Emails From a Christian in Exile: Redefining Community

This is an email written to me by my friend Jason. Every Saturday I am trying to post an email from him regarding postmodern Christianity, and on Sundays I will post my response. This is not a debate, but more a way of discussing some of the things that keep many people in my generation from getting involved in the church or Christianity.

Dear Shawn,

Last week you wrote:

Perhaps this is why you and I often find church and Christianity difficult. I can’t speak for you, but I am a bit of a loner, a bit of a homebody. I am not community oriented.

I’d be interested to hear more about your take on that next week – how do you, as someone not currently in Christian community, view this aspect of Christianity (ie the communal aspect)? Is this trait found in the other major world religions? Do you think that a church, now 2000 years on and splintered into thousands of denominations, can ever regain the sense of community once enjoyed by the early church? Is a community of believers even important in this day and age?

Response #1
I think you are very community oriented.  Don’t be confined by narrow dominant-culture definitions.  Your writing is often very focused on bringing people together in a harmonious way.  Just because you are not an extrovert doesn’t mean you aren’t community oriented.

So, I believe that we do need to redefine what community looks like in this day and age.  We have lost it greatly in North America, but maybe it just looks different.  I think we’ve lost the need to rely on our neighbor so we don’t.  We are all self-contained units within our homes and we don’t really need one another.

Response #2
You wanted to stay focused on why myself or others might be in Exile [from Christianity].  Well, to tell you the truth, myself and others, as well as non-Christians, are scared to death of the Christian “community.”  You know why?  Because it’s not a community, it’s a club.  Now are there some very accepting and humble Christians out there facilitating community?  Yes, for sure, but you would be the first to agree that many (majority?) are not facilitating harmony but instead, they are facilitating hate, bigotry, shame, and exclusion.

The type of narrow and judgmental thinking that happens in the name of Christ actually and truly scares people.  Not because of the truth of Christ, but because of the cultish and seriously irrational thought process that leads much of the Christian community to where they are and how they act.

Even if the club is loving and giving within itself, that isn’t good enough.  Just based on some of the beliefs that Christian clubs hold, people are offended, judged and left feeling less than.  I liken it in some ways to the way we white people don’t really understand the prejudice and power we hold and how that ignorance affects minorities.  Christians can’t see it.

Response #3
So where are we?  I agree that community is necessary and becoming more so as our world becomes bigger and more complicated.  Nothing makes us feel more human than relationships and it is something we have in many ways lost sight of.  I have felt some of that love in the Christian community that you talk about so I know what you mean.  It is nice.  It is safe.

What if Christianity was the religion that offered that to everyone, regardless of belief system, regardless of metaphysical differences?  Actually, since our sense of community needs to be all-encompassing, it needs to come from our humanity, not just Christianity.  This is again why I don’t identify with Christianity as an organized religion.  I think it’s too narrow of a definition and focus. I think Jesus would agree with me.  *grin*

What perspectives do you share with Jason? How would you respond if you received a similar email from a close friend?

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Similar posts:
Emails from a Christian in Exile: Today’s Christianity is Man Made
Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s “Email from a Christian in Exile”


21 Replies to “Emails From a Christian in Exile: Redefining Community”

  1. Hmm, interesting thought … “Because it’s not a community, it’s a club.”
    And I have never wanted to be in a club, so I guess that why I don’t do church these days either.

  2. Part of community means having a point of personal investment. While I understand the issues of acceptance, finding what you have to offer the community goes a long way in finding a good fit. Find a place that appreciates what you bring to the table.

    And, oh, we need to accept others as they are too. I don’t know about your friend, but I meet a lot of people who bemoan “acceptance” and aren’t very accepting themselves.

  3. One church my wife and I went to was really big, and it definitely was a club. After a couple months we just didn’t feel like we fit in so we quit going. Makes me wish I was still around my home church. That always felt like a strong community to me, something I wish I could have now that I live another state over.

  4. Community is essential. It provides support when we need it, and is filled with opportunity for us to love and serve others.

