The other woman said, “If I can’t have him, neither will you. Cut the child in half.” Then the king answered, “Give the first woman the living newborn. Don’t kill him. She is his mother.” – 1 Kings 3:26-27
Every time we witness horrific beat-downs of black bodies—like we’ve just seen with Tyre Nichols’ murder in Memphis—there are always pundits who wonder how much more we must endure to put an end to state-sanctioned violence. Then there are others who express valid concerns that abusive authority has become so normalized we’re numb to its harmfulness.
As followers of Christ, we can’t submit to either thought stream. It is not by mistake that God chose to enter our story at a time of backbreaking political oppression and violence. It was essential that we see God in those contexts to know that God is present always. It’s never too much for God to be with us, despite the horrors we create for ourselves through our sins of violence and greed and power.
It’s also important to remember that Jesus of Nazareth was steeped in a religious tradition that told gruesome stories of nearly unimaginable human depravity. A father takes his only son up a mountain intent on killing the boy in a misguided effort to please God (Genesis 22). Another father makes a vow that if God grants him victory over his enemies, he’ll sacrifice the first person to greet him when he returns home—who turns out to be his daughter (Judges 11). Civil war breaks out after a horde of xenophobic men gang-rapes an outsider’s companion (Judges 19). And in 1 Kings, two sex workers fight over maternity rights to one child. When the king suggests they slice the baby in two, the true mother pleads for her child’s life. It’s a Solomonic maternity test that proves right.
We call these stories “Texts of Terror,” because they expose cruelties that a hyper-masculine, nationalistic culture can visit on women, children, and outsiders. It should grieve us that our daily news runs rampant with similar texts of terror. Children are regularly sacrificed in these tales: sons and daughters, classmates, and neighborhood play companions. Not only do we inflict physical violence on their bodies. We inflict tremendous spiritual violence on those who survive. The brutality knows no bounds.
As scripture shows, these stories aren’t new. Jesus knew them and no doubt saw them play out in his own community. That may be why he pointed to child wellbeing as a mandate for faithful people. He healed children. He held them close. He warned against misleading and abusing them. And he taught us to value children’s lives (including grown sons and daughters) above all regard for power and control and “law and order.” Child wellbeing is our responsibility. When we make it a cultural norm, what happened in Memphis and so many other places in recent memory will become inconceivable. Let’s make it our cultural norm at Gather.
God help us.
Peace, with much love,