The tense campus is University of California at Davis, site of the now-viral images of a university peace officer casually pepper-spraying a row of sitting and apparently peaceful demonstrators on 18 November. The chaplain is the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, who was called in to campus the following day to defuse a tense situation outside the administration building. A group of students, feeling excluded from a press conference being held by the university chancellor, had gathered and the administration staff were feeling threatened and excluded.

Chaplain Stoneking was able to act as an interlocutor between the two groups, escorted the chancellor from the building, and descalated a potentially tense situation.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi walks with Rev. Stoneking past silent protesters as she leaves her office at the campus in Davis, California November 19, 2011. (BRIAN NGUYEN – REUTERS)

On her blog, Chaplain Stoneking wrote this:

What was clear to me was that once again, the students’ willingness to show restraint kept us from spiraling into a cycle of violence upon violence. There was no credible threat to the Chancellor, only a perceived one. The situation was not hostile. And what was also clear to me is that whether they admit it or not, the administrators that were inside the building are afraid. And exhausted. And human. And the suffering that has been inflicted is real. The pain present as the three of us watched the video of students being pepper sprayed was palpable. A society is only truly free when all persons take responsibility for their actions; it is only upon taking responsibility that healing can come.

Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that “just means lead to just ends” and my actions offered dignity not harm.

I like this story because I believe it points to a function that all chaplains have the potential to fulfil, namely witnessing to our common humanity and values. As the Occupy movement becomes taken up in ideological talk of class warfare by both sides (note the perception of militarization in the linked articles), we need voices to pull us back from dehumanizing and demonizing one another. MP+