An Evangelical Reader Asks What I Think about Property Damage During Times of Civil Unrest

Sez he:

A question was raised by a friend: Question that I have been pondering for a while given the current state of events in society. Not sure how to effectively ask this question – but – does the situation of Jesus and the merchants in the temple have any relevance to demonstrations occurring around the USA today? Jesus never stole from them so looting is not part of my thinking. Also, Jesus never physically assaulted anyone so man-to-man violence can be blatantly condemned. BUT Jesus – from what I remember and read – he did overturn table and released animals. Isn’t this essentially Jesus damaging property in pursuit of justice? Trying to understand if – at times – is violence against personal property justified? I don’t even know if this makes sense. Just trying to understand what we can learn about today by looking at that situation in the Bible. How would you reply?

Property rights are real, but not absolute. Right to life takes priority. I tend to discourage violence. But I also don’t fall to pieces if a crowd gets upset, especially when the police goad them to violence. Stuff gets damaged during civil unrest. When the unrest is justified, I don’t lose much sleep, as long as the protests don’t get out of hand. Which they haven’t for the most part.

That’s just my back of the envelope take. I speak neither for the Church here nor, really, do I offer that as my View for the Ages. Just a quick and dirty take that I may revise with more thought or as events unfold.


15 Responses

    1. The story coming out of St. Louis, with the two Rich white lawyers standing in front of their palatial mansion, threatening apparently peaceful protesters with an assault rifle and a loaded gun, is highly illustrative of the problem. The rightness or wrongness of the protesters actions and the lawyers actions is still not entirely clear. It will be very interesting to find out what actually happened, though it does appear that their story is 50% fabrication.

      At least.

      What is actually interesting to note that if they had been black and had been doing that, they would most likely have been shot and labeled as dangerous aggressors after the fact.

  1. Your correspondent wrote: “ Also, Jesus never physically assaulted anyone so man-to-man violence can be blatantly condemned.”

    The Bible says: “and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple.“ I’m pretty sure that a Scourge of small cords is not a school bus. So, yes indeed, he did physically assault someone. He also said he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. Revelations is all violence- when it isn’t a drug induced frenzy.

    The premise of your correspondents question is off. I think that is why you’re having trouble giving him an answer.

    My dad used to tell me a story, most of which I Have forgotten. It involves something about getting a jack ass To do what it is supposed to do. The story ended with the man hitting the jack ass on the head with a 2 x 4.The punchline was, “first, you have to get his attention.”

    I don’t approve of violence, vandalism, property destruction, assault, or malicious mischief. I also don’t approve of racism, sexism, religious bigotry, or homophobia.

    But sometimes, you have to get their attention.

    1. Correct on all counts. And, as a side note: the only people Jesus ever physically assaulted were capitalists.

  2. I think we’re getting off easy

    If black people responded to real slights and injustices the way white people respond to imagined ones, the entire country would’ve burned to the ground by now, many times over.

    Instead, the struggle of African-Americans in this country since its inception, has been characterized by a constant battle to save white people from themselves. And I just don’t mean that in the sense that reveling in ignorance and hate are akin to being in Hell, I also mean that literally.

    The simple truth is that despite being affected disproportionately by a host of social and economic issues, the reforms that are being asked for would actually improve and save the lives of a far greater number of white people, in terms of raw numbers.

    This really is a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    1. I have often said the same thing about how heterosexuals and how they have treated us for 2000 years. If the fury so many of us feel at the lies, slanders, Attacks, and blaming us for every single problem in the heterosexual world— if that fury were made manifest, there wouldn’t be a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue left standing anywhere.

      But like good f*ggots, we have mostly, mostly remained peaceful. Armistead Maurin wrote something years ago On this subject, but I don’t have the exact quote handy. It boiled down to Something about gay people confronting homobigotry, and about however far we may go to meet homobigots half way, it is never enough for them. At some point, you have to put your foot down and say ENOUGH.

      We are not like these radical Christians. When we have power we don’t behave like them. I can say with feeling that We will not treat them the way that theywould like to treat us if they had half a chance. We are much more moral than that.

      Our morality is based on love and empathy while they have to use a book which they just go ahead and ignore the moment it becomes difficult.

      Itks positively…Deplorable.

      1. Its not personal you know. I know it is for you, but for them, its not.

        I remember when I was on the other side of the issue. There was a time when I thought homosexuality was a sin, immoral, unnatural, etc. However, since my particular denomination actively refrained from getting involved in political matters, I didn’t see it as something that I had to push onto society as a whole.

        I saw homosexuality as something that was wrong for myself and others who were committed to following the rules of our faith. But we had the understanding and expectation that the world’s rules were not our rules, so from a legal standpoint I did not think homosexuality should be criminalized, the same way having sex outside of marriage wasn’t criminalized either.

        Once I shed the last vestiges of Christianity I had remaining, I briefly reconsidered the issue, and it turns out that I really don’t care about what consenting adults do in the intimacy of their bed. To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people really care either.

        However, they’ve been told by their religious leaders that they have to care, so being terrible to the LGBT community has become a measure of how much of a Christian they are. It really isn’t about the LGBT community at all; its really about seeking validation from their peers and their community at large. Not that it matters in the end; bigotry justified by sincerely held religious beliefs is still bigotry.

        I think this is the hill the Catholic Church is going to die on. They’re just wrong on this issue, and I think they know it, but their own theology has painted them into a corner, rendering them incapable of admitting to error, even as their opinions on the matter continue to sink into irrelevancy.

