Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 13: 37,38).
“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13: 34)
This week I have been following two news items: the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and the petition of a number of Canadian veterans to have Jess Randall Larochelle be awarded the Victoria Cross. Now, again, a huge warning; I haven’t completely formed my thinking around this, and don’t take it as me telling you the Gospel truth here. If there’s anything that I gleaned from today’s Bible study, its that we really have to consider the idea of ‘truth’ with a great deal of scepticism and gravity. (If I hadn’t told you recently, I’ll remind you now – Bible Study is FIERCE. Its challenging. Its difficult. But its also nurturing and supportive. You’re all welcome to come and you can participate either on Zoom or in the hall).
Just as a brief synopsis for those of you who aren’t really following the news today. Kyle Rittenhouse is the young man, who at the age of 17, shot and killed two men, and seriously injured a third, in Kenosha, Washington and the civil unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He’s currently on trial, and he testified with a great deal of tears and remorse, saying that he feared for his life, and that was why he shot these three people; two of them fatally.
Private Jess Randall Larochelle, on the other hand, is a Canadian veteran of Afghanistan, who was part of an operation providing road construction security. The post was attacked, and two Canadian soldiers were killed and 4 others were wounded. Jess Larochelle, despite being quite significantly injured in this ambush, fought off the Taliban fighters basically single-handedly, killing as many as 20 in the process. He is now back home; struggles with PTSD, and is being hailed as a hero by his colleagues; and is being considered for the Victoria Cross for his action. The Victoria Cross is one of the highest Canadian military honours.
And so here is where I’m struggling.
Two young men. Both of whom had guns. Both of whom will say they feared for their lives. And yet, one is on trial for murder, and the other is being hailed as a hero. Both of them are suffering from their actions. Both of them have PTSD. Both were hurt and badly in these incidents. And yet, one will likely go to prison, and the other will get care.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions were obviously pre-meditated. He lived in Illinois, some distance away from the demonstrations. He procured an illegal AR-15 style rifle from somewhere – I’m having trouble finding out where a 17 year old would find a military grade weapon, and he tells people he ‘intended’ to be there to provide security to a business and first aid as needed. I’m not sure why a first-aider would need anything but a first aid kit! Kyle was hurt in this whole incident by two different unarmed men; both of whom were trying to disarm him. He was given another gun by a Kenosha resident; someone at the age of 19 would’ve been considered more of his peer than an authority. Regardless, there’s enough evidence to suggest that this wasn’t all premeditated in a vacuum. Kyle would’ve had adults around him supporting him in this whole thing; perhaps even endorsing it. A ‘system’ if you will. A culture where vigilantism is supported and perpetuated.
And Private Jess Randall Larochelle’s actions were simply, as he says it, part of his ‘job’ in the Canadian Armed Forces. What he did on that evening also didn’t occur in a vacuum. He was trained, and supported by a system and a culture that identifies people specifically as ‘enemies’ rather than soldiers of a different army who could also be peers. A system and a culture that sanctions violence in the name of security and in the name of western democracy.
And so where does that leave us? Well, me? Sickened. Ambivalent. Conflicted.
I like living in a country where my freedom and security is mostly understood. I have benefitted greatly from the actions of the Canadian Armed Forces. I know that my well-being and the well-being of my loved ones is dependent on this ‘system’ of security, and the culture of western democracy.
But as a Christian, this encounter with Pilate reminds us that following Jesus means that we push back against political systems and even religious systems. Jesus’ encounter reminds us that we are responsible to listen to a different voice; one that doesn’t endorse culture and social expectations, but instead endorses ‘truth’. Pilate’s response is pretty appropriate in this era of ‘fake news’ and social media construction of reality. “What is Truth?” he retorts.
What is Truth?
I think in times like this we are called to examine our life-lens differently. We, who profess to be followers of Jesus need to consider what our bottom-line is.
A bottom line that’s spelled out for us a little further down in the Gospel of John. A bottom line of a ‘new commandment’; of Love. The same kind of Love that Jesus demonstrated. A Love that cares both for Kyle Rittenhouse and Jess Larochelle. A Love that cares for rioters and looters as well as the enemies of our systems. A Love that puts the well-being and consideration for all of the world that God loves so much.
This is a really tall order; and I’m still not at all sure how this will play out in my life or how I interact with systems that keep me secure and my family safe; and even the political system that I am part of. But I will keep trying; trying to look at our world differently. Trying to push back against systems and ideals that don’t Love our humanity and Love God’s beloved creation.
Blessings today, and (as usual) remember you are Loved.