Christianity is a communal experience. The Gospel, as I understand it, is extremely communal. It is the reconciliation of all things. The reconciliation of the relationships between humans and God, humans with themselves and humans with others. How I understand myself, how I understand my identity is built around the notion of community. Brennan Manning says it so wonderfully when he says, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” This presumes that we are in community with Jesus, we are in relationship with God. I am who I am because of the relationships between me and God and those I am in fellowship with. Christianity is a public affair. Its why we are called to share our gifts, with the community. We are told to confess our sins to one another. Jesus makes statements about how we are to love him, by loving others.
The way of the Jewish lifestyle surrounded itself solely around the existence of community. This is part of the horror of the Cross. Yes, it was bad enough being lashed, being impaled with nails and grasping for breath on the cross. But, the symbolism of the Cross was exile from the community that defined you. If Christianity is a communal religion. Then it doesn’t allow itself to be defined by what is truly individual.
This is the problem of Politics, especially American Politics. Stanley Hauerwas makes a profound point in his book Resident Aliens, “The primary entity of democracy is the individual, the individual for whom society exists mainly to assist assertions of individuality. Society is formed to supply our needs, no matter the content of those needs. Rather than helping us to judge our needs, to have the right needs which we exercise in right ways, our society becomes a vast supermarket of desire under the assumption that if we are free enough to assert and to choose whatever we want we can defer eternally the question what needs are worth having and on what basis right choices are made. What we call ‘freedom’ becomes to the tyranny of our own desires. We are kept detached, strangers to one another as we go about fulfilling our needs and asserting our rights. The individual is given a status that makes incomprehensible the Christian notion of salvation as a political, social phenomenon in the family of God. Our economics correlates to our politics. Capitalism thrives in a climate where ‘rights’ are the main political agenda. The church becomes one more consumer-oriented organization, existing to encourage individual fulfillment rather than being a crucible to engender individual conversion into the Body.”
What this isn’t is a call to stop political action, what it is a call is to step away and re-analyze what is truly significant. If Christianity was meant to be communal, then it ought to mean I am going to surrender my rights for the sake of the other. It means we can vote as we feel led, but my citizenship, my identity, my energy and livelihood belongs to God and his people. We go out to the world to serve, love and care for it but we are not consumed with matters of the individual. Politics, no matter how we voted, will always trample someone else’s individual ‘right.’
American Christians have become lost in their individuality. It has been lost to nationalism. Leslie Newbigin says this in his book The Other Side of 1984, “The charge of blasphemy, if it is ever made, is treated as a quaint anachronism; but the charge of treason, of placing another loyalty above that to the nation state, is treated as the unforgivable crime. The nation state has taken the place of God.” This is the wisdom of a man who can call us to a careful consideration of our political choices and what is truly more important, a we or a me. Being political, is no reason to be a Christian.