Serving Builds Community
Immediate past Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam has just released a new book Faithful Presence: The Promise and Peril of Faith in the Public Square. He begins this fresh look at the place of spiritual values in politics by describing the depth and breadth of the divide in America now. He says simply “We are divided and angry.”
Clearly, we are divided more than ever politically and for the last year the racial divide has widened and from what we are told the economic divide is growing wider by the day. But what may be most alarming is how these divisions have infiltrated families and personal relationships. Haslam cites a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos poll that found that one in six Americans had stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. I can’t imagine that number has decreased since the 2020 election!
One psychiatrist who has looked into these developments and offered ways to navigate our way through it is Richard Gillett in his book It’s a Freakin’ Mess. Don’t you just love that title! He says the problem is we have raised otherizing to a new level. He describes it this way: “Otherizing is the devastating ability we have to view different human beings as other, or as nothings who are not worthy of human compassion or care.” Another way to see it as the predominance of the Us against Them mentality.
We expect politicians to otherize their opponents. We may not like it, but we are not surprised by it. However, this practice has crept into other arenas of life. For example, I know a lay leader in a church who was asked where he stood leading up to the 2020 election. When the leader declined to say and explained that his political convictions were personal, he got the response that if he didn’t support a particular candidate for President, he didn’t think the man was fit to hold the position of leadership in the church.
How on earth are we going to turn this around? Will we ever experience genuine community again where mutual respect and trust and caring is the order of the day instead of division?
Serving is the Ticket
There is a biblical phrase that speaks to this problem and resolves it—one anothering. One verse where it appears is Galatians: “. . . serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Notice this verse is an encouragement to demonstrate our love for our neighbors by serving them. That’s because it is one thing to say we care for one another; it is something else to show that we care by serving one another. I am convinced serving others is one of the best answers to our current problem of loss of a sense of community. The more we serve one another, the more we see our similarities and humanity rather than our differences.
If this makes sense to you, then you may also be thinking what I can’t help but think in these times, namely that the church has an opportunity to show the larger community, even the nation and world, the way forward out of our divisiveness through serving others. This is not just serving people in need but making serving a common attitude so that we are constantly asking how we can serve others.
Unity Can Happen
One of my favorite stories is how Inasmuch facilitated community transformation. It took place in a small town in North Carolina. A predominantly white congregation conducted an Inasmuch Day, and it was so successful that they wanted to include another local church in their next event—a neighbor Black congregation. After another successful event of serving throughout the community, the two congregations came together to celebrate their experience.
In that celebration a woman from the Black congregation stood and said: “You White folks might not have noticed that the color of my skin is different from that of some of my brothers and sisters, but they know it and they know why.” She went on to tell that she was a third generation descendent of a Black woman in that community who was raped by a White man. Then she said: “It has taken me putting on my blue jeans and work gloves and getting down on my knees to work with you White folks (referring to the Inasmuch project she worked on) to begin to let go of the bitterness I have felt for years.”
Some time later a man in the White congregation died. Somehow they knew he was a descendent of the man responsible for the rape the woman shared in the Inasmuch celebration. At his funeral, his family invited that woman and her family to sit with the family. So, serving together brought about community transformation because when that sort of thing takes place, everyone in the small town hears about it and is influenced by it.
What are you doing to promote a stronger sense of community in your place of ministry? Sermons will help but there has to be more. What else are you doing? Have you considered a service event that demonstrates unity? We at the Inasmuch ministry stand ready to help you.