[Springboard] Who/Where is the "Church" Today?

R Williams rcwmbw at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 12 08:13:51 EDT 2008

Jim Wiegel's provocative statement that "the local church experiment did not work" and the ensuing conversation has raised for me the question, "If we were going to renew the church today, what would we renew?  Who is embodying the dynamics Niebuhr ascribed to the "church as social pioneer" and where would we find them?  I believe the Springboard group has been struggling with a similar question, relating it to the "guild."
  Many will remember the "bug model" of the local church which delineates the internal life of the church in terms of worship and study, and the external mission of the church in terms of charity (priest) and justice (prophet).  I ran across the quotation below, which points to where the external dimension is perhaps being enacted.  It is reminiscent of Paul Hawken's book Blessed Unrest where he discusses a plethora of "movements" going on around the globe, which George Holcomb first called to our attention.
  The quote I share is by Gregory Baum, professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, who played a role of some significance in Vatican II.  The book is a compilation of articles entitled Globalization and Catholic Social Thought and Baum's article is "Religion and Globalization."  (I would not disagree with Kroeger's statement about all the excess "baggage" in Catholicism, but I find Catholic sacramental life to be very rich, and Catholic social thought and theory, at least since the last of the 19th century, to be deep and on target.)  Baum said:
  "[W]e are presently witnessing a multiplication of countervailing movements, often organized transnationally, that promote issues of social justice, the cause of peace, the emancipation of women, the observance of human rights, and the protection of the environment.  These movements are in agreement that the present system defined by neo-liberal capitalism and American empire is leading us to humanitarian and ecological catastrophe...
  "The alternative movements for peace, human rights, social justice, and ecological care create a new consciousness among the people engaged in them.  Why?  Because they are organized according to principles that are at odds with those operative in the dominant society.  These movements are democratic and egalitarian: everyone is allowed to speak; they uphold the equality of men and women, which contests the patriarchal inheritance of society; and they practise cooperation across boundaries, a spirit at odds with the competitive spirit that drives contemporary society.  They also make the participants conscious of their power to act as social agents, against the effort of capitalism to define people as customers and clients; and they generate solidarity across national boundaries and facilitate transversal activities, involving people internationally.  These alternative movements may well be the training ground for the creation of an alternative global society..."
  While not addressing the issue of the symbolic life of these movements, which I believe is critical if they are to be sustained, this nonetheless sounds to me like something
  H. Richard Niebuhr might have said had he been writing about "the church as social pioneer" today.

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