What if church could be more egalitarian and solidarity-driven?
As we’ve watched crucial needs emerge this year, this has been on my mind and heart. I’ve also been thinking about it because I’ve seen these values modeled in some beautiful ways recently.
I’m involved with an activist community at our university. Together, we are addressing white supremacy within our campus and local area, working to educate others and dismantle the systems that drive it.
A few days ago, while I was meeting with this community, I found myself thinking, “I wish church folks could see how these meetings are run.”
– That’s because there’s a strong commitment to sharing power in equal ways.
– That’s because there’s a strong commitment, in fact, an ultimate commitment, to share solidarity and support with people who are vulnerable and marginalized. It’s why we exist.
Both of these are on display in these meetings. No one lives or models these values perfectly, of course, yet these are such a given as values that this community prioritizes conversations about how to live them better. And when we fall short of them, there is little resistance or defensiveness to discuss how to improve.
Part of the reason I found myself saying, “I wish church folks could see how this meeting is run,” is because egalitarianism and solidarity are things that we say we value in the church. We might not always use those exact terms, but in my own Presbyterian tradition, these very concepts are written into the documents that serve as our constitution.
But have we internalized them as values collectively? Are they on display in our work together, in our community life, and in our meetings?
If you stepped into a meeting of this activist community, you might discover pretty quickly that there is literally no leader. The collective is the leader.
People use their leadership skills, but we do not have any one person in that role. Yet we have procedures to make this possible. We rotate who moderates the meeting and who chairs committees with practices to ensure continuity in the work. We voted upon all of these procedures. We make decisions collectively, and we are remarkably transparent. This community has the most egalitarian, power-sharing I’ve witnessed in a group.
These are church values too, but do we prioritize them?
If not, are they really internalized values?
If they are not internalized values, do they inhibit the level to which we are able to show solidarity with people who are vulnerable and marginalized?
A good friend and colleague of mine gave me some advice when I was being ordained. He said, “When I enter a church, I immediately try to answer two questions: Where is the money flowing? And who is empowered to make actual decisions? If you can figure out these two things, you’ll know where the power center is.”
If we can’t recognize privilege and share power internally inside our own communities, perhaps our efforts to live in solidarity with others is inhibited.
But if we are called again into solidarity, as I believe we are, we will also need to wake up to our privilege and our use of power over others.
These are linked. May they both call each other toward greater change.