What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. James 4:1-2

Today’s epistle reading from James addresses the problem of violent behaviour and draws our attention to the problems that arise in our lives and society when we allow evil to control our lives. From time immemorial man has been faced with the spectacle of violence and crime. It seems to be an evil that will not go away. The text suggests that violence has its genesis in evil thoughts, greed, discontent and covetousness. Further in this same chapter we are told to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The writer implies that violence and deviant behaviour can be cured if we follow the way of God and resist the evil one.

The presence of violence in our society and the world is a manifestation of a spiritual and moral problem. It is the result of sin and cannot be cured just by employing material solutions. We will never get it right if we see violence only in terms of disobedience to state law and regulations. It is a deeper problem and we will continue to lose the battle if we do not address it materially and spiritually.

Man is both a material and spiritual being. Society fails to recognise this truth and in our efforts to solve the problem of violence we look only to material means as the solution to the problem. Giving people more money, building schools, social activities, constructing new roads, eradicating poverty and the like, have a part to play in reducing the incidence of violence, crime and deviant behaviour, but we fool ourselves if we believe that these alone will solve the problem. These solutions deal with the symptoms, not the problem; they just will not work.

We face a spiritual problem as it relates to violence and crime. It speaks to the situation that arises when we depart from God and allow sin to be a dominant factor in our personal and collective lives.  Jesus makes this point when he says that what comes from the heart defiles us. Out of the heart comes evil thoughts: “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."  Violence is a manifestation of a spiritual and psychological problem. Without a religious base to inform our values and virtues, we will always experience violence of the worse kind. St. Paul addresses this problem and teaches that we experience moral decay, violence and crime when we go away from God and in the process worship the creature and not the Creator. St Paul writes:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.  They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Romans 1: 28-31.

From a Christian perspective part of the solution to the problem of violence and crime must be a message of repentance.  Repent and be saved.

If we are serious about elimination violence from our society it has to be seen in a bigger context. Very often when we speak of violent behaviour we limit it to the damage done by guns, knives, theft and bombs. We will never become a violent free society if violence is limited to this understanding. We also have to address the violence of emotional abuse, sexual violence, the violence of victimisation, the violence of poverty, the violence of exploitation, the violence of class, the violence of discrimination, the violence of racism, the violence of prejudice, the violence done in the name of religion, the violence of partisan political activity, gender violence and many other forms of political, social and economic violence that have a traumatic affect on the lives of our citizens. If we do not condemn all forms of violence we encourage this evil and align ourselves with its perpetrators. All forms of violence contribute to fear, insecurity and instability which we as a nation experience from time to time.

Our answer to the problem of violence cannot be centred just on the material. On the contrary, it seems the more we develop the more violent we become. The violence, ill discipline, moral decay and various forms of deviant behaviour give lie to the belief that as we develop and prosper, we will become better people.

We must take into consideration the fact that man is material and spiritual and whatever programmes or policies we seek to implement must respond to all of his needs. In our Barbadian society we must choose a path of development that meets the physical, mental and spiritual needs of our citizens. If we only concentrate on the material development of our people we will continue to experience the problem of violence and deviant behaviour. A development limited only to the material breeds greed, discontent, envy, individualism and naked competition, the ingredients for crime and violence in its many forms. Such a development instead of making us more human makes us less human. We must pursue what the late Pope Paul V1 called ‘development for peace’.

In the fight against violence we need to place emphasis once again on those values that we believe will make for peaceful living. Some of the values we  need to instil in our people are self-respect, honour, fairness, goodness and unselfishness, thrift, truthfulness, pride, honesty, respect for people’s property and rights, kindness, sacrifice, justice, tolerance, concern for others, the lists can be extended. A combination of values and political solutions is the only answer to violence in whatever form it exists. One by itself will not solve the problem. Maybe, the kind of development we have pursued over the years, void of values, might be a contributing factor to the present culture of violence that pervades our society.

In the ancient world children had no social standing. They were loved by their parents but had no status. The child in today’s gospel represents the insignificant and weak of the society. This child whom Jesus embraces stands for all who have been robbed of their freedom, dignity and humanity. Within the context of this sermon the child represents the victims, people who in any way suffer physically, mentally or psychologically, as a result of any form of violence. In the same way that Jesus embraces this child we must embrace the victims of violence and help them in their recovery process.  Part of the help we must give to victims of violence is what I call ‘moral strength’ which will help them to overcome their pains without bearing malice or seeking revenge. We must follow biblical teaching not to seek revenge, not to retaliate, not to render evil for evil but to be forgiving. Without forgiveness there can be no healing.

The Church has a role to play in creating a violent free Barbados. Each Christian has a part to play in the effort to free our land from violence. Jesus invites us to be peacemakers: “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God.” We cannot close our eyes to this evil and pretend that all is well. All is not well. Every day we hear stories of violence and the affect it is having on people. Our people expect the church and its members to give leadership in this area and to lead by example. As such the church as an institution and its members as individuals cannot be party to anything nor condone any practice, policy or decision that will do violence to our people. We must be holy and righteous in all that we do bearing in mind that we are called to be the light to the nation and the salt of the earth.  As a church we must join forces with all religious people who seek peace in our land. We might have different understandings about God, but there are common values we all share in our understanding of what it takes to have a peaceful Barbadian society.

As we continue to reflect on today’s reading from James, the prayer of St. Francis is apt.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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