The sin of the community

Buried in the “flyover country” of the Pentateuch are laws regarding community responsibility when an unsolved murder took place.

In Deuteronomy 21:1-9 there are stipulations for what a community is to do should a murdered body be found and there isn’t a suspect. The nearest community was responsible and there was a sacrificial ritual to perform. It acknowledged the loss of the family and it acknowledged that quite probably one of their own was responsible.

Raymond Brown writes in a commentary on Deuteronomy:

The town’s leaders had not committed the murder but all the people felt the pain and guilt of it. The murdered man’s suffering family was part of the local community; innocent children had been robbed of a father, a widow was destitute. The sin which started in one man’s heart was spreading like an ugly disease through the entire body. Everybody felt the pain of it. It is an emotional response not confined to the ancient world, though they may well have felt it more acutely than we do.

[Brown, R. (1993). The Message of Deuteronomy: Not by Bread Alone. (J. A. Motyer & D. Tidball, Eds.) (p. 204). England: Inter-Varsity Press.]

This kicks against our “rugged individualism” in American lore. But this isn’t just an ancient text. It is a true mentality and we fail to recognize it. We are so quick to say, “Well, I didn’t personally own slaves…” or, “Well, I personally didn’t murder anyone…” and be done.

We wrap our theology with the cloak of American individuality and somehow that makes it all go away.

But we are still struggling with racism. We are still struggling with unjust systems and we are far too willing to say, “Well, that’s in THAT county… or THAT state… we don’t have those problems here.”

We must step up. All of us. As believers. Our personal “guilt” isn’t the issue. The integrity of the community is at stake.

Go beyond the very brief grief displayed over the injustice of the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. Go through the hard work of following the case and making sure the men responsible are held accountable. Go through the hard work of looking at how Arbery’s death was swept under the rug for two months and see the culture around the case that allowed for it. Expose it.

Do. Not. Stop.

This is about the WHOLE… and not just one case… and not just you.

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