A Spiritual Reflection on Housing
At every level, the universe aims towards, displays, and has as its basic intent orderliness, harmonious, wholeness, and equitable expression, relying on many parts of itself to make a whole. From the basic family unit to a global society, humanity is at its very best when it functions in this way to the highest degree. Such a manifestation is what may be called community. The aspiration toward community is written in our DNA and essentially who we are. A community provides for the physical, psychological, and aspiration needs of its members. Every major religion has presented a divinely inspired social vision where individual and collective action leads to community.
Jesus referred to such a social vision of community as the Kingdom of God. From his perspective, a community should be inclusive of the wealthy as well as the poor and outcast. Through the ages, these principles of collective being have been lifted by many deeply spiritual individuals and faith traditions. One of the more recent expressions of these principles is the idea of the Beloved Community, which was fostered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community is the visionary aim and moral means to a healthy community and is intrinsic to human well-being. Authentic Community and spirituality are inseparable.
The basic goal the human collectives, such as towns, cities, and localities, is to facilitate the welfare of all of its citizens by making sure that each citizen has the basic resources he or she needs to maximize their potential. Also, the health of the body collective is dependent on the health of its internal parts. Housing, along with economics, jobs, land ownership, security, health, the environment, and transportation represent the essential material needs.
Ideally, leadership and its parts work together to create and implement policies, practices, and opportunities which make sure that resources are distributed in an equitable way to all members of the collective. The basis for these aspects must be community-oriented in the highest sense of the term, as expressed above. Injustice happens, when one or more of these aspects fall below a given level of performance or is sub-optimal to what is needed for the general health of the community. From the religious point of view, injustice or sin becomes apparent both in its individual as well as collective behavior and outcomes. Sin here is the deviation from the highest order of humanity as "community" as established by the creative and transformative force in the universe known by many names. It is a strong indication that leadership or governing bodies have failed to create and implement just, wise, sustainable, equitable policies and practices. The housing problems that we are experiencing across the nation is one of the symptoms of this problem.
The work of faith-based community organizing is restorative and transformative. We recognize that our driving force is restorative in that it must be about wholeness, love, justice, equality, and inclusion toward that which the essence of our humanity. We also must recognize that our work is transformative in the sense that it is about being and becoming. Through our collective actions, we are creating something new. Our short-term strategy may be to get a municipal power to come up with more money and spaces for affordability housing, for example, but we must challenge the mindset and systems that create the need for intervention in the first place. We must remind office-holder and decision-makers that good people and processes lead to community and community has its basis in who we are and what we human beings are called to be. The narrative of community is qualitatively and profoundly better than a "winner takes all.”
Rev. Dr. Hubert Ivery is the Senior Pastor of Geneva Avenue United Methodist Church and the Chair of Genesis.