treat with the same dignity. Persons with mental illness have been discussed a lot in the media as of late. Frequently when such media attention is drawn to a certain segment of the population that segment is further isolated. If we are intent on reducing what causes violence, what can churches do to draw in those at the greatest risk of isolation, marginalization?


In her book, The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks writes about her life as a prestigious professor of law who is also diagnosed with schizophrenia. What is evident in her writing and in her TED talk below, is that being allowed to contribute meaningfully to her community is part of what keeps her balanced. This is not simply a case-by-case, individual solution. As Peter Block writes in his book, Community, healthy communities invite those on the margins to contribute their gifts and voice to the whole.





While Saks' story makes it clear that there is still room for improvement in mental healthcare, the Mennonites referenced above created an environment where people previously treated without human dignity could contribute in meaningful ways to a community–even if it was the community within a mental health facility.

The over-arching story of Scripture points to a reconciling God. A God that draws us in and invites us to be co-creators with him. How might we do the same?

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