We Are All Community Organizers

When President Obama first ran for President in 2008, he popularized a line of work called “community organizing.”

While such work can be construed in a number of ways, it generally has been tied to social and civic activism, pursuing change in policies that could affect a community positively. I would like to argue for a different type of community organizing—a type that promotes universal responsibility to be the change in one’s household and community.

While there are plenty of disastrous policies that undermine communities, the strength of a community comes from the strength of its families, which, in turn, comes from the strength of individuals who take responsibilities for their own innate brokenness. We all suffer at the hands of others—whether individually or collectively—but we also suffer by our own hand. Human nature is fundamentally in conflict with itself, often overcoming innate dignity with wanton depravity.

As individuals succumb to the excesses of their depravity, they inject poison into the bloodstream of their communities and society as a whole. The man who threatens his neighbor injects animosity and distrust into that relationship, sets a bad example for his family, and may turn an open-door community into one which locks up, both literally and metaphorically. It is easy, then, for individuals to tear down communities.

Our Founders recognized that fact, in that they recognized the role of virtue in sustaining liberty. Government can be effective in fulfilling its proper tasks, but it cannot create or sustain community. It is individual self-government that can do that. The mastering of the individual heart allows for friendship and communal bonds to be created in which trust and liberty flourish.

To deny individual responsibility for community—to be your “brother’s keeper”—is to create a vacuum of anarchy. This vacuum must either be filled by individual commitment to reinvigorating community or by a coercive and tyrannical force which imposes a faux community from above. In a sense, we see that in our present society. Communal bonds are fraying and the walls of justice are collapsing under the weight of overbearing efforts to fill that void from above.

Yet, we get to choose whether or not to forfeit the liberty that prior generations spilt blood to preserve. We can all be community organizers, starting with our own messy hearts and working outward. Instead of complaining about the effects of no-fault divorce and the economic disincentives to getting married, we should focus on preparing for and cultivating our own marriages. We should find older married couples to mentor us and seek counseling and accountability whenever our marriages are threatened.

We can also rededicate ourselves to organizing our families. Our children are more important than our jobs and their holistic tutelage is the primary responsibility of their parents. Time is money and our time is way more valuable to our children than whatever our money may provide. Our little ones can watch how we prioritize our marriages and know that love need not be conditional and that such an institution is worth preserving within our own households.

Next, we can extend the blessings we experience from this household organizing to the community around us. The social disintegration of our society is not merely an abstract difficulty, but a heart-wrenching, life-consuming issue for individuals all around us. So many of us grew up in broken families. Let us welcome broken people like ourselves into our homes for meals and seek to nurse people back to health and encourage them in their own household organizing.

We should commit to coming alongside folks in our communities, even—especially—if they’re particularly messy, and strengthen those bonds. It does take a village to raise a family, but not of the top-down sort that some envisage. Rather, it is a village formed through voluntary bonds of affection and mutual encouragement. For all her woes, the church is still, in many ways, a beacon of light in this regard. Let us consider what it is that guides her—an imperishable hope in Jesus Christ—and consider if that is what we need, as well.

Instead of mobilizing others to seek change across society through governmental means, let us first take responsibility for ourselves and those around us. Let us seek to change the dynamics within our households and communities that cause dysfunction and seek to rebuild a sense of community from the foundation up. And let us wage war on our wanton depravity by recognizing God-given dignity in ourselves and others. We can all be community organizers, if only we will first work to be the change that our families and communities so desperately desire and need.