THE PURGE

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Guest post by Curtis Woods, Associate Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention

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The movie entitled “The Purge” is not that farfetched in light of human depravity. For those who don’t know, the film’s theme centers on a citywide decree that all crime, no matter how grotesque, would be forgiven for a 24-hour period.

In the film, common citizens wielded “lawful swords” on behalf of the government. They had permission to destroy life without consequences. Unfortunately, in this fiction, the premise for taking life stands against reason. In the film, governmental authorities argued from a distorted philosophical presupposition. Namely, the film depicts authorities who desire to balance good with evil—a Hollywood “Yin and Yang” of sorts. As such, people all over the city became hunter or hunted, victimizers or victims.

When chaos becomes commonplace, you destroy the idea of a commonwealth. No one is safe.

Some might think that victimizers experience safety when they destroy the imago Dei or create havoc in society and face no immediate, visible consequences. They are wrong. Since the first sin in the garden (Genesis 3) and the subsequent sin of murder (Genesis 4), God declares judgment on the shedding of blood because mayhem disrupts the fabric of society.

In the biblical scenario, we are certain that the blood of Abel, which cried out for vengeance from the ground, was “innocent.” But, in the case of Michael Brown, I am not sure of the extent of his innocence or guilt. All I know is an Anglo man in authority used his power to take African-American life. And, in my opinion, that is the rub.

We are witnessing anger towards what some envision as an unlawful use of authority.

Tragically, most who are crying out for justice are not as vehement when they hear the ubiquitous cries for justice from black sons and daughters who were slain at the hands of other blacks. They neglect the timeless admonishment of Arnold Adoff, in his Black on Black, to exercise cultural agency in such a way that life is honored from the cradle to the grave. All life is precious. In fact, some erroneously think another panel discussion, conference, or series of blog posts will curtail this malady. It will not.

History reveals that those who truly change society do it life-on-life.

After watching the aftermath of the Michael Brown verdict in Ferguson, I thought, “We are not as far removed from ‘The Purge’ as some might think.”

It seems clear that the police officers were given a standing order to quarter the violence to a specific geographic location. Only when the violence escalated to the point where the centripetal force of mob rule began to sweep businesses like a herd of Zombies did the police begin to reestablish order. I watched city leaders or law-givers allow law-breakers to engage in criminal activity without consequences. Was this sanctioned anarchy? I think so.

Which raises the question, why did authorities sheath the sword in this case but wield the sword so hastily against Michael Brown?

I do not know. Neither do you. We are clueless. We cannot act as judge and jury.

What we can do is admit that we do not live in a post-racial society. The ubiquitous pain of racism is evident in the pedagogy of the oppressed even though the oppressed readily become oppressors once the tide turns in their favor. We saw that last night in Ferguson.

Under the cloak of darkness, the mob had permission to “Purge” a small area. Neither the mob nor the police modeled virtue. On both sides, there was “no justice and no peace.”

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10 Comments

  1. Posted November 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your theological input in this critical area. Your engagement of the social and spiritual demonstrate the needed theological scholarship of our day. As I was reading your article Niebuhr’s work, Moral Man and Immoral Society surfaced to mind. He suggests at one point that people are prone to greater evil when in groups than as individuals. This only highlights the depravity that you surfaced in your article. Thank you for your prescient perspective.

    • Posted November 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Great observation! You clearly saw the juxtaposition between shortsightedness of the pedagogy of oppressed and the veiled allusion to Moral Man and Immoral Society. As you know, the latter work had great influence on Martin Luther King’s social activism as a “transformed nonconformist.” Thanks for your comment!!

