Tonight I heard a message on the prophetic book of Obadiah. That Obadiah would be called a book is strangely humorous because it is only 21 verses- the entire book! Nevertheless, the teacher of the lesson tied Obadiah to the theme of corporate guilt, corporate responsibility, and corporate punishment. Basically, if you don’t know those terms, it is thinking about sin not just as personal sin but also thinking about sins we commit as groups of people, and how we are judged together as groups. In Obadiah, the entire nation of Edom is judged for what surely were the sins of some but not all. In Obadiah, the entire nation is responsible for the actions of its people. In Obadiah, the nation of Israel receives the land of Edom, not only select individuals. Thus, corporate guilt and corporate responsibility reminds us today that we don’t only sin individually. Rather, things that are done in our midst as a country and as a church we ALL are responsible for. I think this idea is powerful and critical for us to truly act out what it means to be the kingdom and people of God. But I must clarlify these statements.
Some people, Christian people, would believe that things like homosexuality or abortion are flashpoints for God’s judgment on America. Some people even protest at the funerals of soldiers saying so or claim that a hurricane or 9/11 are judgments on America. Surely God does judge our actions as a people, but we are horribly blind if we only attach judgment to such behaviors as homosexuality or abortion, one of which I don’t even have a problem with and the other is complex (you’ll have to guess or ask me which is which). What about the massive levels of poverty in our country? What about the self-indulgent lifestyles of Christians or Americans or both in buying whatever we can and justifying our love of possessions by “attempts at happiness”? What about our vast colonial like actions as a country that arrogantly decides who should be invaded and who shouldnt and who is good and who isn’t? What about our actions as a country to have a military base everywhere outside of our borders? What about our actions in turning a blind eye to the drug addiction in our culture? What about our fear and resultant fear mongering and brutalities against poorer blacks, immigrants, and Muslims? These things that happen surely qualify as things that we are guilty of as a group of people, even though they are done by individuals. I believe that we are judged indiviually for such actions in the Last Judgment but that God also provides humbling judgments about whole groups of people in life now. Two different judgments. And I believe that both exist, not one or the other. Some people usually identify homosexuality or abortion, but those are only narrow things that I would argue have minimal effects on communities as a whole compared to some of those other things.
The second qualifier is the difference between corporate (communal) punishment and guilt. When we sin as a group of people, we carry a corporate guilt that we confess and seek forgiveness for. Yet, it is not our place to name God’s judgment within those situations. It is only our place to claim that we have sinned and that we seek forgiveness for our arrogance, our selfishness, our brutality…whatever it may be. So, perhaps God was judging us as a country in the event of 9/11- but I don’t know that and no one ever will. Rather than claim it is God’s judgment on us and arrogantly claim that we know God’s mind and heart, we rather claim that there are sins we commit as a people that God judges somehow, someway, and in some fashion in the world. This approach I like favors starting with corporate guilt as a means of repentance and re-centering on God, rather than using corporate punishment and arrogantly claiming knowledge of God that sets the speaker above all the rest of the people. It is a way of claiming that we sin rather than claiming that you sin- and it starts with saying that I don’t know how God judges, but that he does judge our nation or our church and then genuinely searching out our actions for places we may need to repent. That is the way we maintain our integrity as a group of people devoted to the common purpose of the kingdom of God- by not trying to throw others under the bus of judgment.
So, as you can tell, I think corporate guilt is important, and thus, I feel that corporate responsibility- the responsibility of the people as a whole to do good, act justly, and walk humbly- is critical too as part of being faithful. No matter what, we definitiely miss the kingdom if we neglect how important the community is to God and our faith- it is never just about my personal relationship with Jesus, but is about both mine AND OUR relationship with the Lord.