As a caveat, this is an exploration more than an argument.
I have had a deep desire for some time to fully understand and experience authentic community. Living in the information age forces us to think even harder about community because it no longer depends on proximity. Last night, I read two things that challenged me to think more about the importance of community:
1) In his book, Faith of Other Men, scholar W. Cantwell Smith writes, “Surely the fundamental human problem of our time is to transform our new world society into a world community.”
2) Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “Agape (Greek: unconditional love) is a willingness to go to any length to restore community.”
Turning society into community, having the courage to restore community, where do these provocative ideas leave us? I want to explore what community is, where it comes from, and why it matters. Realizing that defining community is a potentially limitless task, I would like to err on the side of conciseness and argue that community is consensual interdependence formed on the basis of:
1) Interaction, the degree to which we engage one another
2) Common vision/ purpose
3) Shared narrative
4) Collective values
Which, when combined lead to a feeling of community, a sense of:
2) Influence and voice
3) Mutual trust
4) Collective identity
These factors, in turn, create mutual loyalty and collective responsibility for those within a community. How then do we move from a world society into a world community? Why does love require us to restore communities?
Our ability to experience social justice as individuals depends on our belonging to a community, as it is only in community that our basic human needs are met. The disenfranchised of the world are those who have not been fully included within a real community; they have not reaped the benefits of voice, belonging, identity, trust, and mutual loyalty. Furthermore, perhaps a community’s experience of justice depends upon it being part of a larger Community that ensures its vitality. In terms of the disenfranchised of the world, maybe they are a part of a wholly disenfranchised community (think of an oppressed people group or those in an IDP camp). The question then becomes, how do we empower communities do ensure the vitality of their own members and how do we build bridges between communities to ensure the vitality of communities?
Responsibility then is three-fold in community, there is responsibility of one-to-the-other, of the community to the individual, and the Community to the community. Only when individuals and communities internalize these responsibilities can we move to a more inclusive world community, founded on agape.