The systems (by design, default, and/or from unintended consequences) that are in place that create and sustain the conditions of poverty and our current social structures are near impossible to change. All the political and progressive rhetoric is ill-equipped to actually offer alternatives to the current conditions of poverty.
Social boundaries, the ability for mobility (cultural, social, educational, economic, et al.) are mostly set in concrete, near unchangeable. Furthermore, those who have a vested interest in their own place and status (wealth, social, location, power) have no, sincere, vested interest (beyond appearance, mere rhetoric, or progressive voting) in changing the systems now in place. On the other hand, those in the bottom demographics do not have the power, do not live in geographic spaces, nor have the educational skills to make any significant change to the very complex, hierarchical-engendering, boundary rich, mobility disabling systems in place that keep most everybody in their social, economic, and cultural corners (socially, geographically, demographically, educationally, et al.) The spheres of government and of social-service (private and public) do not have the truly vested, self-less interests in making change. The appearance of change, perhaps. The rhetoric of change, perhaps. The political allegiance, perhaps. But not real, systemic changes that would actually release mobility beyond the current “corners.”
When will we learn this, O Christian?
Yet, as strange, foreign, and impossibly crazy as this sounds, the only space where the good life, flourishing, and even systemic social and cultural change to offer real mobility beyond our current “corners” or even truly be imagined is the gospel-rich church–literally amid local churches scattered throughout communities. Amid local churches where there is no earthly power being sought (even by its leadership), but the love of neighbor (and neighborhoods). Amid local churches where an individual’s humanity is honored, prized, and even died for is a result of believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is the space, amid the early church, in which such change was nurtured and, albeit slowly, happened at the heights of the Roman empire. Where it actually outlived an empire. This is the space in which such changes have happened on small and large scales ever since. Where all lives literally matter; and, when there are lives deemed lesser, treated lesser, those lives matter more, intentionally more. The space where the hierarchies of tiered humanity are deconstructed and the alternative is constructed–that alternative is the kingdom of God, realized in Christ Jesus, and revealed through the church (literally through churches scattered in countless neighborhoods and communities).
In the social and governing spheres where it takes power to make systemic changes, it will also take power to maintain such changes. And, this maintaining power is always violent. Furthermore, human nature (in the church we call it our sinful nature) will not, however, relinquish its desire for maintaining one’s advantage over others and freely disinvest its self-interests on behalf of others. So once systemic changes are make (where there is power to make such change), there will always be the powerful and powers that will seek to mark their place and status (i.e., those who make the laws have the power to enforce, by means of violence, their laws); also, there will always be those who obtained newly created social elite status, those who become affluent because of the changes and, then, will seek systems to exercise power (political and social) to maintain the new status quo (their new power). Thus, the boundaries remain and the violence to maintain them continue.
This is not the way of the gospel; and, thus, not the nature of the church (read local churches scattered among communities, neighborhoods, regions). This is why the local, gospel-centered, gospel-rich, gospel-dependent, gospel-lived church is the only real space where such social change can truly be experienced.
Church matters (#churchmatters).
Not by voting, but by my gathered-church says the Lord: Voting is not the church's weapon of choice to bring about change, the table is
In 12 days many of us will be voting. I certainly encourage voting for a host of reasons (despite the feeling that nothing really changes anymore after we vote), but this annual trek to the polls teaches something to Christians (i.e., the habit, the liturgy of voting teaches something) and forces Christians and churches to focus on electoral politics as our (i.e., the right, left, conservative, progressive, libertarian, independent)–as our weapon of choice to bring change or to simply protect what we have so it isn't taken away. I don't like this about our politics, that is, for what it does to the church (rather, to churches) and how it makes us as Christians think this is the means we (or God) accomplishes change.
Yet, think of the early church. I find, streaming from the pages of the New Testament (I believe), God's means to affect change was to personally (face-to-face, person-to-person) strengthen the weak ties among people at the table, who had never sat for a meal together before . . . strangers and unequals celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread, a meal, and the lifting of a cup to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This table intimacy among differing, adverse, conflicting, socially unacceptable levels and classes of society met as family–where neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither clean nor unclean actually meant something huge and not a cliché. This is where change happened. And, it most certainly did. Unheard of change at the deepest societal levels and in the nooks and crannies of both the back alleys and in the palaces. A place where “one in Christ” carried significant social and cultural changing power.
Of course I will vote on November 6th. But frankly not much will change. But what I do know that would (that will) bring about change, especially change in my community and for my neighbors, is my church, as we seek to make that table (and what it does to our actual, interactive, on the ground fellowship) a table of unequals and strangers “one in Christ.” Where in the wider community, now a gathered-church, weak ties between people need to exist to changes lives, to prosper communities, and to strengthen neighborhoods.
That is how it was done post-pentecost and for the amazing first 150 to 300 years before Caesar put us in a box. Time to get out of that box. Remember we commit treason (or we should be) every time we lift that cup to remember Jesus, to proclaim his death, until he comes again.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.