We pretend that we all agree that genocide is wrong, but I don’t think it’s true.
If we agreed that genocide was wrong, would we still be teaching it in Sunday Schools? How many children still hear the stories of Joshua “conquering” the promised land as a great, God-given victory? In some churches, it might even be said that Joshua was ordered (by God!) to kill all the inhabitants (including the elderly and women and children) because of their wickedness.
So, apparently, what many of us believe is: it’s wrong to kill lots of people unless we think God commands it for some “good” reason. If people have cultural practices that are different than ours, and possibly different in ways that are more barbaric than our own, then we can slaughter them? Is that it?
Of course, on an individual level, if someone believed that it was ok to kill people if God ordered it, we would consider that person dangerously, mentally ill.
If we agreed that genocide was wrong, would we continue to celebrate Christopher Columbus as the “discoverer” of America? The genocidal practices under his leadership are still largely swept under the rug by many. Why do we minimize it? Because he had permission (encouragement?) from popes and royalty? So, then, do some of us believe: it’s wrong to wipe out a people unless your own culture and leaders give their blessing?
As long as we cling stubbornly to a defense or minimization of clearly genocidal moments in our history, we shouldn’t be surprised when some politicians want to emphasize that there was an “abundance of good” in Canada’s residential schools or when church leaders drag their heels on repudiating the “Doctrine of Discovery” or when we engage in all manner of foreign policy that still results in the mass death of civilians overseas.
it’s just as wrong when it’s Joshua or Columbus as it is when it’s Hitler
We won’t get rid of these things by assuming that we are collectively outgrowing these genocidal tendencies. I don’t think that we should stop talking about Joshua or Columbus. I’m glad that the Bible has not omitted the stories of such horrors, but we must be very careful about how we read and teach them. We need to face the sources of shame in our own traditions and learn from our mistakes. We need to see how easy it is to be convinced that God is on our side when we commit horrid atrocities. We need to stop defending any example of genocide.
I hope that we will come to more clarity about genocide so that we can collectively agree that genocide is always wrong – that it’s just as wrong when it’s Joshua or Columbus as it is when it’s Hitler.