A community is a group of people united through a common struggle with the same stories. Chris Guillebeau
Do you think about your church in terms of this definition of community?
In an insightful article titled What Makes A Community? Chris Guillebeau asserts: “…a community needs friends AND enemies…You need a villain, a bad guy. The bad guy can be a person, group, idea, or belief… having a defined enemy increases the strength of the community.”
I initially reacted pretty negatively to this notion. I didn’t like the “us versus them” mentality or the assertion that a community “needs” an enemy. But I think we can learn a lot about Christian communities by analyzing this idea.
First, I’m not certain whether or not a community “needs” an enemy. This may be an interesting philosophical question but in the real world I don’t think it matters. I suspect that every worthwhile community has natural enemies, so whether they’re a required element is sort of irrelevant.
For Christians, I think the nature and identity of the enemy is a more essential discussion. Christians waste enormous amounts of time and energy, and alienate countless millions of people, by inventing false enemies and battling them.
Preachers rally the troops against all sorts of ideas, behaviors, groups, or individuals. We close ranks to defend ourselves from these imagined invaders, clearly identifying “us” as the good guys and “them” as the bad guys deserving judgment, contempt, and exclusion.
That’s a wonderful strategy if your goal is strengthening the walls of the existing community, increasing a sense of internal unity by building fortifications against the evil outsiders. Nothing brings people together like a perceived threat, and it doesn’t much matter whether the threat is real or imagined.
We can love the bad guys, but we must label them and keep them “out there” at all costs. Any weakness in our defenses will allow them to infiltrate, and then their badness will rub off on us.
There’s only one small problem with this approach-it’s precisely what Jesus instructed us NOT to do.
The church has one primary purpose-to bring the outsiders in. Everything we do should be designed to weaken the walls and break the barriers. “They” are not our enemy, and they only threaten us if we give them the power to do so.
An old friend used to observe that the church is a hospital, not a hall of fame, and a hospital’s frequently a stinky, unpleasant place because it keeps admitting all of those sick folks. But a hospital that refuses entry to those who need it most isn’t doing what it’s designed to do.
The church DOES have a real enemy, but it’s not unacceptable behaviors or divergent ideas. And it’s certainly not the outsiders, the “bad” people we so often exclude with our words and attitudes. The church’s true enemy is a crafty, evil one who uses our tendency to isolate ourselves against us. The true enemy fosters hate and mistrust to isolate us from those who need to hear about Christ.
If we represent the church as a circle, the central goal is to bring people into the circle and make it larger. The enemy gladly hands us the bricks with which to build walls around the circle, bricks constructed of judgment and divisiveness. The enemy whispers that we ought to condemn those with whom we disagree politically and separate ourselves from people who behave in ways of which we disapprove.
I imagine that our true enemy’s greatest fear is that we will actually take Jesus’ words seriously:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 27-31)
Love tears down the walls between good guys and bad. It’s a poor way to build a fortified community that’s safe from intruders. It’s the only way to build Christ’s church.
Who tends to look like the enemy to you?