G. K. Chesterton was once asked, "What‘s wrong with the world?" He replied, "I am." Chesterton was not assuming responsibility for all the world’s evil. He was candidly acknowledging the inherent human tendency to wrong. The faithful know this as original sin, which Chrsterton said is the one Christian belief that is proven true every day on the front page of the newspaper.
We are currently living in a very troubled world where injustice is decried by many. Wrongs must certainly be addressed, but the manner in which we confront them will affect the possibility of securing justice. It will also reveal as much about ourselves as the problems we protest.
The French Revolution demanded justice and liberty, and in the long run of history it did awaken a renewed sense of freedom. But the manner of the revolt brought the infamous Reign of Terror which denied many the very justice they were demanding. Not only the guilty but also many of the innocent were killed, property seized, churches desecrated, and the right to worship denied. The oppressed became the oppressors.
In 2006 five Amish children were massacred at the Nickel Mines school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Amish, who live by a simple, some say naive Christian faith, did not exact revenge. Rather, a group of Amish women, including mothers of the slain children, went to comfort the widow of the suicidal killer. Not everyone is called to the Amish way of life, but we can all learn from their simple faith. This remarkable forgiveness is recounted in an inspiring book relevant to our troubled age, "Amish Grace" by Don Kraybill.
Christians are not to be doormats of injustice, but to challenge the wrong and lead the way to justice and peace in a manner consistent with these values. When innocents are killed in protesting a death, property destroyed to demand economic equality, freedom denied when defying oppression, activists lack integrity and forfeit credibility. In the words of Pope Francis, "The violence of protests is self-destructive."
Some of the misguided activity may be spawned by impatience with unyielding structures. Yet the ship of state, as a canoe on the lake, cannot abruptly change direction without capsizing and losing all hope. Leaders need wisdom and prudence beyond themselves, a guidance found only in quiet reflection and prayer.
This may be seen by some as sidestepping the responsibility of effective change. There is always the temptation to find an excuse, play it safe, look the other way. "What's wrong with the world, I am." applies both ways. The successful may have unwittingly achieved by an unfair advantage. Everyone, not only a rioter, needs to examine his or her conscience.
Protesters and their critics would do well to reflect on the response of G. K. Chesterton, "What‘s wrong with the world? I am." Jesus of Nazareth said it best, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."
Fr. Earl Meyer at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria is an occasional columnist in The Hays Daily News. He is at email@example.com.