  2. La Fayette Holland
    Posted November 27, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Excellent theological reflections. But I contend that we are forced, to some degree, to act as judge and jury. The nature of a reflection forces us into both positions. As a judge, we make a judgement about the protesters (only those who broke the law committed a crime; those who operated within the confines of the law were law abiding citizens), the authorities, the police officer, Michael Brown and his family, and the verdict of the grand jury. As a jury, we assess all of the salient information from the community of actors (the aforementioned characters), including the media, and render a verdict. Epistemologically, the actions of the authorities may not tell us everything we want to know, but, existentially, they do tell us at least one thing: they did not want the public to view them as the aggressors. I look forward to reading more of your thought. Keep thinking and writing!

  3. Posted November 28, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you, sir. I appreciate your perspective. I will say that I employ the phraseology “judge and jury” as a colloquial aphorism. That is to say, we have responsibility to render cautious opinions rather than founded declarations as an all seeing eye when the evidence is limited. Once the mob took up arms against the alleged oppressors, which, in the mob’s opinion, most adroitly evisions the justice system, not the unfortunate citizens who owned legitimate businesses, they exercised unjustified authority. As such, the mob wrongly became “judge and jury,” evoking the memory of a former mob of yesteryear whose vitriolic desire destroyed “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, OK. Of course the analogy is not one-for-one since the latter mob had free reign to “show no mercy,” pulverizing everything in sight. History books rarely tell that horrific story. We can discuss my epistemological juxtaposition in greater detail offline. You have my contact information. Obviously, as you rightly aver, we must express judgment on the actions of all involved. I fear, however, that far too many social media sages on the blogosphere have allowed sensationalism to catapult them into the position of omniscient arbiter or “judge and jury.” I pray you discerned a desire for balance in my rumination. Once again, thank you, for your thoughtful interaction! Much obliged!

    • La Fayette Holland
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes, yes indeed. I understood your use of the verbiage “judge and jury” and I certainly discerned your desire for balance. Again, excellent theological reflections!!!

  4. Howard Williams
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Curtis – your observation is right on target and straight to the point. It is a shame that too many people don’t understand the definition of “Justice”. Al Sharpton doesn’t seem to understand and frankly I question Atty Gen Eric Holder view point.

  5. Ben Keizer
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed your article – unfortunately we live in neither a post sin nor a post racial society. And i agree that for Christians this is not a black/white issue, its an Imago Dei issue. I know as a large white male that if my skin pigment were darker I would not feel quite so safe around the police. Perhaps these events will illuminate this fact, rather than incite ad hominem attacks on people like Michael Brown.

    • curtis woods
      Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your frank comment. I appreciate your willingness to expose your “race” (I use that term cringing all the way since I affirm a monoracial theory–human race). Nonetheless, it seems the fictive of race benefits us insofar as it frames the conversation and, as you have done, locates one’s socio-ethnic identity. I also know of your PhD in psychology from the Univ of Louisville, and, more importantly, your love for the Lord! Thanks, bro!!

      Enjoy the great state of TEXAS!!!

  6. Denita
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi, thanks so much for your artilce. While I think you make some great points, I think it would be helpful to present more facts about this situation. It “seems you didn’t do more research to be able to wholistically share more facts surrounding this situation. Clearly, there should have been an indictment in this case, so that, ALL the facts could have been presented to them and EVERYONE could have been privvy to hear and dissect them fully and correctly. We have a problem in our society, the numbers don’t lie. This is about life, not black or white; it’s about life. This is about a mother and father who lost their son. Just a cursory look at how the prosecutor presented the evidence to the grand jury, was totally different than how he has EVER presented to them in the past. Those are his words. Prosecutors ALWAYS present to the grand jury to garner an indictment. The defense is not in the room and do not have the opportunity to present their side. Prosecutors present their side of the facts, not the defense’s side. But not in this case, he presented ALL the so called evidence and facts. He also said there were discrepancies in the eyewitnesses’ accounts. Great, yet another reason to send this case to the jury. The jury is the trier of facts; the grand jury makes a determination if there is enough evidence for a trial. They have completely different functions. If he truly wanted transparency and balance, why not recuse himself and allow another prosecutor to come in, being that his own father was killed by a black man. Again, do your part to make this as open and honest as possible. Then, lastly, though I have at least ten other points, how in the world did the assistant DA present an old, outdated law to them and then come back at the end of the process and say, oh, sorry, I gave you the wrong law regarding whether or not an officer can lawfully pursue a suspect when they are fleeing. Then, when one of them asked about the law, she brushed it off and said don’t worry about it, we don’t want to bog you down with the law. Check the transcript. Again, this is unheared of.

