Community is not the answer to everything

Recently on facebook an article was posted on leadership. I liked the article but a line at the top of the page made me a bit uneasy. It said ‘Whatever the problem, community is the answer.’ Really?

I wonder if ‘community’ has become a buzz word whose implications we don’t fully get. Community can be beautiful. Community can be dangerous. Community can be empowering. Community can be oppressive.

Maybe it’s the reaction to consumerist individualism and uncaring faith that makes community such an attractive Utopia. Many have tried to create this community, sometimes by force, sometimes by rules or sometimes by coercion. When something goes wrong we immediately look for a scapegoat. Rene Girard speaks of this powerfully in his writings and I am yet to read him properly. Yet it is interesting that blame seems to be such an individual category. But I think communities must be willing to take blame. For they have power and communities engage in good and bad acts. Who is to take responsibility for these actions whether good or bad?

Which is why the research of my friend Drew into the apology of the church of England for the slave trade is fascinating. After all the slave trade had such a wide participation of certain societies that even today the prejudices of that age are still echoing and resonating around the world.

The bible is quite ambiguous whether communities are good or bad. Many times it’s the single individual who is called to stand against the community. Yet the times of unified celebration and joy is definitely portrayed as good.

I think the word ‘community’ needs to be always qualified. We need to always refresh its meaning so that it protects and empowers the individuals in it. Otherwise we’ll be consigned to codes of silence, of abuses of authority and of excluding the slightly different.

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