Communities are created and come in all forms and modes of understanding: neighborhoods, family, networks, institutions, social locations, and, for my purposes here, most of all churches and communities of faith.
The word community comes from the Latin word communitas – a group of people with common interest. According to feminist theology, community means building relationships of sharing and giving. How can people of faith build a community of love, giving, and sharing if we do not open ourselves up to others or to otherness? How can we build authentic relationships if we are not having real conversations around differences and commonalties? We need to learn how to build communities by communicating differently. For it is in the difference we build strength as a community.
In Bishop Yvette Flunder’s book Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion, she alludes to feminist Letty Russell’s ecclesial concept known as the “table principle.” It is an explicit call for inclusion of all people, particularly those marginalized and exiled to the margins or subject to institutionalized binaries. The ecclesial image of the table principle is a large oval or round shaped setting where there is no pulpit, altar, or front or back seat – all are seated equally and everyone has equal access to the table including the “least.”
Flunder states, “In order to create a viable community, hospitality and inclusion are essential… and they must be coupled with accountability and responsibility for the community if it is to be sustained.”
Communities survive when intentional engaging takes place. I believe faith and community leaders must put more effort into engaging one another for the common good. Regardless of denomination and/or tradition, we are all called to the same kinds of work – building community! The creation of Christian community among people marginalized by the church and society requires that the community maintain a presence of familiarity while actively fighting and overcoming oppressive and exclusive theologies/teachings. Creating community should reflect a sense of belonging – being part of a much larger world filled with love and acceptance, a safe space that affirms who we are in society. All people have a right to be included.
Matthew 25:40b says, “I tell you the truth: when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” What the text is saying is whatever we do to one another, we have also done to Christ. In essence, how we treat the needy and lowly shows just how much we love Jesus. When we love and respect one another it glorifies God.
If marginalized folks are unable to find safe spaces that value their worth then we must create our own communities. Let me say this, oppressive theology of the majority seeks to differentiate marginalized people as enemies of God. Nonsense! Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’s ministry typifies a life of marginality – his own received him not. He constantly challenged the status quo of his day. Jesus hung out with those that many would call the lowly, he broke barriers which kept folks in bondage, crossed lines that excluded people, and loved unconditionally.
As a progressive, thinking faith community in the 21st century, we must continue to create a culture of love and acceptance which embodies liberating theologies, languages, and ministries that speak to all people. It must seek to build community and not make the Bible God, but, let God be God in the process of our own unique spiritual development.
We are in a season where community is vital, take heed!
The author is senior pastor, Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore