Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stand Your Ground

The Trayvon Martin killing brought publicity to Florida's "stand your ground" law, which was the model for similar legislation that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had been promoting in other states.  (ALEC has since abandoned its endorsement of "stand your ground" laws.)

"Stand your ground" laws eliminate the common law (sometimes statutory) duty to retreat when attacked.  If you are attacked or threatened, your first thought should be to get away from the danger.  Only if you can't get away are you allowed to use force to protect yourself.  (You're also allowed to use force to protect others, but that's a different issue.)

"Stand your ground" laws are favored by Republicans and conservatives, who often identify themselves as Christian and promoting Christian values, but "stand your ground" laws may be the most un-Christian laws of the modern era.  (I refer to the "modern era" in order to exclude slavery from consideration.)

Jesus said that "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."  (Matt. 5:39)  If that brief admonition were re-written to conform to "stand your ground" principles, it would become "if it looks like someone is going to strike you, don't duck or retreat, but strike him first."

But the "turn the other cheek" admonition is about more than violence and our reactions to violence.  It is about our ego and insults to our pride, and the spiritual peace that comes from giving up your pride.

Jesus is talking about being struck on the right cheek, not the left, which makes a difference.  If someone who is facing you slaps your face, and he uses his right hand, he's going to strike your left cheek, not your right.  For a right-handed person to strike the left side of your face, he would have to strike you with the back of his hand, and not his palm.  Giving someone "the back of your hand" meant the pretty much the same thing in Jesus's time as it means for us.  (It was probably worse then, and more insulting.)

So, what Jesus is saying is that, if someone insults you, or even injures you, don't retaliate.  Take the insult, and take another if the other person wants to offer another.  Give up your pride and your sense of righteousness.

"Stand your ground" laws say the opposite of what Jesus said.  Those laws say that, if you're threatened, you don't need to run away.  You don't need to be a coward.  You can maintain your pride and righteousness by using force, even killing the other person if needed.

"Stand your ground" laws therefore represent the triumph of pride and ego over peace, or even common sense.  Truly a most un-Christian law. 

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