Like so many other teachings of Jesus, it seems that to “turn the other cheek” is not a philosophy that many American Christians follow.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.—Matthew 5:38-42, NIV
This passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has been quoted often, but in the Land of the Free, it seems that this sort of behavior is just for wusses. Our nation elected a brash cowboy TWICE, despite clear signs that his stated Christian values were belied by his thirst for war and treasure. Not once did he turn the other cheek. Instead, he proudly declared, “BRING IT ON!” And his followers cheered to the heavens, “God is on our side!” We marched against the “evildoers” and lost thousands of lives in the name of American Exceptionalism. The latest incarnation of the GOP has as its representatives a host of far-right religious conservatives who strive to dial back the clock on women’s rights, while simultaneously paying tithes to Corporate Gods and the NRA. More moderate and forward-thinking Republicans are aghast at the way their party has been hijacked by these holy warriors who bear little resemblance to the gentle prophet of the New Testament.
Many Americans, and most of our leaders, believe that America is indeed exceptional. They believe that God has blessed this nation specifically, though there is no mention of our fair land in the Bible. Somehow ingrained into our consciousness, however, is the notion that our country, despite its flaws, is divinely inspired by principles of freedom, justice, and inalienable rights. It sounds good. It sounds RIGHT.
The flaw in thinking this way is that we believe that we have this blessing from God by nature of our existence. The problem is that we have broken the contract that would grant us this blessing. In fact, it can be argued that we never honored the contract in the first place. Though our greatest leaders have so eloquently stated the ideals of our Constitution that ours is a land ruled by Laws, Rights, and Fairness, the reality of life in this country makes a mockery of these ideals.
The Stand Your Ground Law that has so recently been placed in the spotlight of national attention after the brutal death of Trayvon Martin, is a perfect instance of this conflict between stated Christian ideals and the reality of our gunslinging mentality. We have seen time and time again the fruits of this evil law and similar ones that have been passed across the country. An extension of the Castle Doctrine, which is meant to protect people whose homes have been invaded, allows people to shoot first, ask questions later. In effect, one’s body is one’s castle, and may be defended even if retreat is possible.
This sounds like a reasonable law. If you are attacked, why should you not be able to defend yourself? In the case of Trayvon Martin, his killer George Martin claimed that he was in fear for his life and shot only in self-defense. Young Martin, armed with Skittles and iced tea, was pursued by Zimmerman, who was armed with a gun. This claim by Zimmerman and the implementation of the Stand Your Ground Law was the basis for his immediate release without arrest. By claiming self-defense, the burden fell to law enforcement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not really afraid for his life-a duty that was once the domain of judge and jury. In a police department that already has its fair share of questionable actions, it is clear that Sanford investigators decided it was not worth it to try to prove otherwise. Zimmerman is also both immune to criminal prosecution and to civil action if it is deemed that he was genuinely in fear for his life.
A law such as this that protects the use of deadly force simply by uttering the words of “self-defense” by-passes the judgement of law enforcement and protects the killer from having to stand before a judge and jury of his peers.
FOX News and far-right commentators have framed this case as an assault on gun-rights and an attack on Stand Your Ground laws. As a growing number of Americans are becoming outraged about the death of Martin and the non-arrest of Zimmerman, anger is brewing on the other side against those who would suggest that Stand Your Ground is flawed. Invocation of self-defense has tripled since the law was enacted in Florida, with 65 of 93 cases ending in death of the alleged assailant. This means that in most cases the only other witness to the altercation is dead. Even with video evidence, the claim of self-defense seems to have a lot of latitude, even if the killer chases and stabs in the back a person who is attempting to flee.
George Zimmerman’s lawyer has recently revealed that Zimmerman sustained a broken nose and a laceration to the back of his head as evidence that he was attacked by Martin (after Zimmerman trailed him in his SUV, then exited the vehicle to follow him on foot). This is a classic case of bringing a gun to knife (or skittles) fight. The reason that Martin is dead and Zimmerman is crying his eyes out in hiding is the gunslinging, might-makes-right mentality that is pounded into our collective heads from the day we are born.
In direct contrast to the espoused Christian ideals that our leaders love to invoke, the reality of life in the streets of any given town across the country is that an outing to the local playground with your kid could result in your death before her very eyes. The difference in this case involving a black shooter and white victim is that Trevor Dooley was arrested and charged with Manslaughter with a Firearm, Improper Exhibition of a Firearm and Openly Carrying a Firearm and must prove in court his claim of self-defense under Stand Your Ground.
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.–Matthew 15:7-9, NIV.