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The Revd Peter Webb (1940–2022)

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4th April 2022

Will Smith slapped Chis Rock in front of the world’s press last week and the reverberations continue to echo. Ostensibly he did it to defend his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who had just been the target of a joke by Chris Rock about her close-cropped head.

What should Will Smith have done? Rolled his eyes, like Jada herself? Walked out in protest? Nothing at all, since men defending women looks so medieval? Or what he did do – use violence?

Maybe in the face of the extreme violence in Ukraine there’s nothing to see here. But maybe the Will Smith act is clearer to focus on because it is more individual. As Stalin said, ‘one death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic’.

So; is violence ever justified? Pacifists say never, though I guess even some of them are struggling at the moment. Militarists, presumably, make distinctions – offensive versus defensive, justifiable action; proportionate response.

Jesus? ‘Turn the other cheek’ is one of his most famous sayings. The Cross is a symbol of a brutal, widely used, extremely violent punishment.

His followers? It all depends on where you stand. The more you see the Church as a counter-force in the world, witnessing to ‘values that go against’, the less you are likely to condone the use of violence. The more you see the Church as being ‘in but not of’ the world around, the more you are likely to struggle with all the dilemmas that the Will Smith affair, and the Putin playbook throws up. As Jesus also said, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

Michael Docker