Ah the memories of rocking with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Dancing in the weed-hazed air under the blinding sun of central Florida, TP, the Gainesville native, gave me a marching order.
Gonna stand my ground. And I won’t back down. You could stand me up against the gates of hell, and I won’t back down!
We thundered it out.
Listening to that song this week gave me pause. I realize it wasn’t the now-infamous, Stand Your Ground law that was invoked in the George Zimmerman trial, it was the lesser standard of self-defense.
I interpret self defense as something like the following: If someone accosts me as I’m opening my car door, I can spray them with Mace, or knee them “where it counts”, without worrying that it leaves them blind or unable to sire offspring. In other words, I see self-defense through the eyes of one who thinks they are the victim, not the aggressor.
But that’s not the law. As the Florida jury was instructed
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
No duty to retreat. No duty to turn away wrath. No responsibility to peace.
Well, WWJD damnit.
Since when do we as Christians not have a responsibility to be peace makers? Since when do we have the right to kill someone because we are intimidated, or scared, or baited by them? And likewise, what version of discipleship are we following when the killing of a black kid gets all us whities to wear a hoodie in some act of “solidarity” when, if push came to shove, we can’t even remember the last time a black kid ate at our table?
“Oh Jerusalem, if only you had known on this day, the things that make for peace!” Jesus wails on his way into the city to die.
Jesus was injected into a violent scene with the woman found in adultery. Instead of arming his disciples, Jesus noted our commonly shared humanity (“let him who is without sin cast the first stone”) and allowed the truth of who we all are to do its work.
Jesus was apprehended violently in the garden, when a “concealed and carrying” disciple whipped out his sword preparing for a bloodbath. Jesus intervened saying, “Let’s have no more of this.”
Self defense? I don’t think the way our law conceives of it entered Jesus’ mind. Jesus reinterprets self-defense, and standing our ground in ways that force us to seek the good of the other as much as the good of ourselves.