We have listened to voices claim what must occur to create a better future for our nation.
The business sector has clamored for the protection of the wealthiest Americans from taxation because they are the job creators.
Closet historians have declared with a Jeffersonian thunder that America is about individualism. It would be unfair to characterize this is as the “historian voice,” but there is among us a group of people whose calendar sits permanently on 1780.
There is a sociological shout for a sort of social Darwinism, calling it the natural order: “Let’s just realize human order is about ‘survival of the fittest,’ and let it rip.”
Political scientists from the Heritage Foundation to the Brookings Institute want either less government or more regulation, elimination of federal funding or development of infrastructure.
The word from people of faith, a theological perspective, seems muddled and muted.
The prophetic word often has a social justice theme, but it is hard to dispute that the social justice voice is more than a whisper amid the current clatter.
There is a distant call for civil rights, workers’ rights, minority rights. But, “As you do for the least of these, you do for me” doesn’t seem to ever penetrate the soundproof wall around the D.C. beltway. The “least of these” better raise some money and hire a lobbyist if they want a real voice.
Is it possible that the appropriate theological word right now might be koinonia, holding life in common, being community?
If churches, synagogues and mosques have learned anything over the centuries, it is the importance of community. We’ve learned that community done poorly can destroy and render ineffectual the promise to Abraham. We’ve learned that community done well is transforming.
We’ve learned that our survival as faith communities is tied to congregational health and our communal connection.
Congregations have learned to talk honestly and not divisively. We’ve learned to solve problems one at a time without using the current decision as a bargaining chip for another agenda.
We’ve learned to value the different voice, to zip our mouths at some point and open our ears and listen for other voices. We’ve learned how to care and do good to one another even when we have not liked each other. We’ve learned that in win-lose conversations, everyone loses.
When was the last time you heard the words “community” and “government” used together in the public square?
The two ideas are, in the public mind, as far as east is from west. Even the phrase “one nation under God” often is more about conformity than community.
The absent voice in the Armageddon thunder of the present is the voice advocating for a legitimate and healthy view that Americans are a community, that our fulfillment and happiness are intricately tied to one another.
Can you imagine the “reasoning” of the public square being floated in faith communities? Let’s try it.
Imagine a fellow standing up in your church’s business meeting and saying: “The church must reduce its budget for the good of everyone in the faith community. We have to stop doing good things because it is essential that our members keep their own money. Let’s hire fewer people for less, scuttle programs, stop giving to missions and sell the building so we can survive and thrive.”
We know people who feel this way, but can you imagine it being argued as a way the community of faith should behave? Even the dullest blade in the drawer knows divestment signals death for a faith community.
Or imagine someone saying: “It is not fair to ask the people who have been blessed with more prosperity to contribute more generously. We know that increasing their wealth is a certain benefit for us all.”
Didn’t Jesus, Isaiah and Mohammad agree on this matter, and didn’t the apostle Paul write to the early church community saying exactly the opposite of that proposal? “To one whom much is given, much is required.”
Imagine someone saying: “We can’t keep Juan in our church youth group, or help care, nurture and educate him because his parents aren’t members of our church. Juan’s parents may even be criminal or undocumented, so we must get rid of him and be careful not to help him.”
Faith communities have learned that this attitude is the kiss of death to transforming faith and any claim of mercy and hope.
If there is no link between nation and community, these sorts of individual and self-absorbed claims are made not only unapologetically, but boldly.
Nations that thrive and function work at being healthy communities. Faith communities are in the unique place of helping our nation act like a community – people connected to one another – again.
Larry Coleman is senior pastor of Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.