The Dangers in Community – 2 of 3

Yesterday, I started talking about the need for community. If you haven’t had a chance, you might read it first. Community is not just within organizations and it is not without pitfalls. Today, I wanted to look a few of the dangers in joining a community, formal or otherwise.

The most obvious danger in community is abuse. This happens when people take advantage of the loyalty and trust that a group offers. Communities thrive on a certain amount of trust. We open up and give people our trust so that they can help and support us. It’s absolutely necessary to risk in order to love. Love makes us vulnerable. Bravery puts us at risk of getting hurt no mater what the context. When people take advantage of our vulnerability, they are abusing the trust we have given them. It is not that religious systems promote abuse, but they sometimes give abusers a cloak under which to operate. Families often have the same vulnerable relationships than can hide similar instances of abuse.

As a pastor, I have dealt with the fallout of abuse. In my humble opinion, the biggest issue with resolving these types of issues is spiritual bypassing. We want easy answers and catch phrases and simple resolutions. But rebuilding trust takes time and energy and understanding. It’s an incremental journey not a miraculous transformation. I am sure God can change our attitude in an instant, but years of pain and neglect and abuse takes even longer to rebuild. People must be seen with eyes of grace and find graceful, loving people that restore them slowly.

Between our second and third church, we took a couple of years off before planting another church. We found the best place to hide out religiously was in the third row of church. We file into church at the right time and file out at the right time, and if we want to, avoid all human contact. Any thing personal we did was when we chose to do it—there were no inconveniences, no impositions, no painful struggle with other people—no community! When I lived in a small town, I couldn’t avoid the town folk – they knew everything about me including when I got the mail. Communities can be places of where my gifts and talents are expressed or they can be places where I blend in to the point of anonymity.

One of the unfortunate draws of community is what Brene’ Brown calls “Common Enemy Intimacy.” She explains:

“Common Enemy Intimacy is counterfeit connection and the opposite of true belonging. If the bond we share with others is simply that we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is often intense, immediately gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It is not, however, fuel for real connection.”[1]

Community becomes very simple when we get together to talk about who we don’t like. American politics facilitates this “us verses them” mentality. But, as Brene’ stresses, “hating the same people” is really “counterfeit connection” and not really what we truly need from communities. It may make us feel good, but it’s not real community. It’s easier to talk about what we are against, but it’s much more noble to talk about what we are for.

Another subtle danger in community might be loosely connected with the “main thing.” Often corporate goals in a community like church (we call them mission statements), can cause us to run past people’s individual challenges. Sometimes communities and churches don’t have time for us to express our pain and not be “okay.” Spiritual bypassing tempts us to find easy solutions for people pain and catchphrases to pacify the hurting. In true community, it has to be okay for people not to be okay for a season. When I lead a contemplative group, I have to keep reminding them not fix people’s problems, just them be where they are.

Even if our community is a great community, there needs to be a chance for people to take some time off. If it’s not okay to leave, then we need to ask the question “why?” Are we afraid that we can’t control people after they get outside the immediate influence of the group? The things we really love, we set free (metaphorically or actually) and let them see us from the outside. True community is not controlling and should allow us some room to breathe occasionally. When I felt better being outside of them, it was probably a good indication to keep going. When I miss them, maybe I could go back some day.

When people resist organized religion, sometimes there is a very good reason. It is best not to try to shame them into coming back, especially if they have been hurt.

We’re not done…tomorrow..How to Find Community

Karl and Laura Forehand

See the other episodes

Part 1 – The Need for Community (1 of 3)

Part 3 – Finding Community

[1] Brown, Brene’, Braving the Wilderness, p. 136

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