    So, as Christians, it’s not a black and white issue, this is about justice for all Americans. I pray we all will ask God to lead and guide you through this process, versus the local news media. Oh, and let me address one last piece, please: the so called black on black crime — which, seems to imply there is no white on white crime, etc. The difference is this, there is rarely a case in the black or latino communities when a minority shoots or kills another minority when those cases aren’t prosecuted. Period. Check the facts, the records. But the reverse is not true. I do not condone ANY murders. Why? Because God doesn’t condone murder. I am just as upset about the killings in Sandy Hook as I am about killing unarmed African American young men. I pray some of you will start to see this for what it truly is… evil. Light versus darkness, good versus evil, God versus satan. As Christians, not black and white people, but as Christians, I pray we all allow Holy Spirit to lead and guide us through these difficult times.

    We are now at a place where African American fathers have to train their sons on how to deal with the police. By the way, I don’t personally know an AA male who has NOT been unjustly followed in department stores. They are pulled over by the police for no reason at all. They didn’t violate the law. Were not speeding. Nothing at all. So, what do you tell your son when he ask you why? If you look at the number of tickets and warrants issued in the Ferguson area, not St. Louis, but the Ferguson area, it is astounding. All of these facts can be found online. Many in the African American community are traumatized, especially our young men. They couldn’t understand how you allowed Michael Brown to lie in the street for 4.5 hours and then during the grand jury process revealed the investigators did not take any photos of the scene.

    As Christians, it is OUR duty to come out on the right side, help everyone. Not to pass judgment, but help everyone, including our police officers. I pray we will all step back and ask God how to move forward, how do we love our felllow man, understanding that one day, all of us will have to give an account for how we treat one another. May God grant all of us the wisdom during these times on how to share/spread his love to everyone, Denita

    • Posted December 2, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Denita,

      Thank you for your counsel. It seems that your aspiration for my prose goes beyond my intent. The point of this article was to provoke thought on multiple fronts without coming to a judgment on unknown variables. I, too, believe that facts are our friends. Thus, I avoided the perception of having all the facts laid bare before me via the social media and news affiliates. I have a natural penchant for both intellectual and archival history. I am not convinced the aforementioned mediums are reliable sources. I will say, moreover, that my goal was not to serve as an attorney, since I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. Smile. You, on the other hand, might possess a formal doctorate of juris prudence. If so, then perhaps this is why you read a piece dedicated to theological and culturally philosophical prose from the vantage point of a legal treatise. Such a reading, as I stated, goes beyond authorial intent. Hence the reason why I made a call for caution in our rhetoric while, prayerfully, modeling caution.

      And, yes, I am aware of the historically dehumanizing effects of racialization on the holistic psyche of American citizens of any hue (1619-to present). Which raises a piquant query, how can you say “we are now at a place where African American fathers have to train their sons on how to deal with the police”? As an African American father, with three wonderful sons, who was raised by an African American father reared in Jim Crow eastern Arkansas, I assure you that the existential crisis existing between African-American sons and the police-state is not a novel conversation. My dad taught me how to cautiously approach all people in authority, especially those who brandished deadly weapons. But, alas, I forsook his counsel in some situations. Thankfully the Lord showed me mercy.

      Once again, thank you for taking your time to share your insights without vitriol. I still believe “a gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive, but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness” (Pro 15:1-2). And, “if anyone thinks he [she] is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself [herself] (James 1:26).

      Grace to you,
      Curtis