Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Many have said much and will say more about the deaths of black men in Ferguson, New York City, and elsewhere at the hands of police officers. I share the sadness and the shock of so many speakers and writers, but will try not to repeat their insights. As a lawyer I learned not to judge an individual case by what I read in the press. But the failure of two grand juries even to return indictments in these cases, especially the New York chokehold case, certainly looks as if a thumb rests heavily on the scales of justice when the suspect is a white policeman and the victim is a black man. Whatever the specific facts of these particular cases may be, they have exposed a latent violence and inequity in American society that cannot be ignored.

When law enforcement turns deadly to unarmed people, especially those of historically subjugated races, we see something at work that the late Bible scholar Walter Wink called “the domination system.” The whole stories of the lives of the people who killed and died, the story of their neighborhoods, the story of the economic and social context are part and parcel of the domination system. That system was revealed at the cross. It was revealed at the deaths of martyrs. It was revealed in the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas, in slavery in the United States, in the slaughter of coal miners at Ludlow, Colorado, and in countless instances of violence and threats of violence to preserve the social order. I say this not to deny the particularity of black/ white injustice. All injustice is particular but it is also all connected to the exercise of “power over” by the domination system. The problem revealed by Ferguson and New York is deeper and wider than officer involved homicides, tragic as they are.

Because the problem is deeper and wider, it is more complex. It will not yield to simple technical fixes. Putting cameras on the police may be a good idea. It may reduce the incidence of these tragedies. If it will help, then let’s do it. But we must not think we have addressed the deep, wide problem.

Can we imagine a concerted effort by churches to build personal relationships across racial lines? Could we recommit to public education for our children, of all races instead of whites escaping to private schools while public schools go unsupported and underfunded? Could we care as much about bringing small businesses to poor urban neighborhoods as we do about expanding hi-tech plants in wealthy suburbs? Can we imagine fundamentally changing both the social network and the economic power structure of our country?

Until we take on the domination system – spiritually, politically, socially, and economically – we will not have responded to these tragic deaths. “They have healed my people’s wounds too lightly, saying ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8: 11. We must not heal these wounds too lightly.

The protests in the streets are both right and natural. My fellow bishops, priests, deacons, and Christian lay people have been part of the demonstrations. But history tells us of many a street protest that vents our feelings without changing our world. I suspect the reason the domination system preserves our right to such expressions of political passion is to provide a safety valve lest real change break out. Just as technical fixes to reduce the incidence of officer involved homicides would be too little change, street protests will be an inadequate, albeit reasonable and legitimate, response. Real change will take a deep conversion of the American heart, and that begins with the slow, hard work of changing each of our hearts through disciplined work to build relationships, to join hands for the common good, to build a better world for all our people.


Ann said...

Excellent -- and read some Eric Law on how to break out of the domination system with the Cycle of Gospel Living. EfM is studying how to become better Christians in the midst of multiculturalism and the system that makes some privileged and others not.

Jeffrey Bell said...

Wow, this article explains things pretty well for those of us that had never heard the term 'domination system.' http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/nvc/domination.html As the article suggests domination systems are a natural outcome of human evolution. The following are my thoughts.

Human beings have a long history of conflict with peoples of a different, tribe, country, state, region, religion, gender, clic...essentially, formed by common culture. It is in our very natures to band together and become entrenched in our differences, especially when there is a scarcity of resources, as a result, the key here, fear that one may not survive! Such fear justifies the reason to dominate in the human psyche. One group will determine that there is just not enough to go around, and not enough to share so will begin to dominate another group to ensure that their group survives. Through history it is how one group survived over another. And virtually the reason for all wars...essentially, economic reasons being at the base of it all.

It seems, this being so intrinsic to human nature, we may never find a solution to deal with our inherent tendency for conflict. That in fact may be true. But I believe it is at the very root of why Christ was sent here by God, first to forgive our past behavior and then to show us another way to form societies. Christ illustrated this when he fed the multitudes with nothing more than faith. We can extend this to our lives by having the faith that we can and will find a way to share what is available to all and that it will be enough. Until that becomes first and foremost in our minds, domination systems will continue to exist. And, sadly, it is true that for some 'enough' will never be enough... This is the kind of thinking that we must become aware of and guard against. In a society driven more and more by the dollar this will become less and less possible. Capitalism is great as long as it is not the absolute priority of a society. It should be seen as a tool to accomplish greater efficiency, but when it begins to destroy it no longer serves society! For that to happen we need to come to understand our nature, the root of conflict, a fear that we may not get enough, then overcome it with the faith that with God's help we will find a way to provide for all!