So, last time I talked about getting beyond the personal sin/sinner’s prayer ideology of the conservative evangelical interpretation of Christianity to the corporate sin issue of things like systemic racism that needs to be made conspicuous and overcome with the liberal/progressive Christian interpretation. Terry Simon has a helpful quote on this:
The story of Native Americans in the United States is a tragic one. They were enslaved by the conquistadores, massacred by U.S. soldiers and cheated out of their lands by shifty politicians, and native children were taken from their families to strip them of their culture and language. As I have learned more about their story, I felt ashamed for this part of our country’s history. I felt as if I personally had done wrong to these people. For some reason I also felt guilty.
Why should I feel guilty about something that happened long ago? I certainly had no part in any of the tragic events. But I was collectively feeling the pain of the native peoples and the guilt of those who caused the pain. I venture to guess it is guilt for years of corporate sin.
So what is corporate sin? Corporate sin is something Christians struggle to understand and ultimately be accountable for. We tend to focus on our own personal sin and forget about corporate sin. Corporate sin does not mean something that corporations do, though they too commit sin. Corporate sin is a sinful act done by many to others.
In the Scriptures there are numerous examples of corporate sin. One example we read is in the book of Exodus (Chapter 32). As the Israelites waited for the return of Moses from Mount Sinai, they lost faith. They constructed a golden calf, an idol, which was an affront to God. Together they made the decision to worship a false god, and together they had to atone for it.
Some examples of corporate sin are racism, discrimination, misogyny and genocide. There’s also the sin of injustice and inequality, whereby people are held in poverty by sinful systems of government or economics. There is corporate sin all around us. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we hear, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23.)
This Sunday marks the first Sunday of Lent. It is a time when many Christians practice the traditional disciplines of fasting, praying and alms giving. Sin is often the topic of sermons and personal reflection during the Lenten season. During this Lenten season I invite you to reflect on the ways you participate in corporate sin.
What are some of the corporate sins being committed today? Look around. Take, for example, the sin of discrimination and racism. Do you condone it by your silence? Do you speak out when someone makes a racist comment, tells a racist joke, or is made to feel unwelcome because of their skin color or accent?
What about the corporate sin of governmental injustice? Do you recognize that laws are not always applied fairly to the indigent or the poor? Do you work to change those laws or advocate on behalf of the poor? Martin Luther King Jr. and other philosophers before him said that for evil to succeed, all it needs is for good people to do nothing.
And, in fact, I think this is the exact message of the cross: In really seeing ourselves in those who abandoned and wrongfully killed Jesus, this in Paul’s language circumcises our hearts to reveal the law written on it and inspire guilt and action – following the prophecy of Jeremiah.
On a superficial level, the Jesus story is just another iteration of the various savior cults that were around at the time, but if we push through this we see a Socratic/Jewish level of transforming oneself and the world: “You heard it said love God and neighbor, but I say love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” It is the goal of transforming enemies (the soldier at the cross in Mark and Luke), not just defeating them with might, which shows the contrast of the “peace through justice of Jesus” with the “peace through victory” of Caesar/Rome. As I said last time, it was Plato’s interpretation of noble Socrates’s unjust death that changed the world: so, civilized society no longer executes someone for being a gadfly/nuisance. It is when we start to really see the unjustness and illegality of the death of God’s specially chosen Jesus who was seemingly destined to restore the Davidic Throne but instead brutally tortured and killed as a lowly criminal can we penetrate to the real meaning there.