When Jesus appeared before his disciples after his resurrection, they were terrified. They thought he had returned to exact the same kind of justice standard for the ancient world: vengeance. Instead of violent reprisal, Jesus said, “Shalom.” This greeting was more than a cessation of violence, it was a declaration of a new world order of harmony based on nonviolence and the imitation of Jesus. It was a statement that no space existed between the two parties for all were united in love.
I saw that same Shalom when I spoke with Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and a rising leader on the forefront of the new civil rights movement. That harmony was manifested through our common desire to imitate Jesus as our highest role model for a new vision of neighborly ethics for society.
From the start, Hawk informed me that his mission is to call people to enact love by seeking justice beyond racial, partisan, or class divisions. His leadership in Black Lives Matter finds him confronting cases dealing with questions of police brutality, racial profiling, and mass incarceration. But his Christian-grounded approach transcends boundaries that have derailed these challenges. His desire to see all life as sacred was felt in a recent widely shared speech where he treated Trump voters with Christian love.
Although they share crossover interests, his local organization is not formerly affiliated with the larger Black Lives Matter global group. Tea Party attendees, libertarian activists, and Trump voters all know what it is like for people to unfairly pre-judge individuals based on the sins (alleged or real) of others using those banners. Likewise, it's important for conservatives and libertarians to extend the same presumption of goodwill to Mr. Newsome and his efforts rather than judge him by the actions or statements of every voice that has used the Black Lives Matter mantra.
Hawk and I found common ground in taking our faith seriously. We believe Jesus calls us to imitate his ethic of nonviolence in the way we view justice and law. We believe when Jesus said, “Do not resist evil with violence,” that meant something real that we should consider every time we go into the secrecy of the voting booth or jury box.
The path forward that will unite conservative Christians, libertarians, and African Americans is the practical guidepost of imitating Jesus. With it, we can move past endless arguments over the motivations and intentions of particular police officers in violent situations with African Americans and solve solutions based on a principle on which we should all agree.
If there is no victim, there is no crime.
This principle is common sense when we take the group think of politics out of the way. As individuals, we know what real violence is and we have an intuitive moral sense that such acts should be met with defensive force to stop them.
As individuals, if we saw a person being burglarized, assaulted, or attempts thereof, we would be morally right to use defensive force to restrain the attacker. Likewise, if we saw someone trying to defraud another person with a fake product—like beachfront property in Nebraska or selling mayonnaise as Vitamin C—we would again understand that defensive force can be used to stop said behavior. So whatever we know to be right to physically restrain as individuals can be enshrined as law for society to use defensive force to stop as well.
Anything else is anti-law. Making a law against anything else only results in moral chaos, resentment, disintegration of the family, and alienated tribalism. Once we cede the moral principle that we can hire a politician or go along with a jury and enforce a law that uses the violence of the state—armed police and prison cages—to correct a nonviolent, victimless act, we give the state a power which always becomes arbitrary, divisive, and tyrannical.
For example, we lose the moral authority and legal precedent to prevent laws criminalizing unpopular speech when we maintain laws that put drug users, consensual adult sex workers, gamblers, raw milk sellers, or drivers with broken tail lights in human cages.
Prison cells are a social version of the same physical restraints we naturally use against violence. So when we abuse them for other types of nonviolent sins or vices, we end up bearing false witness against our neighbors. Actions speak louder than words. And when a community places a human being in a cage (with no proper protection from actual violent offenders), we are performing a lie. We are treating them as if they have done something which warrants sending agents trained to use deadly force, kidnapping them from their families, and caging them with barbed wires and gun towers. In other words, we are resisting evil with violence.
In other words, when we keep victimless crime laws on the books we are rejecting the ethics of Jesus.
I know most of us have not been taught to deconstruct the nature of law in this way. And so we must have grace and patience with people as they are confronted with this reality. But once we see this truth we have an obligation to act on it.
Luckily, the Founding Fathers—though sometimes deeply flawed in execution—agreed with our desire for a society based on nonviolence. They believed government only existed to protect our life, liberty, and property. In other words, if there is no victim, there should be no law abridging liberty. So they created a jury system with the ability to strike down or nullify bad laws which were immoral acts of violence.
Jury nullification was famously used by Christians to nonviolently resist the enforcement of the fugitive slave laws. Christians knew their conscience could not stand forcing an innocent human being into captivity. Likewise, we can imitate Jesus and follow our Founders' legal vision by voting “Not Guilty” on trials in which a human being faces prison captivity for a nonviolent, victimless act.
No one who takes Jesus's expectations seriously thinks they get a pass if a crowd of other people say its okay.
Jesus told the crowd trying to punish the woman accused of adultery, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” This challenge forced each person to snap out of the violent group think suppressing their moral clarity to see the ugliness of their desire. Without a faceless crowd to hide in, each person had to come face to face with the morality of using violence against a person for a nonviolent vice.
Adultery has destroyed more families than any drug ever has and yet Jesus saw no need for force to restore the woman. How much more so should we use nonviolent accountability and therapy for our neighbors.
If Christian conservatives want to build a lasting coalition of liberty for the future, we must join hand in hand with our African American brothers concerned about the mass incarceration of millions of persons for nonviolent acts. If we want a society that does not use state violence to force nonviolent business decisions, limit our healthcare choices, or censor free speech, we must defend the principle of no victim, no crime now.
No more scapegoats. No more blame shifting. No more ignoring Jesus. No more resisting victimless vices with violence. We do not need to scapegoat police. Nor do we need to send them into no-win situations where they must enforce useless laws against nonviolent behaviors. If the police report cannot name a victim, we as a society should have never asked a police officer to write it.
We can set a legal and moral precedent for our future that saves the republic and heals the racial division and broken families that our addiction to victimless crime laws create. When we refuse to vote for officials in both parties and use our jury right to nullify abusive laws, we will destroy the drug cartels that only exist due to prohibition laws, restore mothers and fathers to their vulnerable children, and set a cycle of reciprocal mercy and solidarity that will transform our neighborhoods forever.
Let's get to work.