Monday, July 16, 2012

Does it Take a Village?

"It takes a village."

This slogan acquired a political tinge when Hillary Clinton used it as the title of her 1996 book about rearing children.  Conservatives liked to sneer about subversive left-wing overtones from having the wife of a Democratic president writing that parents aren't autonomous in their authority, capabilities, or responsibilities.

The fact that Clinton countered with claims of her conservative critics being part of some "vast right-wing conspiracy" didn't help prove her basic point, however, that yes: we as a society share varying degrees of responsibility when it comes to the next generation of citizens we produce.

But having it take a village isn't just a political notion.

Think Group

With the tragic Sandusky/Paterno saga continuing to unfold across Happy Valley and the United States, even as pundits call for broad punishments like an NCAA death penalty for Penn State football, some Penn State fans refuse to acknowledge that their own adulation of the system which helped perpetuate Sandusky's abuse of children can't be ignored.  In sports, and particularly college sports programs, being afraid of the fans propels decision-making and empire-building.  But fans like to think they're innocent, and sports programs prefer for fans to assume so, too.  Think about it:  what was the one reason nobody at Penn State wanted to risk making a big deal out of the persistent accusations against Sandusky?  Fear about how their fans would react.

College sports is all about money - the money fans will pay for the idealized glory of youth.

Ahh, yes... money.

Late last week, during a campaign appearance in Virginia, President Barak Obama was talking about business owners and entrepreneurs, and he sloppily made the assertion that "if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Of course, right-wingers have pounced on that sentence and taken it out of context.  Granted, that one sentence is inaccurate and politically damaging, but when taken in the whole of what Obama was trying to stay, doesn't it lose its punch?

The President had been talking about how creating a profitable company in America doesn't happen in a socioeconomic vacuum.  He prefaced his controversial sentence by some far less objectionable reasoning:  "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges."

How can you argue with that?  To the extent that "it takes a village" for anybody to be successful, Obama is right.  Shucks - capitalism itself is based on this statement.  Otherwise, how can you sell anything if you don't have any customers?

Since liberals usually get blasted for the "village" schtick and conservatives adhere more to a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mantra, does that make "it takes a village" a purely sociopolitical construct?  How should we believers in Christ view the role of community?  Could it even be possible that God agrees with Hillary Clinton on this one?

Church as Village

Salvation, of course, is through Christ alone.  Yet in terms of our process of sanctification, a village model can be seen throughout scripture.  Consider, for example, the many times the nation of Israel won and lost battles.  Didn't they win and lose as a nation?  When they lost because of one person's sin, didn't the whole nation suffer?

When Phinehas killed the Israelite and his Midianite adulteress, God ended a plague He had sent upon the entire nation.

Then there was Achan, who kept for himself some of the plunder from the fall of Jericho, and God allowed 36 of Achan's fellow countrymen to be killed by warriors from Ai.  When Achan's sin was discovered, he and his entire family were stoned to death and burned. 

Ouch.

Of course, then there's this little gem of what sounds like anti-American drivel, only it's from the apostle Paul:

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

I belong to you, if you're a follower of Christ?  And you belong to me?

Does that make you feel as uncomfortable as it makes me?

As the kicker, Paul adds in verse 13, "share with God's people who are in need."  This verse serves as one of the main planks of the social gospel platform that some right-wingers like to revile as un-American.  Some Christians debate whether we should bestow such compassion exclusively upon people already in the church, or whether everyone, regardless of faith, should be included, as some similar passages in Proverbs appear to suggest.  Whatever your opinion in that debate, at least as debates go, it appears to have far more merit that arguing against the village model God provides in His Word.

Maybe, however, it's only our village idiots who can't process this reality of community God apparently wants - and expects - among His believers.  Even corporate worship is itself a form of village-think.  In Psalm 116:14, the psalmist says he will pay his vows to the Lord "in the presence of all His people."

It's a concept that's hard to avoid in the Bible.

Don't think I'm preaching to you something that I've already embraced fully myself.  I like fellowship, but within boundaries and for predetermined periods of time.  I don't like paying taxes, particularly with so much waste in our entitlement programs, and I get easily agitated when reminded to look out for the welfare of other people.  Yes, that's a Biblical command, too.

So, it does indeed take a village, even if Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama say so, and Penn State fans don't.  At least the village model is built on two-way streets.  Everybody has responsibilities and obligations, not just a few people in the community.

Unfortunately, it appears the costs to the village only multiply the longer we refuse to admit it.
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