GATED RESIDENTIAL "COMMUNITIES" AND CHRISTIANS
LOGIC OF FEAR. I pass by a gated residential community every day. Its presence in Indianapolis both puzzles me and irks me. It disturbs me, really. What arrogance is at work to make such a place sellable in our county? What presuppositions and logic have taken hold of citizens that they feel such a cloister necessary and justifiable? It is the logic of fear and the presupposition of entitlement.
CHRISTIANS BEHIND GATES? The other day, I saw that one of the cars waiting for the gates to open had a Christian bumper sticker. Imagine that: a Christian living in a gated community! Justify that one with the Scriptures or Spirit of Christ! Have these souls exchanged the only gates within which they will ever be secure for mere iron gates?
GATED LIVING. Of course physical gates are not the only kind of "gated living" that commonly occurs in American society. Sheer geographic distance from "social problems" is as effective a gate as anything an ironsmith could craft. Everything that isolates and insulates from the common life of the community is a gate. The church itself can not only be complicit in gated living, but may well exist as one of the very gates that insulate and distance its participants from complex challenges, uncomfortable social situations, and polarizing political deliberation.
HABITS THAT REVEAL THE HEART. Robert N. Bellah, acclaimed sociologist noted for Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, speaks about "circle-the-wagons" behavior of affluent Americans (and American Christians, in particular) in light of the prophetic vision of the Kingdom of God. Bellah, himself a Christian, throws down a challenge for the church--both as a community and as individuals making decisions and enacting behaviors that reflect what spirit and community to which they really belong:
MODERN GNOSTICS. "The attempted secession of our affluent classes into gated and guarded residential communities supposedly safe from the crumbling society around them is one expression of the Gnostic mentality. In such a situation it is not easy to be the church, not easy for Christians of any vocation, and I suspect especially not easy for ministers."
ALTERNATIVE TO GATED COMMUNITIES. "While we certainly cannot claim to have all the answers to enormous social and individual problems that confront us in America and the world, if it is true that the Kingdom of God is already among us, we can, through the renewal of our own religious communities, offer to the world what it desperately needs."
THE RETREATING CHURCH. In other words, gated residential communities are what happens when the church fails to be and convey a healing, welcoming, inclusive community. Has the church become only "safe ground" to which fear-filled--and suspicion- and prejudice-riddled citizens--venture from their cultivated, cloistered circles for a few hours a week? This expression of the church is completely contrary to the Biblical church and Biblical faith.
SANCTIFIERS OF STATUS QUO. In the name of preserving Biblical principles, many "Bible-believing" churches have inadvertently become bastions of fearful retreat and sanctifiers of material status quo. They have focused on their self-defined Fundamentals instead of the Kingdom of God. They have pandered to the fears of faithful seekers instead of challenging them to incarnate the life of Christ in the world. In these churches, nothing ever need be spoken of these fears for them yet to be a prevailing force that draws people together--often in great numbers. In the name of Christian fellowship, fear and prejudice hold sway.
AN INCARNATIONAL RESPONSE. By contrast, the prophetic community calls people to cross borders courageously and exemplify within its fellowship the embrace and transformative power of Christ for all. It believes that transformation of society begins with an embrace of diverse persons whose only common bond may be the grace of Jesus Christ. It seeks to understand the diversity, complexity, and challenges of its participants at personal and communal levels in light of larger social issues. It posits an incarnational response--one that dares to embody the love of Christ over against responses dominated by fear and suspicion.