NORMALIZED MADNESS - VIOLENCE IN EVERYDAY LIFE
By Margot Kassmann
[This sermon from the 30th German Evangelical Church Day 5/26/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Margot Kassmann is a Lutheran bishop in Hamburg.]
Violence is a primal phenomenon of humanity. The Bible also knows this. Cain killed his brother Abel. Then God asked Cain: "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain answered: "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" But God said: "What have you done? Your brother's blood cries to me from the earth."
Admitting we live in a culture of violence is hard. Violence is part of the horrific everyday life of many people. In a recent report, we learned 80% of women in Turkey experience violence in their family. Many women in Germany endure violence. Children are beaten. In surveys, 80% of German children say they were kicked by their parents. 1.3 million children are regularly physically abused - that includes fractures, burnings etc. Children are victims of sexual offenders...
We know today that children who did not learn nonviolent conflict resolution incline to violence in adult life. On the other hand, children who learned nonviolent conflict resolution also learned civil courage. This was shown in the Oliner study. Those who saved Jews in the time of the Nazi dictatorship were asked about their education. Nonviolent education strengthens civil courage. Promoting trust, responsibility and conflict resolution in education furthers children's moral ability to judge.
For me, the message of the Bible is very clear: No violence! Jesus declares peacemakers are blessed persons. In the crucial hour when he was arrested, Jesus said: Put your sword back in its sheath. He regards men and women as God's equal likeness. Violence destroys the God-likeness of the other. The German Evangelical church has been concretely engaged in overcoming violence...
The question of the perpetrator should be discussed: What do we expect from a prison stay? Many victims complain the culprits are much more in the center of interest than the victims. At present I think keeping in a safe place is in the foreground, not integration or rehabilitation. A few years ago three young men trampled Alberto Adreano to death in Dessau. They will be released after eight or ten years in jail. Will they have learned anything? Have we accompanied them so they can become members of our society who reject violence? Methods like perpetrator-victim compensation are certainly important along with the consistent and speedy punishment of culprits. We need accompaniment, prevention, mediation and intervention.
I became especially aware of this when I sat together with a man of my age who as an 18-year old murdered his friend. Sitting alongside a murderer is a strange feeling. He spoke of his act. He related how he could not look at himself in the mirror. Then a prison chaplain helped him accept his reflection. This recalled Cain. God allowed Cain to survive with the sign of fratricide. That was probably the heaviest punishment for Cain. This man had to face his act. He spoke with the parents of his murdered friend. After serving his sentence, he received an education, learned a vocation and founded a family. His children knew of his act. This upright Cain set me thinking.