In light of the violent and tragic events that have occurred in Charlottesville, VA a dear friend asked me what can one person do “on a regular basis to fight racism and some of what’s going on in this country/world?” It is sad and frightening what is going on in our country and what we see happening in our world. We must reaffirm that there is no place for bigotry, prejudice and violence in our country, our world and in our hearts as Christians and, I think, we must do this as we also reaffirm and in many ways, rediscover, the value and unique power of Christian community.
In Matthew 18:15-20, we read that our Lord gives his disciples some instructions on the reality and role of Christian community. “If your brother sins against you,” our Lord says, then go and tell him the fault, if he fails to listen then take one or two others along with you and if he still refuses to listen then tell the Church and if he fails to listen even to the Church, “then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” It is worthy to note that Jesus often entered into relationship with the Gentile and tax collector throughout his ministry and that he sought their healing and salvation. Jesus then gives to the community the authority to bind and loose. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Our Lord then doubles down on the unique power and authority of the church community. “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The power of the Christian Church, the power of our Christian faith, is a weak power. We do not have the force of arms or military or police might, neither do we have economic or even (in our increasingly secular age) social might. What we do have is the presence of Christ in our midst and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This alone is that power that can bind and loose and that can open and call forth the grace of heaven through prayer.
Like many people, I have viewed the imaged coming out of Charlottesville including the video that recorded and interviewed a group of white supremacists during these sad and horrendous days. I was truly shocked by the vitriol, hatred and anger expressed by these people and I was also extremely saddened for them because I saw people locked in fear and hate. Theirs is a pseudo-community. Despite the bravado and the appeals to white unity there is no community there. They are people locked in a sad echo chamber stoked by the negative isolation of social media, resentment, fear and ignorance. They are imprisoned in their hate.
To this pseudo-community we are called to be community in Christ – the only community that can both bind and loose and here is found our unique and weak strength. Because Christ is with us and the Holy Spirit has been given us we can both bind and loose. Through the living of Christian community, we can work to truly bind those forces in society and in the human heart that seek to separate and isolate each one of us in resentment and fear. Through the living of Christian community, we can even help to loose those brothers and sisters who have become bound and imprisoned by resentment and fear. This has been my prayer and my hope since I have viewed those sad images coming out of Charlottesville. Pseudo-community only leads to a sad mockery and false caricature of true community as well as human dignity. All the pseudo-communities of our time must be met by the true community of the disciples gathered in prayer, truth and the mercy and the grace known in Christ.
In Christian community we are united by the presence of Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are also united in the recognition that we are all sinners who stand in need of a savior. Scriptures tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). This is the dynamic of true Christian community – not a community where everyone looks the same and thinks the same – but a community where we come to know the perfect love of Christ and where we are set free from those fears that bind us. Christian community is a community of sinners being set free by the perfect love of Christ!
There are many sad and broken things that lie at the root of the violence and hatred given expression in Charlottesville the past few days. One of these, I believe, is a crisis of true community in our society. People are isolated, people are lost, there is pain, uncertainty and fear and in such circumstances the false appeal of pseudo-community can be strong and alluring. This is all the more reason for us to strive in humility, love and grace to be Church – the community where Christ is present and where the Holy Spirit is given and the only true community that has the power to bind and to loose.