"Murder, Warfare, and Genocide"
by Rev. Stephen C. Butler
Genesis, Chapter 4
McKownville United Methodist Church
July 10, 2005
If we asked a random group of adults to name the Ten Commandments, the first one they would probably admit to knowing is #6, "You shall not kill,"
right? Adults might think of another one first, (the infamous #7, regarding adultery). With children and youth, "Do not steal" comes first to mind. But "do not kill" is usually the first one that adults will say they know. Why?
Because killing another person is universally forbidden in every culture.
Everybody knows it's wrong to commit murder. Genesis, which means "beginnings," is the first book in the Bible and it tells of the first
everything: the first day, the first night, the first creatures, the first people, the first sin, the first punishment, the first children, the first argument, the first murder, and so on. Today's reading tells of Adam and Eve's two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer like his father. Abel was a shepherd. At harvest time, Cain offered God a sacrifice from his produce.
Abel offered a sacrifice from the best of his produce. God liked Abel's gift better, Cain got jealous, killed his brother and tired to get a way with it.
God was not fooled and banished Cain from the family, but allowed him to live and start a new tribe. The Bible says the first murder stared as a jealous squabble between two young men. Sounds a lot like what's been happening around here, lately, doesn't it? Some things never change. That's why the Bible never goes out of style. People are the same today as they were long ago.
Throughout the Bible, human history continues. After murder came warfare and with warfare came genocide. The Old Testament Book of Numbers (ch. 31) tells of Moses commanding the armies of Israel to completely destroy the nation of Moab because they'd started intermingling with them and
worshipping their gods. So, by God's command and on Moses' order, they
attacked Moab and killed all the adult men, all the adult women, all the boys, and spared only the young girls, whom they took with them, probably for slaves and future wives for their sons. This passage is so shocking to the modern mind that when an old and cynical Mark Twain featured it in his "Letters From the Earth" his daughter would not allow it to be published until many years after his death. Twain wrote, "According to the belief of these people, it was God himself who said, 'Thou shalt not kill.' Then it is plain that (God) cannot keep his own commandments. He killed those people, every male." (From: Letters From The Earth, (c)1938, p. 49-50) Does seem strange, doesn't it? But Twain did not understand that the commandment
means: "You shall not commit murder." And while I personally believe that all warfare is murder, still today most people believe that warfare is self-defense. And that debate continues especially today while we have a war going on.
But almost no one defends genocide unless they're doing it. They believe they have a good reason for trying to kill everyone of a certain class, religion, ethnic group, tribe or nation. And usually, their so-called justification has to do with a jealous argument, just like Cain and Abel, and everyone else who has ever gone to war. Someone is believed to have something, to be taking something, or to be threatening something that means a lot to someone else. Every war is not genocide, but genocide always begins with identification of a certain group of people as foreign, different, and a threat. After identification comes separation, then an intense period of blaming, justification and preparation for removing the others completely, then finally the attempt at annihilation which may or may not succeed. It's happened over and over again, and still continues today.
After Moses died, Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho and the armies of Israel killed everyone in that city except one family that helped them.
Later, Israel's prophet Elijah rounded up all the prophets and priests of the god Ba'al and had them all slaughtered in public. For 150 years in this country, it was our national policy to attack, conquer, oppress, remove, and sometimes just murder every Native American on the continent, as well as the animals they fed on, including the North American bison. That was almost another genocide. We're familiar with the Nazi Holocaust in Germany. Lately we've learned more about the concentration camps where our government imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II. A lot of the same dynamics played out in those days: identification, blaming, justification, separation and removal. Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, Bosnia, and Israel, Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, Arabs and Africans in Darfur and opposing armies of different ethnic groups in Europe, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq have all gone through the same process. Some wars have resulted in acts of genocide; some have not.
People come and go, but human nature remains the same. Remember Lieutenant William Calley, US commanding officer in the attack on My Lai hamlet in Viet Nam? He decided to clear those people out of there, and he did. No people, no culture, no nation is completely immune to this problem. Whenever two identifiable groups start fighting and the stress level gets high enough, sooner or later, someone says, "Let's get rid of them all." And sometimes they do.
