A Teenager’s Murder And The Promise Of Religious Communities

goldenrulebydermetzgermeisterwj7-300x225The news on April 22, 2011 carried an item about a Florida teen who was lured to his death by a scorned girlfriend. Upon their breakup, the 15-year old boy had threatened to burn down the girl’s house with all her family in it. Claiming via text she wanted to get back together, he was asked to meet her at a friend’s house.

What followed is the kind of horrific story that haunts, confuses, and leaves one searching for explanations. Upon his arrival, several male friends of the girl ambushed the boy. First he was shot several times with a .22 caliber revolver.  Surviving this, the boy tried to escape only to be clubbed by an ax handle, and stuffed in a sleeping bag. His knees were broken to make him fit. Still the boy was alive, and so he was shot once again. The sleeping bag was then dragged to a backyard fire pit where the body of the boy was burned for several hours. Finally, one of the teen killers called upon his father to come and help them dispose of the boy’s ashes and bone fragments, which had been placed in paint cans.

A County Police Officer described these events as “an unimaginable act.” Six teens had come together to kill this boy. “It’s is not something you expect to happen anywhere, particularly in Marion County. We’re a religious community.”

The nature of the police officer’s shock gives pause. Whatever he considered to be the nature of a ‘religious community’ had not lived up to his expectations. Members of at least six families had taken part in this premeditated murder. The disconnect felt by the Officer is one we are all left to contemplate. A question that arises is exactly what do we mean when we call our community’s religious?

One thing is clear—in the officer’s mind, religion and violence were antithetical notions. Assured that his community shared his belief, he was left wondering how this brutal crime could be possible? Three answers come to mind. First, perhaps the community wasn’t as religious as he assumed. Second, religious notions are too easily suspended when passions are aroused. Third, the community is religious, but didn’t see violence as antithetical to its beliefs.

All the great religions hallmark what we have come to define as ‘The Golden Rule.’ Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon tells us to, “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” Leviticus 19:18 admonishes us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Christianity quotes Christ’s, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Buddhism asks us to, “Put ourselves in the place of another.”

Still, as clearly as this mandate is stated, we too often find religion walking the razor’s edge on this topic. When members outside one’s group are continually defined as infidels, heretics, unworthy of  heaven, or unclean, we have set the stage for violence. When religion supports oppression of people with different beliefs, it has tacitly approved of their dehumanization.

This is not to say that religion had any active hand in the events that led to the murder of this teenage boy in Florida. However, it is to say that if religions teach us that dehumanization of our fellow man is acceptable under certain circumstances, we will interpret this to best advantage when the need arises.

The Golden Rule of all religions does not leave us with loopholes. Just as peacebuilding calls for a rejection of violence, religion must call for eschewing intolerance, which in turn leads to violence. The foundation for this was  firmly laid millennia ago. It is up to us to assure that our religions live up to their promise. What better time to reaffirm these beliefs as Passover and Easter are celebrated this week.

“Teen Lured To A Date With Death” (April 22, 2011) New York Post http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/teen_lured_to_date_with_death_eebJXogyWMCEzDVJy1fqlL

by William Repicci

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