Communal Sin

Adam Stout

READ : Leviticus 4:13-21

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally . . . (v. 13)

Community offers support. Community can also bring us down. Every community has “blind spots.” For instance, it was wrong to deny African Americans basic civil freedoms. Yet, entire (white) church communities in the United States once thought the oppressive yoke of slavery was right.

They were wrong. Churches today can still be collectively wrong. When we are part of a community that has hurt others, how do we, as individuals, respond? Do we apologize on behalf of the community we represent? Or do we distance ourselves as much as we can from it? Do we say, “Well, I didn’t know that was going on,” or “I never agreed with that”?

The communal mentality in Leviticus rubs against our individualism. Surely some community members were innocent of the sin addressed in chapter 4. But God doesn’t address “the whole Israelite community, minus those who feel they were innocent.” No, the Israelites are commanded to seek forgiveness together.

How might an emphasis on communal sin change us? Would we be more willing to look after our brothers and sisters if we knew we were collectively responsible for their actions? We tend to mention “my church” when it does something good. What if our church community does something wrong and embarrassing? Will we identify with it just the same? We might look bad. But we might learn something of what Jesus bore on behalf of fallen humanity.


God, help us to stand together in guilt and grace.