The Common Good
April 2010

From the Archives: April 1974

by John Howard Yoder | April 2010

The Church's Role

The Christian community is a means of influencing other groups ... [and the] social process cannot go on without taking account of her presence and particular commitments. Permit me to recount a personal experience of a decade ago. We were discussing in an ecumenical conversation circle in Evanston what might be the Christian responsibility for the racially segregated housing picture in that town. The self-evident need, from the point of view of some of the participants in the conversation, was for the ministers of the community to deal with the mayor and city council to ask for municipal administrative measures in favor of open housing practices. This would be “the church” operating, in the person of the ministers, to discharge her social responsibility.

The conversation was brought into some disarray when one of us asked whether the real estate dealers and the sellers of houses are not mostly members of the Protestant churches in Evanston. The answer was that they probably were, but that the preacher was powerless to get his own members to take Christian ethics seriously without the coercion of government to get “the church” as membership involved in lay professions to be less un-Christian.
This anecdote is a specimen of the recurrent temptation to expect other forces in society to be more effective, or other authorities to be more insightful, than the body of the believers in their structured life together.
John Howard Yoder, author of The Politics of Jesus, was a contributing editor to the Post-American, the original Sojourners.
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