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Behind the Violence

August 30, 2022
By Paul Emmel
A clipping from the Start Tribune newspaper
An August 21 clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes the rapid increase in the city's violent crime.


 One of America's most livable major cities, Minneapolis, is now becoming among the most violent. Although the same trend is true from coast to coast, citizens of Minneapolis take little comfort that their violence is not unique. Violent crime negatively impacts community life from corporate to personal dimensions. It is difficult to discuss underlying causes in seminars while lives are being endangered on the streets.

Nevertheless, there is one aspect of urban violence that is being ignored by the media and political leaders: the spiritual roots of murder, robbery and corrosive corruption.  Upstream from violence is a disdain and ignorance of the Laws of God as detailed in the 10 Commandments, particularly the Fifth Commandment: "YOU SHALL NOT MURDER".  (Exodus 20:13)

The central thought of this commandment is that God has created us to care about other people and to help them in their time of need. Or, as Martin Luther explained in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and support him in every physical need".

In other words, at the heart of America's crippling problem of violence is a willful and ignorant disobedience of God's will toward life itself. God creates, preserves and protects all life. He is caring and compassionate toward all He has made and He calls us to be so also. He forbids acting violently or abusively toward a child or spouse, engaging in reckless and self-destructive behavior. He forbids hating, despising and slandering other groups of people (prejudice, racism, and so forth).

As long as America continues to ignore and disobey The Fifth Commandment, few of its laws, legislation, law enforcement and government programs will make a dent on its overwhelming problem of violence. I regard this as a realistic prediction, certainly not progressive.

That does not mean that just laws and enforcement are unimportant but that they are very limited in restraining violence at the heart of the matter. The law restrains and accuses its citizens; it does not give them new hearts. Civil governments simply lack the ability to regenerate selfless thinking and behavior. I have witnessed this principle for 30 years in our prison system.

Nor should we expect people of little or no faith to suddenly have high regard and respect for God Law or will.  The responsibility of the Church is to preach and teach God's Law to the extent that followers seek repentance, new hearts and minds, so that the power of the Gospel can enable them to obey The Fifth Commandment.

Sadly, many churches neglect this function of the Law and focus on "other things" while their membership continues to disobey the Commandment in its subtler forms. Thus, they become part of the problem of violence in America rather than part of its solution. There is a special judgment reserved for such "churchly" neglect.

My urgent appeal is for people to stop and desist from viewing the problem of violence simply by its symptoms. Rather, deal with the ultimate cause behind it. Otherwise, we continue to get what we've always got: more of the same and it will only continue to get worse.

Paul Emmel

August 28, 2022
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.