So, what can we do? Luckily, we have a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" and whenever enough of "we the people" decide that things have to change, sooner or later they do. What difference can we make? Don't ever discount the power of one person to change the course of history. The Bible is filled with these examples, too. Remember young David, who killed the giant Goliath with a stone? Remember the child who brought Jesus his lunch and the Lord used it to feed 5000 people? We think we're just drops in bucket, or drops in a pond. But when enough drops get together, sometimes the dam breaks, just like it did last week at Hadlock Pond. Do you know the story of the 100th Monkey? An anthropologist was studying the monkeys on a tropical island. Most of them ate their food unwashed. But some washed their food in the water. As the population changed, more monkeys started washing their food before eating it. When the total of food-washing monkeys reached 100, within a day or two, all the monkeys on the island started washing their food. Maybe you might be the 100th monkey! Never think that what you do does not make a difference.
You probably know the name, Rosa Parks. She's the woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery Alabama in December 1955. The law stated that there had to be a vacant row between white people and people of color.
The city was crowded that day. Everyone had been Christmas Shopping. The bus filled up, the driver told Rosa to move, she refused, she was arrested, and Rev. Martin Luther King led the Montgomery Bus boycott that started the US Civil Rights Movement. What most people don't know is, Rosa was a Christian, an active church member, class leader, and secretary of her local chapter of the NAACP. She was not just a random cranky woman. She was bright, well-educated, highly-trained, dignified, knew she deserved to be treated better than the law commanded and she's still alive and active today 50 years later at age 92.
There are many evil things going on in the world today. One of them is genocide in Darfur. If you feel that God is calling you to pray, to act, to write, to call, to encourage others to do the same, by all means, please do so today. Prayer is not a passive thing. Prayer is an active force that strengthens us and always leads to other good things:
sometimes actions, sometimes changes, better attitudes, stronger faith, new life, or a better life in new ways. Please pray for peace in Darfur. And please do whatever else God leads you to do next.
"Love God, Follow Jesus and Pass it On!"
A Litany of Prayer for Peace In Darfur: by Catherine Stanford McKownville United Methodist Church: July 10, 2005 O Spirit of the Living God, Ground of All Hope
"We do not know how to pray as we ought, But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with Sighs too deep for words, with Groanings that cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26)
O Spirit of the Living God, Help us to stop feeling that anything we do is Just a drop in the bucket!
I mean, really help us
Because we don't just feel that whatever we do is Just a drop in the bucket We feel like drops of rain in the Sahara desert that Evaporate even before we hit the sand! (Frances Moore Lappe and Jeffrey
Turn us around, O God!
Turn us around to see Darfur not as an "issue" but as our own suffering humanity, part of the gift of life you have given us that is in mortal danger.
Turn us around to see that Darfur is not an isolated "problem" in some far-off, God-forsaken place.
What is happening in Darfur comes from that dark place in the human heart. O Holy Spirit, this dark part of the human heart needs your light. O God, shine your light and drive out evil.
Turn us around, O God!
As Nehemiah (1:4-6) mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem, we are now weeping and mourning, praying before you, confessing our sins as people who have stood idly by as this evil unfolded.
400,000 people dead in Darfur are crying out for justice. We're not going to stand idly by any more, dear God, with your help.
With your help, dear God, we will raise our cries for an end to the killing in Darfur.
Turn us around, O God!
O God, you have told us to Choose Life (Deuteronomy 30:19): You have said:
"I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live" (The Message).
O God, help us to pray without ceasing for life, without ceasing for an end to the violence in Darfur, without ceasing until restorative justice is healing the wounds.
Yes, O God, from the depths of our mourning, we will start praying on the solution.
O Holy Spirit, help us pray for a solution in Darfur. O Holy Spirit, help us get clear, crystal clear, on what we are praying for.
Turn us around, O God!
We're praying that our President will support international peacekeeping efforts abundantly to end the genocide. For Saint Paul said, Jesus came to give us life - and life abundantly. (Romans)
O Holy Spirit, we beech you, please bring an outpouring of international resources to end the killing in Darfur and give us courage to take action to stop the killing.
O Holy Spirit, intercede for us with groans too deep for words. Help us to fill up that empty bucket to overflowing with the grace of God for Darfur.
Turn us around, O God!
Help us to put on your armor, O God, "that we may stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:11-12).
O Spirit of the Living God, let our cup overflow with your goodness and mercy (Psalm 23) because, as we stand up to evil in Darfur, "the eyes of
(our) hearts" will be "enlightened" and we will catch a glimpse of the hope to which you are calling us (Ephesians 1:18).
Turn us around, O God!
So be it. Amen