“Thou Shalt Not Kill” — God

The Ten Commandments have been drilled into me since I was young. Whether it was Vacation Bible School, religious education or other church-related activity, these 10 “ways of being a good follower of God” have always been part of my life. Unfortunately the fifth commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” seems to have been forgotten.

“NOLA For Life”

I live in New Orleans where violence has been out of control for some time. And the lack of respect for life can be seen on all levels of society — all the way from violent criminals to elected officials who take an oath to serve the community. In my own personal life, I have lost too many family, friends, church members and even youth to violence. I had to move out of the city when my best friend was murdered at the age of 16. It never gets easier. The pain is like a wound being reopened every time I receive a call saying someone was killed. The sad thing is that these calls are happening more and more often in our country today.

Many times, this violence grows from misunderstandings that could have been avoided. Other times it is someone searching for attention. But the one commonality is the lack of respect for life, and for one’s own life. In the news and in our own communities we see stories of young people of different backgrounds shooting up movie theaters or even their own schools. Why does this happen? What are the causes? I think sadly this violence stems from a lack of attention or love. If someone is genuinely loved and appreciated, then they will be less likely to hurt or kill another person. If their fundamental needs are being met then their respect for all other life increases.

Here in New Orleans a movement has begun among elected officials, individuals and the Church to step up to the challenge of growing violence. The city’s NOLA For Life program hopes to “flip the script” and change the messages that black males see about themselves in newspapers and on TV. NOLA For Life shares the positive stories of lives changed and emphasizes that the change starts within each one of us.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans is taking a message against violence into the streets, and specifically into people’s yards. It’s sent out 5,000 yard signs that say, “Thou Shalt Not Kill — God.” The signs show the community that we are all in this together and ground us in fundamental ethical and spiritual values. “If we have thousands of these signs all over the Archdiocese, perhaps someone will have a second thought,” says Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond. In addition we’re called to pray “Our Family Prayer” as we fight what people call the New Battle of New Orleans against murder, violence and racism.

Justice and love

The goal: Face the violence in our community and remind ourselves that murder is not just a problem that affects a specific demographic. Violence in any zip code affects us all. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Such is the case when it comes to violence. Some people disrespect life because their lives have been disrespected. This does not justify killing and violence, but can help us understand ways to address the issue. Let me be clear — this is not just a problem that affects New Orleans or inner cities. Looking at the news we see that violence is taking place all over the world and in all parts of our country.

So, what does our faith teach us? Every life is sacred — from conception to death. No life is expendable since we are all made in the image and likeness of God. God valued life so much that He took the form of a man to make our lives right with Him. We are called to do the same — to reconcile to and be a connection to God and God’s love for all people. Everything we do as people of faith helps us realize who we are but, more importantly, whose we are. When we realize that we are children of God, we think about ourselves differently and we treat others differently. That’s why it’s so important for us to reach out to all of our brothers and sisters and let them hear God’s message of love by any means necessary — even if it is a sign in our yard.

Dr. Ansel Augustine

Dr. Ansel Augustine

Dr. Ansel Augustine is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He is also on the faculty of the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Ansel has worked in ministry for more than 15 years and has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University’s Institute for Ministry, a certificate in youth ministry from Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, and a Doctor of Ministry degree.