    However, I agree with Jason here. Christian “Community” has been formalized into clubs. While some formalization of some things can be beneficial and good, formalizing things often kills whatever made its informal manifestation good.

    All too often, churches present their formalized club as the community that we all need. They then add guilt and tell us that God demands we be part of their definition of community. Then they require agreement to a set of beliefs to join the community — not just some core values, but specific formalized implementation of an official interpretation of whatever the group values. Even groups rejecting legalism do this. They don’t seem to recognize it. These clubs tend to be built on a culture of American Churchianity as much, if not more, than they are built on Christ.

    Jesus ministered to the people the religious people of his day rejected. He didn’t try to first make them conform. He loved them where and as they were — not because they were worthy, but because he chose to love.

    Choose love.

    A believer in Christ Jesus who is a bit peeved at the church,


  5. The whole Christian community thing is a bit of a conundrum because there are plenty of churches/groups that are intentionally and extraordinarily accepting of those who don’t believe the same things as them, however, this is often done because Christ compels them to. The problem inherent with that is that Christ/the Bible/Doctrine also compels them to believe that those same outsiders are “not saved,” “living in sin,”etc., etc. That, ultimately, they need to change. (love the sinner, hate the sin mentality – in the case of LGBT, for instance, this mentality, however good intentioned, is completely degrading and alienating)

    I guess this speaks to Jason’s point that community needs to come from our humanity because any formal value system will inevitably leave someone feeling on the outside.

  6. Unfortunately, I think Jason is on to something. The amount of exclusivity and judgementalism in Christianity is appalling. I often wonder if we are not right back to Biblical times and the Pharisees and Sadducee.
    Community is one of the most important elements of Christianity. “They shall know we are Christians by our love.” Yet, I think the church is a long way from being a real community that loves everyone.

  7. Not much to say Shawn and Jason aside from Thank you. Thank you for this much needed dialogue. I have enjoyed being a part of it even from a digesting and learning spectator’s point of view.

  8. Why must there be any division whatsoever? If what Christ says is the Truth, then why wouldn’t we see Christ in everyone? I think we should even stop calling the church “the church” as it alone already makes a distinction. Why can’t we all be human beings trying to love one another in community – all be human beings who find different ways of trying to find truth, sharing in our love and compassion for our imperfections and successes? Even if I end up aligning myself most closely with the “Christian” faith, I”m not sure I will ever actually call myself that. It’s just not necessary.

  9. Here is something someone posted on facebook the other day:

    “We cannot know whether we love God, although there may be strong reason for thinking so; but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbor or not. Be sure that, in proportion as you advance in fraternal charity, you are increasing your love of God.”

    St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle

  10. Keep the comments coming folks. I am going to post my response on Monday, once I have a chance to think through what you all are saying. Thanks!

  11. Experiencing some of the judgment this week. Actually had close friend tell me that just having Rowling’s Harry Potter books in my home opens my family to demonic forces.

    They don’t want to be persuaded by reason, by the obvious symbolism, or the author’s own statements on the matter, that HP is anything other than a gateway drug to the occult.

      1. It might be, but I seriously believe it. What drive people to stay in a cult is shaming them if they don’t conform. That is what this person did to randomlychad. So I think that is occult like thinking.

    1. It sounded like you were talking about the entire church, everywhere: “there’s nothing more occult than their type of controlling and manipulative belief system.”

      1. Tell you what: I’m getting hammered pretty hard with the “conformity” message right now, & I’m opting out. I’m “singing” the “song” God gave me.

        If folks don’t like it, too bad.

  12. imagine, then, what would happen if we – all those who imagined the christ to be the ultimate answer of love – said “come.” come and eat, sup at the table with us matter what your skin color, gender, religious birthright, intellectual persuasion, academic letters or social justice passions? what if we said “love is all?” what if we said “christ died for all” (which, by the way, i do believe is in the fundamentalists scripture) what if we relegated our individual “ologies” to simple sunday afternoon conversations? what if we embraced our differences and stood together, beloved by the one true god? what if….

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