All things have become “post-” in our culture because the past is undesirable, but the future is unnamable. From post-industrial, post-literate, post-imperial, post-colonial, post-Christian, and post-modern, various labels are employed to describe this emerging culture. One “post-” we need to consider more closely is post-individualism (yes, even you who already emphasize “community”).
Individualists relentlessly believe that “anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decisions, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious.” This essentially is the American dream, the freedom to actualize my individual self as I see fit.
This type of individualism is epitomized by Boomer achievements. Boomers accumulated individual wealth, pursued individual careers, obtained individual housing, and lived according to their individual moralities. Yet all this was ultimately unsatisfying for them, and especially for their GenX children, who grew up knowing that all this individualism was merely a legitimized form of selfishness. Thankfully, or should I say providentially, society is maturing beyond this hyper-individualistic attitude and is reclaiming the need for community. Once the autonomous individual is humbled, the way for community is created and the ability to see life from multiple perspectives is born.
The rebirth of community allows for the reclaiming of a connected vision for society that transcends individuals and their own experience of the world and of God. Emphasizing community permits the recovery of history and tradition, encourages the inclusion of multiple outlooks, and creates space for the communal cultivation of persons and families. The church is leading society into this post-individual culture by emphasizing the love of Christ for each member.
Yet, there is a darker, dangerous, and many times violent side to this turn toward community, which we as the Church must consider if we are to speak with a prophetic voice in this new global world. As the world becomes more and more globalized, it also becomes increasingly fragmented and tribalized. Those groups that feel they are losing their identity and way of life due to the intrusion of the global and many times western culture fight to distinguish themselves from everyone else. Bosnia and Rwanda are violent examples of this post-individual emphasis on community. In most of the world, the turn toward community has not created peace and understanding, but mistrust and violence. Only in America is multiculturalism a relatively peaceful and academic endeavor. For most of the world it is the cause of hostility, brutality, suspicion and doubt.
So how can the Church offer the gospel of peace while it remains so fragmented? If our purpose is to deliver the message that men are reconciled to God and to each other, and to affirm the creation of a new people, then we must refuse to separate people into homogenous groups and stop assuming that this is the best way to minister to our people. The Church’s turn toward community typically means the creation of affinity groups where everyone is similar. (This happens even in the emerging, postmodern church.) This approach is no different than the one taken by any other segment of our society or the world. The Church cannot hope to be a witness to the power of the gospel of peace in Christ unless it is willing to pursue the creation of community across diverse ethnic and economic lines. The church’s current emphasis on community as affinity based groups, (past)modern or postmodern, is many times not prophetic at all, but merely another instance of following the culture, sustaining the status quo.
So, what might the unnamable future look like for the Church if it is to regain its prophetic voice in this post-individualistic culture? Simply put, we need to seek diversity in and among our churches. A true witness to our fragmented, postmodern culture requires church unity across ethnic and socio-economic divides. Any group can create a community when everyone is the same; but, only through the power and the peace of Christ, can different cultures unite while maintaining their diverse identities. We can achieve this by planting multicultural churches, by creating local partnerships between different ethnic churches, and by establishing local cross-denominational ministry networks. This also means intentionally crossing socio-economic and class divides.
I firmly believe that we, the younger evangelical leadership, must diligently pursue unity and a faithful witness to Christ. If we do not, our witness will sound like another marketing campaign aimed at gaining consumer allegiances. To break out of this mindset requires intentionality, determination, and sacrifice. Let us not use “community” as a veneer for a new individualism of affinity groups ruled by the homogeneity principle. And let us not settle for a domesticated “community” that fails to extend its impact into regional, global, socioeconomic, and ethnic spheres. Sacrificing our own personal comfort, we must seek the unity of Christ. In this globalized, tribalized, fragmented world, our witness depends on little else.