With that fact in mind, I want to clarify some things about moral equivalence. This last weekend, when a bunch of alt-right, Nazi, White Supremacist, White Nationalist groups gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a confederate monument and to terrorize the town with their hate and in the process murdered Heather Heyer and engaged in many acts of terror, intimidation, and violence, a number of groups met them to engage in counter protest. Among these groups were Black Lives Matter, SURJ, clergy from around the nation, and antifa (anti-facists). Some of these counter protest groups chose to engage in beautiful, courageous, and non-violent means while others fought back violently against those who attacked them.
It took the President three days to call out White Supremacists, White Nationalists, racists, and Nazis as evil. Today he made the case that the racists and the anti-racists are morally equivalent (he avoided that phrase and instead said that both sides "bear responsibility"). As a pacifist I think it is really important to make the following as clear as I can manage:
While I believe that violence is never the right choice, that fact in no way creates a moral equivalence between those who would use violence to spread their hate and to oppress their fellow humans, and those who resort to violence in defense of the innocent and oppressed. Not to understand this represents moral blindness of the highest order.In the second world war, the Nazis used violence to commit their atrocities and to wage war, the allies chose violence in response. This does not make the allies morally equivalent to the Nazis. The sword is often an option for those who are oppressed; when the oppressed chose to wield the sword they are not becoming the moral equivalent of their oppressors. As a pacifist I lament all violence, I pray that I would have the strength to resist committing violence if it ever seemed like the only option. I am inspired and in awe of those who manage to lay down their lives in defense of others, whether they lose their lives while committing violence or while refusing it—placing themselves between danger and the oppressed—the courage to risk and lose ones own life in defense of others is more courage than I can claim to have and it is, in itself, a great nobility.
There is a basic moral tenet that the morality of an act depends on both its why and its what. It is in recognition of this that manslaughter and murder are different things. It is in recognition of this that a surgeon is not charged with assault. Violence chosen for noble reasons is not the moral equivalent of violence chosen for heinous reasons and not to see that betrays the moral ignorance of the man who cannot tell the difference between a surgeon and a sadist.
If the White Nationalist, White Supremacist Nazis in Charlottesville get to share guilt with people who believe that violence is warranted in resisting them then honoring Dietrich Bonhoeffer is as morally reprehensible as honoring John Wilkes Booth.
And if the President of the United States is so morally blind that he would seek to share responsibility between those who fly the Nazi flag and those who resist it, well that is probably the best evidence I have heard that he is morally incompetent to lead a country.
|Clergy standing against Nazi Militia in the US|