Rev. Peg Chemberlin

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin is the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches. She is the immediate past president of the National Council of Churches, an organization of 36 communions with 45 million constituents across the nation. Read more about Rev. Peg Chemberlin.

"Let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations"

Posted by: Rev. Peg Chemberlin under Society, Politics Updated: January 12, 2011 - 11:06 PM

The body politic is shaken by the Tucson attack and I agree with representative Boehner who said that, "attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve". We are all asking, “How can we prevent such in the future?”

From his police record and the content of his Youtube videos, Jared Loughner, is clearly an angry, mentally unstable individual. While his political views are scattered and not easy to discern from the limited information we have, his actions seem to be quite politically motivated.

The quickness with which many have linked the tragedy in Tucson with the distressingly high levels of vitriol, distrust, dishonesty, anger and hatred in our political discourse is entirely understandable.  According to the Senate Sergeant at Arms, threats against members of congress are up 300% since the beginning of 2010. There needs to be a toning down of the rhetoric of violence...by all of us.

For instance, the language of violent threat needs to be dropped from American political life. When Michelle Bachman says that we all need to be 'armed and ready' we need to tell her that won’t do. Or in March of 2010, when Sarah Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats she was targeting, there should have been a greater outcry. (The map used crosshair images to show their districts. Many sggested at the time that she was encouraging violence by using the crosshairs imagery and for later writing on Twitter to her supporters, "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'")  She specifically cited Representative Giffords and said, "We'll aim for these races and many others."

In response to the Giffords shooting, Palin posted the following on Facebook, "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."

In the comments section below Palin's statement, critics had strong responses:

"More than condolences, I hope you will think carefully in the future when you call on supporters to 'take aim' at opponents, and refer to elections as 'salvos,'" wrote Kirsten Sherk. "A child was killed today by someone who can't tell the difference between 'inspiring' speech and a call to arms. I was appalled by your violent speech before, I'm horrified now."

But while I agree with the concern, Palin cannot become a scapegoat in all this. Her ill-thought-out decision to use a weapon-sights metaphor against the political opposition must be seen as an expression of a larger national culture that celebrates violence. Palin got a lot of support for her approach. And her approach is just one of many violent frameworks laid on the political scene. We can't ignore the analysis that the pro-violence aspects of our culture may well encourage people like Loughner to action but in doing so we can’t, as President Obama said today, “use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

So let’s find a way to stop the attack-mentality including our own. It is easy to want to put Palin in our own "cross-hairs" for this. It is much harder to ask ourselves how we can move away from the extreme political discourse, the vilifying of the opposition, and the winner-take-all, no-compromise attitude that seems to have taken hold in American politics.

One of the heroes in the moment was a new intern Daniel Hernandez who said he ‘just did what he had to do’ in response to the tragedy being played out in front to him. We all need to consider what it is we have do. Can we hear the call to a better America, being part of a better day, without having an enemy to respond to? Can we be motivated to resist the violence itself and not project and 'enemy' banner onto those who disagree with us? This is going to require a new day of civility from all of us. What a challenge worth taking on!

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