Koinonia and freedom

“In any case the Christian conception of [persons] as members of in the family of God forbids the notion that Freedom may be used for self-interest. It is justified only when it expressed itself through fellowship; and a free society must be so organized as to make this effectual; in other words it must be rich in sectional groupings or fellowships within the harmony of the whole.”

William Temple, Christianity & Social Order (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1976), p. 71.

This quotation comes from one of the great twentieth-century Archbishops of Canterbury, who was instrumental in the creation of both the modern ecumenical movement and landmark social legislation.

As we watch the Occupy Wall Street movement unfold (perhaps some of us are participating) and read commentary by various participants, government officials, and Church leaders close to the action, I think it is a useful reminder of one of the hidden dimensions of this crisis, namely the lack of effective social organizations to mediate between the individual and the whole. This leaves the field open for unaccountable elites (whether governmental or corporate, most often an unholy alliance between the two) to reign with the rest of us as passive consumers, left to gather up the crumbs under the masters’ table, with few options for action beyond polarizing interest group politics that cannot change the underlying social realities. In other words, we have all the trappings of democracy but none of the substance, namely people and communities empowered to participate effectively in meaningful decisions about our lives and livelihoods.

John Howard Yoder, the Anabaptist theologian, once said that “the Church doesn’t have a social strategy; it is a social strategy.” Only time will tell if Occupy is the beginning of an effective popular mobilization for the internet age or just more of the same old ineffective protest.

So often we use the word “fellowship” as Christianese for social interactions that are shallow and trivial at best. What would it mean instead to create serious community, modeled on the egalitarian life within the Godhead? What would it mean, in other words, if we modeled our koinonia on the koinonia that pulses forever among the Three? What if our fellowship were part of a seamless tissue of worship, formation, and action that formed us into witnesses and missionaries of Christ and his Kingdom?

I think we would discover a freedom that was for something other than self-interest. We would rediscover the meaning of our baptism into Christ. We would discover the freedom to give ourselves for our neighbors, as Jesus did. And we would discover new effective forms of social organization and mission, in collaboration with other people of good will. Forms that would make a difference for the 99% and eventually for the other 1% (the one lost sheep?) as well.

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here

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