for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
--Romans 3:23 NIV
In recent weeks, my 14 year-old son and I have taken to watching the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer together. Thankfully, he has good taste and appreciates Buffy for the masterpiece it is. It’s been thrilling for me to return to Sunnydale, the fictional California town where Buffy and her friends encounter vampires, demons and other creatures of evil.
I draw comfort from Buffy patrolling one of Sunnydale’s way too many cemeteries (the town is located over the mouth of Hell after all). Inevitably, a vampire or three appear, fisticuffs ensue, and Buffy vanquishes each of them with a wooden stake to the heart. The show’s twenty year-old special effects mostly still hold up as each staked vampire turns to dust with a satisfying sound effect.
If only evil were that easy to destroy.
The fun in good overcoming evil as seen in popular entertainment, whether it’s the outlaw wearing the black hat being slowest on the draw or the Death Star blowing up, is the simplicity. Good wins, evil loses and that’s all folks! Real life evil is much more difficult to ferret out, because usually it wears a mask of goodness. T.S. Eliot wrote, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” Similarly, Hannah Arendt who wrote about the Nazis after World War II (remember when we all agreed Nazis were bad?) noted, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
Growing up Southern Baptist, I was taught the “Plan of Salvation,” a list of Bible verses mostly taken out of context which explained why one needed to “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” One of the first verses on the list was Romans 3:23 which declares “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Despite this shared understanding of all people as sinners no exceptions, inevitably some sins, and therefore some sinners, were worse than others. Abortion, homosexuality and voting for Democrats were the unholy trinity of sins preachers would rail against. Of course, my twitter feed today is filled with plenty of Christians of a more progressive bent who have their favorite sinners too. It’s a lot more fun to point out evil in others than acknowledge it in oneself.
Christian theologians and ethicists, at least the responsible kind, point out that most evil in the world is of the systemic variety. Rather than individual sins, such as lying, cheating and stealing, the bulk of sin results from our corporate actions or inactions. It’s not so easy to drive a stake in the heart of racism, climate change, violence, poverty, hunger, corruption and exploitation. Thirty-Five years ago in his book Saying Yes and Saying No, Robert McAfee Brown wrote:
While there may be differing degrees of direct involvement in evil, rendering some more guilty than others, there is no point at which any of us may claim total exemption. Some are directly guilty, for example, of the ongoing humiliation of people of color—they pass antiracial laws, or they refuse to enforce existing nondiscriminatory racial antagonism, or they speak and write against minority groups. While some are directly guilty of such things, all are responsible for their continuing. Those who acquiesce in the evil done by others bear responsibility for that evil. Those who remain quiet when the demagogue speaks give their support to the demagogue. Those who remain indifferent to the quiet voices of hatred encourage such voices to speak more loudly.
Unfortunately, most of the evil in the world can’t be destroyed as simply as Buffy slays vampires, but we can learn something from Sunnydale’s leading champion of goodness: her refusal to given in to apathy or despair. She is far from perfect, but she is always up for the fight and refuses to give into excuses for staying out of it.
The first step in tackling the evil n the world is to reckon with the evil in ourselves—the kind of stuff we may not even realize resides within us. No, we may not be a part of the Proud Boys or the Klan, but most of us were raised with privileges we were unaware of due to our skin color. No, we may not be thieves burglarizing homes, but much of what we buy and consume came to us via workers not paid a living wage. No, we may not be actively dumping toxins into rivers and oceans, but each of us everyday participate in things that hurt the air, water and wildlife of God’s world. No, we may not have pulled the trigger in a mass shooting, but most of us refuse to be actively involved in our communities in ways that lessen violence. None of it is as simple as driving a stake through the heart of a vampire, but rather than giving in to despair or apathy, we can begin with examining our own lives if we wish to challenge the great evils of our world.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851