Thursday, January 27, 2011

At the expense of those excluded

A week ago I wrote my opinion why I thought Fundie churches aren't declining as fast as many mainstream liberal denominations. As part of my ramblings I said that Fundie churches appear to be very good at building community. My friend and debate partner objected to my choice of words. About a year and a half ago he joined a Unitarian Universalist Church, a denomination that emphasizes community. So my friend is worth listening to. His reply begins with a quote from my posting (the italics is in the original).

"Alas, this community has stringent entrance requirements. They are a community to each other but work to make sure their community is not open to undesirables. Like me."

In my opinion, that's not community. Community is what we ALL do together. It does not exist where inclusion is combined with contempt or intolerance or hatred for those excluded. If I must characterize such non-community, I would call it conspiracy. Note the "piracy" in "conspiracy".

We Americans far too often use the word community when we mean "granting privileges to those included at the expense of those excluded" -- a practice with obvious moral deficiencies.

Race: Segregationalists did not create community for themselves; they conspired to harm blacks.

Class: Fraternity boys who look down on non-"Greeks" are not a community -- they are a young/old boy network, with all that connotes.

Gender: Companies that pay women less than men for similar work (etc.) do not create community among the men benefited. They steal from those discriminated against.

Families that care only about other family members' well-being are not a community. They are selfish and short-sighted about their connections to others.

My friend is correct and his objection highlights my original point. What I wrote before used two definitions of the word community. I didn't make that distinction clear.

Most people need a bunch of people with whom they feel "at home." This is some group of people who welcome them, accept them for who they are, offer companionship and friendship, help them out in a time of need, and provide a way for their own talents to be used.

That sense of belonging used to be routinely provided by the small towns we were a part of, the church or social club we belonged to, or perhaps the city neighborhood where we lived. It didn't work perfectly as some people got left out. But our current, mobile society doesn't do this well, leaving many people searching for a place to belong. They lack community.

An outsider (granted, the right kind or outsider) walking into a Fundie church might be made to feel included and cared for, enough to feel they found their community. This is the same reason why many inner city youth join gangs.

But my friend and debate partner is correct. What one finds in Fundie churches is a corrupt form of community, one that is as much exclusive as it is inclusive. As I said in my original post, improving mental health is a goal of Jesus. An important part of mental health is recognizing that all of humanity is a part of one large community. Maintaining the mind-set that fosters and insists on exclusion does not build mental health.

So, to the novice, the welcome he or she may get in joining a Fundie church can sure feel like community to someone who needs one, but (as my friend points out) it isn't the real thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment