By Bob Lupton The following presentation was made by Bob Lupton at the January 2015 board meeting of the Christian Community Development Association. The Ferguson racial eruption was fresh on the minds of board members, especially minority members for whom the pain was acute and very personal. Immigration also stirred passionate debate, since many on the board (including our Hispanic CEO) were actively engaged in government policy discussions. Lupton, a founding board member of CCDA, challenges the organization’s drift toward advocacy and away from its roots as a movement of reconciliation.
There are many worthy causes that good people embrace – pro-life, gay marriage, immigration, to name a few. Causes stir passion, often in defense of vulnerable victims (like an aborted infant or an undocumented family torn apart). A cause usually has protagonists and antagonists who take opposing sides of an issue. A cause has winners and losers, both claiming to occupy the high ground. Each side creates disparaging labels for the other, painting their opponent as heartless, immoral, or ignorant. Compromise feels like defeat, leaving both sides frustrated and dissatisfied.
Community is very different. Community is about relationships, about sharing the same space, about learning to get along. A community may have great diversity of people and opinions, but the need for interdependency can take precedence over divisive issues. A community learns how to give and take. A community learns how to tolerate beliefs and behaviors of neighbors who don’t fit the norm. A community may well embrace a cause, particularly one that threatens their space (like a planned highway to cut through their neighborhood or a proposed closure of a neighborhood school). Such issues tend to unify a community rather than divide it. Even divisive issues, that may cause temporary disharmony among neighbors, over time become absorbed into the tolerant fabric of the community. If a community is to survive (let alone thrive), neighbors must get along.
But causes – even divisive ones – are clearly important. They can correct an injustice. They can change the course of history. But unlike community, their objective is to mobilize, to exert pressure, not to unify. Their aim is to win. Consequently causes often leave deep tares in the social fabric that may take generations to mend. And sometimes this is necessary.
But community has a different goal. Community is about shalom. Community is about mutual understanding, about listening, about allowing one’s self to be changed by the perspectives of others. Community is about valuing others, especially those who are vulnerable. Community is about the strong subordinating their strength to give room for the less-secure to emerge. Community succeeds when everyone wins.
So is the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) about causes or community? Are we about taking a righteous, one-sided stand and let the chips fall where they may? Are we about correcting the injustices that certain unscrupulous police perpetrate on minorities while casting aspersions on all the other men and women in blue? Are we a cause-oriented organization that stakes out the “right” position on divisive complex social issues like immigration? Or are we a people who strive to see all sides? Are we an association of reconcilers who listen to the diversity of voices and bring would-be enemies together in dialogue? Are we the place where passionate adversaries are invited into civil discourse and discover the goodness in those they have unfairly labeled?
Causes and community. Both are important. So do we follow the reconciling Prince of Peace or the Jesus who said he “came not to bring peace but a sword”? Both approaches are legitimate and necessary. My question is this: Is the Christian Community Development Association primarily, at its core, about building reconciled communities or are we a cause-oriented advocacy group?
Image credit: Alex Naanou