Wednesday, May 26, 2010


What relationship do gated communities have with Christians and the church in mission to the world?

LOGIC OF FEAR.  Every day, I pass by “Bay Landing,” a gated residential community.  Its presence in Indianapolis both puzzles me and disturbs me.  Actually, it irks me.  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 an enclave 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 of “Bay Landing” to open had a Christian bumper sticker.  Imagine that: a Christian living in a gated community!  Justify that with the Scriptures or Spirit of Christ!  I wonder: 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 in some cases 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, describes 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 which spirit and community they really belong to:

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, Christians living in gated residential communities are what can happen when the church fails to be and convey a healing, welcoming, inclusive community.  I wonder: has the church become only tepid "safe ground" to which fear-filled, suspicion-riddled, and prejudice-poisoned citizens venture from their cloistered circles for a few hours a week?  If so, 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, I wonder if many "Bible believing" churches have inadvertently become bastions of fearful retreat and sanctifiers of material status quo.  Have they focused on their self-defined Fundamentals instead of the Kingdom of God?  Have they pandered to the fears of their upwardly-mobile faithful instead of challenging all to incarnate the life of Christ in the world?  In such churches, nothing ever need be spoken of these fears for them yet to be a prevailing force that draws people together.  In the name of Christian fellowship, fear and prejudice can hold sway.

AN INCARNATIONAL RESPONSE.  By contrast, a 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 and the Biblical call to the beloved community.  It posits an incarnational response--one that dares to embody the love of Jesus over against responses dominated by fear, suspicion and locked gates.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.


  1. Important thoughts, critical reflections.

  2. Anonymous2:35 PM

    Gnostic? I'll be damned - I never thought of it in that way - I used to work as a security guard for some gated communities in Florida. You could make a similar comparison the the whole of the U.S. and the "3rd" world.


Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.