The administrators of Catholic Memorial High School are correct: Corporate Responsibility teaches us that we must all bear responsibility when some in our community commit verbal or physical violence against “The Other.” But, we must also remember that using it as an excuse for violence and oppression of others is an evil lie: you cannot blame an entire population or community or religion or economic class for the (real or imagined) actions of a few.
With regards to the recent furor in our local (Boston Area) news about how students from Catholic Memorial High School [CM] in West Roxbury, MA chanted “You killed Jesus” at a recent Basketball game against Newton North High School (NNHS, which has a large Jewish student population. Both schools are within 5 miles of the graduate school were I received my Masters of Divinity, Andover Newton Theological School.)
I understand how many students at CM feel cheated because of the actions of a few dozen of their peers. And some may feel that the slurs shouted at them by students from NNHS at that game were just cause for the hateful speech that was directed at them in return.
It appears that the school administration has made the hard decision of putting morality and repentance ahead of popularity or convenience. And, they are emphasizing corporate responsibility for what happened (which is also at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement). “Corporate responsibility” is the moral law that says we can’t escape responsibility for wrongs done against others by those who are part of our own community, even when we are not directly involved. (Sadly, based on the student Tweets quoted in this article, the school will be facing a tough challenge on teaching this to some of their students.)
I will be interested to see how this plays out in the weeks to come: the school administration has pledged to make a determined effort to educate their students more carefully and thoroughly with regards to the evils of anti-Judaism and other forms of exclusion of those who are “Other.” And, in addition to a ban on current students attending the championship game, they have already contacted both NNHS and the Anti Jewish Defamation League to make significant apologies and pledges to reform.
But I wonder, will this determination to right the wrong and to change one’s behavior for the better extend to the teachers and administration as well? The students did not do this in isolation; since, as already stated, the absence of personal responsibility for a wrong does not free anyone in that school from corporate responsibility. It’s a hard lesson to learn. I also wonder if the NNHS community, whose students shouted similar (though less incendiary) slurs at the CM students, are in need of learning a similar lesson for themselves.
And, I should add, the very idea that “Jews killed Jesus” is a serious misunderstanding of the Gospels, as Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley made clear in a speech at Temple Emmanuel here in the Boston area just the night before the game. “Corporate Responsibility” does not lead us to conclude that all Jews must bear responsibility for the faults of a few in leadership positions in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, even if it really was exclusively their fault to begin with (which it wasn’t, if at all).
Corporate Responsibility is an important tool for repentance and healing, not an excuse for violence against “The Other”: using it as an excuse for violence and oppression against others is the evil lie that Donald Trump and others in the current Presidential Campaign are trumpeting every chance they get, but they are wrong: you cannot blame an entire population or community or religion or economic class for the (real or imagined) actions of a few.
Which brings to mind this thought: those who are advocating violence and oppression against others in this political campaign are part of our national “community” – even if we wish it were not so. So, how do we repent or atone for the damage that is being done by them and those who support them; since they are Americans just like we are, and so we must acknowledge our Corporate Responsibility for their words and actions?