I have to confess: I’m envious of the church in Netflix’s Daredevil. I want Matt Murdock, the titular vigilante of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, to be a Baptist. I want him to come to my church for counsel about the issues he wrestles with in his fight against injustice. I want our evangelical faith to have the kind of gravitas that would draw a battered and bruised superhero through our open doors.
Over the course of the hit series’ first season, Matt’s battle against the crime lord Wilson Fisk forces him to consider the true cost of sin. As a fledgling crimefighter, Matt’s not naïve; he already knows how evil people are and how much more evil they are capable of becoming. But the wealthy, sadistic, and self-assured Fisk seems so hideous, so untouchable by the law, that death-by-vigilantism seems to be the only way to bring him to justice.
This moral dilemma pushes Matt back to the Catholic church of his youth, where he begins to sporadically meet with his priest, Father Lantom. In one such visit, after Lantom offers Matt counsel—and a latte from the church’s newly donated coffee maker—they sit in the sanctuary and discuss the value of human life. Matt is surrounded by hopelessness, and though his friends offer some comfort, his moonlight crusading prevents him from confiding in them. Father Lantom, however, knows about Matt’s attempts to be the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen—and because of his relationship with Matt through the church, he is able to guide him and even offer some relief.
But he also challenges him. While Lantom affirms what Matt already knows—that there is evil in the world—he also sees what Matt has trouble seeing: the undeniable presence of goodness. He counsels Matt not to kill his nemesis, not only because Fisk is a human being who, like all human beings, can be redeemed, but also because doing so would only diminish Matt’s own humanity.
When Matt leaves the church, his path forward has not been made easier; in fact, Lantom’s warning raises the stakes. If Matt continues down a path of violence, he isn’t just in danger of losing Hell’s Kitchen. He may also lose his soul.
In the end, then, Father Lantom and the church are strong anchors that keep Matt from becoming as big a monster as Fisk. Even though Matt operates outside of the law, his faith is such that he submits, at least partially, to the law of God mediated to him through his local body—largely because it serves as a place of refuge and light in the midst of the city’s deadly shadows.
As ministry leaders, we are privileged to shepherd a church that can be this kind of a beacon in a dark, dark world—a place where matters of life and death, of heaven and hell, of body and soul can be discussed sincerely and seriously, and where sinners can come to confess and draw strength to stay on the straight and narrow.
I want my church to be a place like that.