Do Not Avert your Gaze

Along the Way Published 02/12/2020
by Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

In the age of cellphones and social media, it has never been easier for people to film and capture live images of arguments, violence, and disasters occurring in real-time. From the murders of unarmed Black people by law enforcement to confrontations over wearing masks in public places to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by extremists attempting to prevent the certification of the U.S. Presidential election, we have been made witnesses to the violent underbelly of our culture, politics, and law enforcement.

While we have known that such dangers have always been present around us, thanks to viral video clips, we are no longer allowed the benefit of plausible deniability about white supremacist violence or misconduct by law enforcement. Viral video clips are revealing some inconvenient truths about us. These truths are creating discomfort and anxiety that will only grow as we see more.

But we cannot avert our gaze.

The rise of viral videos is a form of truth-telling that is not easily denied. Clips of law enforcement violence against unarmed Black people; rallies of angry mobs with cheering insults and invectives aimed at women, immigrants, and people of color; and armed white supremacists overrunning legislative houses are telling truths that shatter our myths of exceptionalism and unimpeded progress that we’ve relied on to assure us all is well.

In the Gospels, Jesus’ ministry was all about seeing and truth-telling. He did not look away, rationalize, or accommodate the poverty, injustice, and dispossession of the most vulnerable around him. He did not avert his gaze from people’s suffering at the hands of the elites and the empire. On the contrary, the Gospel writers recount stories of him stopping at the scene of suffering, directly intervening in the most tragic of circumstances, and confronting the dangers of his culture and time to serve even when it was dangerous or inconvenient. Jesus did not avert his gaze from the ugliness around him, nor did he hide from the truth about the injustice and violence oppressing the people.

I know the violence we are seeing throughout social media is unsettling and traumatizing. I do not advise seeking it out as a matter of practice. However, we should not be willfully uninformed or unmoved by what is going on.

I suspect that much of the anxiety, resentment, and uncertainty many feel about race, law enforcement, and the pace of cultural and political change arises from the loss of innocence that comes with the exposure of the extent of the hate and violence plaguing vulnerable communities. But we need more truth-telling if we are ever going to confront inequality, white supremacy, and disenfranchisement. We cannot look away from the oppression, exploitation, and domination that distort personhood and rob people of their dignity.

I know it hurts the eyes, but do not avert your gaze.