The peculiar attack on community organizing


by Grant Stevenson, 9/11/08 • “Organizing is a way to integrate my faith and everyday life”

Grant Stevensen is the pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn., and president of ISAIAH, an organization with 90 member churches in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minn., united for social racial and economic justice. He has been involved in organizing for 10 years.

My spiritual tradition (Lutheran) is a part of what sometimes is called “mainline churches.” These churches are led by professionally trained pastors who often share the progressive values and convictions of social and racial equity, community and justice. We have rich traditions of theology that support and shape our beliefs that we are created for community and that care for the earth and each other is a godly act.

We also tend to turn our noses up a little bit at those who come from traditions which are not professionalized in the way that ours is, and that preach a “me and Jesus” theology which we find quaint, simplistic and, if we were honest, heretical.

What I find so challenging is that those “me and Jesus” types, or evangelicals, are more likely to act in a communal way with each other and with others than are we professionally trained – but theologically correct – types. I hate to admit it, but there are Biblical examples having to do with Pharisees and Sadducees that would indicate this is not a new problem.

I refuse to believe that having a theology that emphasizes justice and right community somehow leads us away from acting out those values. Yet I am challenged by the reality I see around me and within me.

This much is sure: being theologically smart isn’t going to save the world. Organizing has been, for me, a way to integrate my faith and everyday life, because in organizing we practice the tools and disciplines of relationship building and community justice.

By the People is a weblog on civic engagement produced by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs of the University of Minnesota.