      2. @3vil

        I didn’t see your posting before. Thank you very much for writing it.

        I have often said what you said. The issue isn’t gay people, the issue is what some heterosexual people think about gay people.

    2. I didn’t find my actual Maupin quote, but I did find what I wrote to expand upon it…

      When you’re gay, and not being directly and enthusiastically tormented by so-called Christians, psychiatrists, policemen, well meaning but completely ignorant and blind moralists or “family values” types, or your own family, you spend your life accommodating the sensibilities of “normal” people, the common sense of people who can’t be bothered to think, let alone ask a question.

      You learn to bury you own feeling and honor theirs, hoping that they will meet you somewhere, anywhere, in between. It becomes your job, and yours alone, to explain, to ignore, and to forgive, over and over again, their transgressions against you, who have done nothing except to exist, and to offend, frighten, or entice them by doing so. There is no way you can get around this. You must do it it if you want to have a life that you can enjoy, and not have it poisoned by the deep well of your own anger. You do it if you want to be a human being.

      But you learn something from this. They are not the enemy. They, too, are victims of the real enemy. That enemy is the closet. The best offense against the real enemy is to live your life without shame, fear or hiding, with authenticity and kindness.


      Back to the present. When I write about the common roots and common expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, THIS is what I am referring to. Even when we are BEING uppity by challenging the status quo, we are expected not to ACT uppity. The upset over being uppity, or loudly uppity, or violently uppity, is exactly the same upset. We don’t know our place.

  3. I used to think non-violence is absolute when protesting. I still believe this, perhaps minus the “absolute.” Colin Kapernick went the non-violent route and the hatred he received was unbelievable. So I’m inclined to say that if property destruction gets people’s attention, what else have we got? Also, pulling down statues of confederate losers, etc. is property destruction AND totally justified IMO.

  4. It is up to us white people to see the racist in us and how we contribute actively or passively to the rage we see acted out by our sisters and brothers of color. We must show them that we are capable of loving their rage rather than trying to suppress it. Rage is the result of not being seen, heard or valued as a person of worth. We relate to ourselves and others through defense mechanisms protecting us from our own self loathing which we then project on to others. We must give rage the ability to speak and be heard otherwise it will be acted out.

  5. Don’t forget the role that white nationalists–hiding behind “Antifa”-labeled Twitter accounts like “@ANTIFA_US”–play in inciting violence and fostering fears of angry urban mobs marching towards mostly white suburbia.

  6. “Just a quick and dirty take that I may revise with more thought or as events unfold.”

    You hit the “Publish” button on July 1, and events had unfolded by then. By “events” I mean “two black teenagers,” and by “unfolded” I mean “been shot to death in CHAZ/CHOP.” That does seem like the kind of development that would warrant some careful thought about the various forms that protests have taken over the past month. Sure, there’s a lot of news and you can’t cover everything. But it is hard to miss that the left’s first experiment in local self-governance after a black male was killed by the authorities resulted in… two black males being killed by the authorities. Thanks be to God that Black Lives Matter to the folks in CHAZ/CHOP, and that the protests, “for the most part,” did not “get out of hand.” Imagine how many black lives CHAZ/CHOP would have ended otherwise.

    I mention this because yours is a Catholic website, and these unfolding events are relevant to a proper Catholic discussion of property damage. For Catholics, property rights are contingent and not absolute. But if we are going to discuss the morality of smashing some corporation’s window because 400 Years of Oppression, we need an understanding not only of the right to property, but of the nature of Authority. Moderns (that is to say, everyone whose morality is informed in a significant way by Enlightenment Liberalism) have a concept of Authority that is metaphysically anti-Realist. Rejecting Nominalism and conforming your understanding of Authority to the teaching of the Church is essential.

    People are dispossessed of their property all the time. This is moral when done by legitimate Authority. The State, for example, is a legitimate Authority that takes some of my property every time I receive a paycheck. The State then spends my money on poor people, who (may) have a moral right to that property. But even if those poor people have a moral right to my property, they are not the competent Authority to dispossess me of it. The State is. In all but the most exceptional and extreme circumstances, poor people don’t have the authority to help themselves to 30% of my paycheck.

    Running property damage through the Just War filter is helpful, as property is always damaged during war. Usually when we’re doing a Just War analysis we blow past the “competent authority” (the “auctoritas principis,” as the Angelic Doctor put it) question. Typically that’s fine; whatever might be said about the stupidity and morality of the U.S. government, there’s little doubt that it’s legitimate. So when you see someone putting a brick through a supermarket window, the first question should be “is this the competent authority to deprive the supermarket’s owners of their property?” The rest of the Just War analysis is helpful, too, but the Authority question will often end the inquiry.

    Back to the two young black men who were killed by the folks who insist that Black Lives Matter: There is a meaningful difference between property damage and murder. I don’t expect you to lose sleep over an easily distributed loss of corporate assets, and you know that depriving a man of his life is far more grave than depriving a man of his property. But there is a connection: the man who destroys the property of others has appointed himself the Authority over that property, and the man who takes the life of another has appointed himself the Authority over that life. The man who pauses before hurling a brick because he understands that it isn’t his place to determine who gets to own property will not think himself the arbiter of who lives and dies.

    That’s a Catholic inquiry into property damage during civil unrest. It’s not a complete discussion of all the issues, but it does address Authority in a way that Enlightenment Liberals, wherever they fall within modern politics, tend not to consider.

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