Will we choose community or chaos?

Posted 1/21/21

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

This question was uttered in first-century Galilee (John 1:46), but I recognize the cynicism in our time and place.

Can anything good come out of …

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Will we choose community or chaos?

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“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

This question was uttered in first-century Galilee (John 1:46), but I recognize the cynicism in our time and place.

Can anything good come out of Washington, D.C.?

Can anything good come out of Raleigh?

Can anything good come out of today’s politics?

This week, we remember the preacher, prophet and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., who is best known for his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King asked many questions as well, particularly toward the end of his life.

In the last book he wrote before his assassination, King insisted, “We must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character.” He questioned white America’s commitment to racial equity — why do so many say one thing, yet do another? He also lamented that so many citizens of the richest nation in human history still languished in poverty. He interrogated the reasons his country invested money and lives in the Vietnam War as well as called into question the morality of killing foreign citizens.

Despite his belief that such questions were necessary, King drew heavy criticism from even former supporters. But he did not probe the political realities of his time in order to sow seeds of cynicism or despair. He believed that our country faced an ultimate moral decision: to choose either community or chaos.

This same choice came to mind as I watched a mob storm the Capitol building in Washington on Jan. 6. I saw images of armed white supremacists and neo-Nazis. I saw images of the gallows that had been erected outside the building and pictures of Confederate flags waved inside our legislature.

Can anything good come out of this?

In the first century, there was a religious group known as Zealots who called for armed revolution. Their mission was to create chaos through a campaign of intimidation and violence.

Jesus specifically condemned such tactics, declaring that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).

At the same time that these zealots called for conflict and chaos, Jesus called for a new community — a community formed not by blood or birth, but by a command to love one another (John 13:34). For this reason, King called this movement “the beloved community” and extended it to all people of good faith in peacemaking.

King emphasized that the creation of this beloved community depended on nonviolent methods of civic action, including civil disobedience. It’s not that historically oppressed people have no right to be upset. They should question the unjust authorities and work for societal change.

But King argued that the ends do not justify the means. While previous revolutions may have succeeded in creating change, they nevertheless resulted in bloodshed. The killing of innocents is never good. If America was to realize the cherished ideals of liberty and justice for all, it would not be at gunpoint.

The rioters in our nation’s capital obviously believed otherwise, which raises the same fundamental question that King asked in his last book: “Where do we go from here? Community or chaos?” This remains a poignant question as our nation prepares for the presidential inauguration under the threat of more violence.

Yet, something good may come of this. We can choose the beloved community over violent chaos.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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