Larry Jordan

Everyone is related, and everything is connected.

Community is Misplaced

Jun 21, 2023 by Larry Jordan, in Christianity

Many Christians assume that belief is the most important feature of religion, since belief is such an important feature of Christianity. However, in most religions, orthopraxy or right action is more important than orthodoxy or right belief. Community and practice are two aspects of orthopraxy.

In many churches, "community" is based on belief, as if a community is defined by its beliefs. When you ask someone about their church, do they begin by saying what their church believes? When you visit a church or a church website, do they begin by telling you "What We Believe"? 

If you Google "what we believe," you will get over six million "hits," and most of them are statements by Christian churches or denominations, who obviously have more difficulty explaining their beliefs (and agreeing on them) than any other religion (or any other group, for that matter.)

Are you less welcome to attend church or participate in activities or receive communion because you do not accept the same beliefs? Why is that? The original (Jewish) Christians worshipped at the temple alongside the Pharisees and the Sadducees, although these groups had different beliefs.

In a paper called "Sense of Community in Churches," the author emphasized developing the notion of membership. "Churches should maintain strong boundaries to emphasise who is in and out of the community and what one needs to do to get 'in'." Yikes!!

If the purpose of "community" is to delineate "us" from "them" and to establish that "we" are welcome, but "they" are not, then we have missed the whole point. Did you ever find that you meet the kindest people when you join a church and the unkindest people when you leave a church?

Some churches practice evangelization as a way to establish a sense of community, but in some cultures, evangelizing someone who does not want to be evangelized is viewed as an act of violence, even if it is well-intended. It seems to me that evangelization is a lousy way to foster community.

Of course, there are many ways to foster community that have nothing to do with beliefs, and many churches have found success with them: 

creating small groups
developing programs for audiences such as married couples or senior citizens or young people
encouraging involvement in teams for music or pastoral needs or worship
facilitating social hours before or after church
sponsoring affinity groups and book clubs and social events
undertaking ministries for charitable or social justice purposes