Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Social Capital of Churches ...


Scholar Robert Putnam calls is BONDING Social capital -the interconnections that exist within a community, or within a group within a broader community. They are connections that play themselves out day by day as people function in social, business, and other settings with one another ... the capital aspect is a notion first coined by Coleman some years ago, who saw these interactions as a form of capital that is saved up ... I do something nice for someone, and in return they will do something for me - is the simplest explanation of Social Capital.

There are many nuances of Social Capital, and many ways in which it plays out in a community, an organization or a gathering of people. It is usually something benign and predominantly posititive. But sometimes it becomes something darker and more sinister ...

Putnam identifies Churches as a source of enormous amounts of bonding social capital - the social capital that binds communities together, and helps improve things around them. BUT, social capital in Churches can have a negative face when that "togetherness" becomes exclusive and single-minded.

Frequently when fear enters social capital binds together small groups, and in that fear they exclude others ...

Frequently when these small groups feel threatened they begin to form social capital within a homogenous group, and they openly resist any attempt at breaking this exclusivity ... Putnam cites as his most obvious example the Churches across the Southern US who formed socially homogenous groups to resist racial integration.

What Putnam identifies as needed when BONDING Social Capital has formed exclusive homogenous communities is BRIDGING Social Capital that will break through the walls of exclusivity, and reinvigorate communities by creating most socially tolerant and diverse communities.

In Churches today, the BONDING Social Capital dominates, and has formed communties that are operating from their place of insecurity and fear and forming tight little bands of exclusivity even when they profess to be anything but ... we speak widely of "old guard" and "cliques" and "high school like groups" throughout our congregations, yet we fear taking the next step and identifying these groups who hold sway as WRONG and toxic. Rather than perpetuating BONDING social capital, we need the BRIDGING social capital ... we need to break down the walls that divide, and build familiarity, trust, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect.

Step one in this process is to recognize that there exists in our greater communities large numbers of Church Drop Outs (to use Turner's term), who have been hurt, wounded, and rejected by the church and have walked away ... but they still have yearnings to come home.

Bridging social capital begins by recognizing the reality of these people, and no longer denying they exist, or simply waving them off as irrelevant. Day by Day, week by week, month by month, it is a growing group. Those rebuffed by the "old guard", or the "clique" that holds power deserve to be recognized, and invited back ... BUT, that can not happen while the leadership, and those who are in positions of responsibility will not admit to either the existence of these church drop outs, or their desire to come home.

Step one is owning the situation, and no longer hiding our heads in the sand and pretending everything is fine ... The Church is dying ... a victim of Bonding social capital that shuts out those who are unlike the inner circle ... this is not a faithful response. Jesus welcomed in ALL people, and wasn't about building an institution, or a bureacracy. For Jesus the only rule that mattered was - "we are beloved of God" all the rest was irrelevant.

The Kingdom of God is at hand ... and it is found in abandoning BONDING social capital and embracing Bridging social capital ... and that happens when we stop pretending everything is all right, and we start to invite back the drop outs, the out casts, the cast offs and the others hurt by the church and we LISTEN TO THEM FOR A CHANGE, no matter how uncomfortable their message is ...

It's ALL about honesty !!

The Spirit is calling ... dare we listen ???

No comments: