Imagine a 10 second video changing the course of your life. That's what has happened to expelled OU student Levi Petit. He was caught on tape saying a shocking, disgusting, and hate-filled chant with some of his fraternity brothers. You all know the story from here. The fraternity was shut down and it has started a state-wide discussion on racial relations partially led by the OU football team. People took to social media to denounce what happened and the fraternity involved with the video. I don't know about you, but I've had discussions about this incident over coffee, around the water cooler, and at church with some of you.
This past Wednesday, Levi Petit did something extraordinary. He apologized. He took ownership for what happened. He sought out the football team and had a face-to-face meeting with them. He sought out politicians and pastors from the African-American community in Oklahoma City. He sought understanding. He sought forgiveness and held out hope for reconciliation. It took incredible courage and humility to seek out the people he hurt with his words, listen to them, and apologize. The easiest thing for Levi to have done would have been to go away quietly.
What has surprised me is the reaction of people towards Levi's apology on social media and in the comment section of internet news outlets. The mostly white commenters still condemn and use hateful words towards Levi while complaining about the hateful words he used. It reminded me also of the calling of the church to be an alternative community.
When the rest of the world wants vengeance and blood, Christ calls us to enemy love and sacrificial living. When the rest of the world condemns, the church through Jesus offers a community of forgiveness. When the world wants this young man to go away and never be heard from again, the church calls us to live in the tension of our own depravity and God's Divinity because it is there that transformation can really happen.
Church truly is an alternative community from the world. Church calls us to live our lives in Christ, meaning that we pattern our lives in the life of Jesus. The only way this pattern of discipleship occurs is through the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. Sometimes this is painful and causes great anxiety. I cannot imagine the anxiety in the small church at Colossae when Onesimus, who had run away from Philemon, came back. Onesimus the runaway slave was now coming back to ask for forgiveness of his master Philemon. At the same time, Paul, the greatest theologian of the church, asks Philemon out of the love of God to receive his former slave not as slave again but as a "beloved brother" (Philemon 16).
This in no way excused the behavior of Philemon or Onesimus. It does not gloss over the hurt. It also does not play the game of social constructed roles of slave and master. Rather through love those relationships are transformed into equality. Both are sinners in need of Jesus. Both have been forgiven by Jesus. Both are called to be agents of reconciliation.
I don't know the true motivations of Levi. That's not my job to discern. There is only One Judge. I do know this: Levi is a sinner for whom Christ died, as are the people who are condemning Levi, and as are the African-Americans whom Levi wounded deeply. The calling of the church is to take all those three groups and model reconciliation and forgiveness. We truly are an alternative community.