Today’s selection comes from Moltmann’s most recent book The Living God and the Fullness of Life. He’s talking about community and our role in society and as the church. I thought it was fitting to ponder today:
The love for life creates community, but our late-capitalist societies are becoming class societies with ever-fewer people who are immensely rich, and more and more poor. With this development, the cohesion and the common good of a society gets lost. In a society in which ‘everyone must look out for himself,’ solidarity is no longer a social virtue on which people can mutually rely. But the alternative to poverty is not wealth–the alternative to both poverty and wealth is community…The refusal of the rich to play their part in society–for example, through tax evasion–justly rouses people’s wrath. If everyone is in the same situation, people help one another mutually. Once there is no more equality, because some are the winners and others the losers, the mutual help stops.
It is the task of the Christian community not only to proclaim the gospel of God’s love but also to live it in community…Since today we live in competitive societies with growing inequalities between people, it is becoming all the more important to develop contrast communities and to create places of mutual trust. In the Christian congregation all are equal before God…All are respected in their human dignity, and are greeted and accepted as brother or sister. Trust, not control, is the rule in the Christian congregation…
The community of Christ binds people together. It is the reality of social love, not only in its compassion but also in its mutual joy over the loved life.
It’s such a complicated thing to consider how Christian community intersects and diverts from society as a whole. It’s like a Venn diagram where some parts overlap and others are distinct and separate. If you grew up in a more fundamentalist church, there may not have been a Venn diagram at all, but something more like two totally separate circles that were not supposed to meet. Be “not of the world,” so to speak.
But the church doesn’t exist outside of the world. It exists within it, and I believe it does justice in bearing witness to the gospel it proclaims when people in the community consider the church to be a gift and a benefit to society through what it does and what it offers and what kind of people it forms. Being part of a community means living intentionally with others in mind. It means we consider not only our own needs, but the needs of others. And part of that role is that the church and its members live as contributing members of society, through paying our fair share of taxes and through being involved in our local community and through various actions that make the community a better place. I always think of what Cornel West said, which is that justice is what love looks like in public.
This is what Moltmann is saying here, too, when he says that the community of Christ is the reality of social love. Community- the way we live out our faith with one another and for one another- is how we show what love looks like in public. If someone is not being cared for, not being considered, not safe or honored or respected, it is the duty of those of us who follow Jesus to speak out and act out on their behalf.
The antidote to our look-out-for-number-one societies and our greed-driven economies which create both rich and poor is community. It’s service to and for and with one another. It’s responsibility and civic duty and, beyond that, a community of trust where dignity is assured and acceptance is guaranteed.
A pastor friend of mine made a good point when he said he wonders why churches don’t pay taxes. It’s fine that we aren’t for-profit, but if we’re really trying to be the church, shouldn’t we give toward society in a tangible financial way? He makes a good point. If we don’t care enough about people in our community to give money toward schools and roads and fire departments and water and sanitation, it doesn’t say much for our gospel commitment to one another. Most people feel good about giving to a cause they believe in. As any pastor knows, it’s much harder to convince people to give to a general budget of everyday boring things. But God cares about those everyday boring things. And public transportation is not a boring thing if you happen to be someone who is trying to get to work without owning a car. Public school education is not a boring thing to the vast majority of our nation’s children who attend there. Civic duties like paying our taxes and going to jury duty and supporting our local schools are acts of faithfulness. It’s the way we live out the gospel.
The church exists in the world, as part of our local community. The reality of social love is living in community that considers the well-being of everyone.