One of the most interesting topics in our world today is the role the Internet and mobile communications play in creating community. Much of the world is connected through these two means. We can talk with, text, and message people around the world 24-hours a day for free. We can obtain information about very obscure or specific topics with a few clicks. This is a truly amazing development in human history!
We must ponder, however, if people are actually experiencing positive community as never before in human history. In theory, people who have consistent access to the Internet and mobile communications should be able to be a part of uplifting communities with relative ease. Yet, as much as the Internet and mobile devices can create life-giving groups, they are also fertile ground for negative, destructive, and death-giving groups. ISIS, white-supremacists, xenophobes, pedophiles, body-shaming, just to name a few, have all created thriving cancerous communities via the Internet and mobile devices.
Rejecting the Depraved
All humans need positive, supportive, life-affirming, and loving community, even (or perhaps, especially) those who identify with corrosive and corrupting communities. Unfortunately, followers of Christ have often chosen to look at humanity through the lens of depravity instead of through the lens of the image of God. This lens has given many in the Church justification to give up on and avoid these damaging communities. This emphasis on (depraved) Nature, causes many to completely disregard the role that (destructive) Nurture plays in birthing individuals who ultimately populate communities dedicated to negativity.
The choice to focus on depravity is a convenient worldview that creates an “us/them” dichotomy, which then leads to a convenient justification for inaction, and worse. Ironically, this separating the world into us/them by many Christians is the same philosophy that these detrimental communities employ to promote their worldviews. When we can’t empathize with others (empathizing is not endorsing/condoning), then they become worthless to us and we don’t care what happens to them. We don’t mind if they are harmed physically or emotionally because, in our mind, they deserve it. Torture them, beat them, rape them, steal their belongings, throw them in prison, destroy their homes, place them in ghettos, create economic systems that oppress them, pimp them out, sell them drugs, prevent them from participating in politics, experiment on them, give them inadequate education, kill them – they’re damned anyway.
Jesus understood and acknowledged individual, group, systemic, and cosmic levels of evil. Yet, he also attempted to redeem, rebirth, and re-create them so as to remind them of their true origin in God. Jesus could empathize with those engaging in (self and other) destructive activities, but he never condoned their behaviors. He held them accountable while still retaining their divine worth.
Engaging the Outcasts
Jesus created positive community by engaging people in the home and/or around the table, by healing people who had been ostracized by their community, and by re-imagining societal/religious structures that had become destructive for the community. Unlike Jesus, we Christians often choose to disengage from, vilify, and disregard certain people/groups in our communities. “They’re bad people.” “That’s the bad side of town”.” “They’ve tried for years to make that place better, but it won’t ever get better.” “They disgust me.” “I’m scared of them – all you see about them on the news is negative.” “They get what they deserve.” “It’s their fault they’re in the situation they’re in.” “It’s useless to invest in that place; many have tried and it never works.” “The whole system is broken, and I can’t fix an entire system, so it’s not worth the effort.” “I didn’t create the problem, so why should I have to fix it”?
Jesus is cited as telling a story about a Jewish person who had been robbed, beaten, and left to die in a remote place. Two Jewish religious figures avoided this fellow Jewish person in need. A Samaritan person, someone whose culture had conflict with Jewish culture, helped this Jewish person, however. The Samaritan helped by performing first aid, placing the beaten person on a donkey, taking him to place of safety and recovery, feeding him, and offering to pay for further expenses to aid in recovery. Jesus told this story in response to a question that essentially asked, “To which groups of people should I be kind?” The story essentially told this curious person, “You should be kind to those who are in need, no matter if you like them or not.” Jesus’ instructions to this curious person at the end of their conversation were to imitate the Samaritan and help those who need help. Do not base your choice to help on whether you like that person/group or not. May it be for us also.