They met in the park. They prayed for guidance. Then they called an alleged drug dealer to come out and face them – another of their sons had been violently beaten; they wanted answers.
When he refused, they marched to the known gang house in the area and tore down the gates before pelting the house with bricks. The dealer and his mob ran away.
These were the scenes this past Sunday in a community who had enough, scenes at the cusp of a new year.
For local communities struggling to rid themselves of this poison, the toxic reality of gang violence again saw out the old year and ushers in the new – as if to say that this reality is a permanent one. While others celebrate the promise of a new year, here, faced with fear and hopelessness, it must seem there is no escape.
In such a context, the contradictory behaviours of prayer and protest take on a new meaning and interplay.
As an expression of faith, prayer is not, as a rule, considered a catalyst for tearing down walls, but rather for building bridges.
The notion of “righteous indignation” defines the relationship of prayer and protest as meaningful when a community draws its strength to act against injustice from a faith-inspired moral code – anger considered as justified when peace, not anger, is the actual tenet of faith the community, as a rule, must follow.
Its purpose is deep change, an end to violent acts of injustice and a return to dignity, peace and virtue. Righteous anger has restraint; it is not reckless; it does not sustain the disorder that begets violence.
Righteous anger is not rage. “Rage”, at the worst end of a continuum of anger, enlarges and sensualises the real struggle of a community to achieve freedom; it makes the struggle a drama for the world it considers an audience.
Rage is the lifeblood of the vigilante – a performance for public power. Its argument is that in a world that defines itself by hierarchies of power, methods to render others powerless offer the solutions to the evil it claims to want to uproot.
Whereas rage sustains the social dynamics of power and powerlessness that mark continuous violence, as between gangs and communities, righteous anger aims to intervene and disrupt set ways of doing things.
Rage by victimised communities reproduces the hierarchy of threat and fear with which gangs rule.
Rage wants to achieve only one thing: to change places with the powerful in a social dynamic that never changes.
When this happens, it reveals that the community itself has internalised the dynamics of power, threat and fear, and as a result sees no other way to uproot evil than to employ its tools.
This one sentence in a news report on what seemingly was a violent response by a community who’ve had enough, “We first prayed for guidance”, indicates that righteous indignation, rather than rage, fed this protest.
Most importantly, this means that faith played a vital role in both activating the agency of a community and restraining its anger in the face of injustice.
What this protest by this community then shows is not that hopelessness and victimhood ushered in the New Year, but that the victory of the righteous is certain.
- Rudi Buys is the executive dean and dean of humanities at Cornerstone Institute.