I am not always a huge fan of Paul’s, but I have to give him credit as an organizer. He gets power and he gets the importance of relationships.
Paul starts off this letter by what we call in organizing “credentialing” himself. He understood the need to develop a sense of trust and faith in who he was and why he was “qualified” to address them. Paul wanted to let the church in Rome know that he “knew a thing or two about a thing or two” having been called by the risen Christ himself, and so they should read and hear what he has to say. He also reminded them of their connection and collective responsibility in the faith.
In the next 10 verses, Paul shows that he has done his political analysis – in other words – he knows his audience and he knows what matters to them. This is no – “to whom it may concern” letter. Paul lets the readers know that he has done his homework; he has gotten to know their ministry, who the people say they are, their struggles and victories, and quite frankly—their expectations of him as a leader in the movement. Paul is laying the foundation needed to build relationships before making his appearance in Rome.
Language is important in the work of organizing for true transformation and of course, Paul is famous for his rhetorical genius. Paul knew what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. This does not imply a lack of authenticity; on the contrary, it reveals a true sense of intentionality, which I believe encompasses purposeful authenticity and genuine knowing. Paul does not simply offer the reasons why he feels the need to come to Rome, but uses language that offers respect, acknowledges what is happening on the ground, fosters openness, and emphasizes mutual accountability, responsibility, and possibility.
In my work, I have run across those that believe community organizing is only what “advocates, activists, and agitators” do in the streets or at City Hall.
Well, if we are called to be kin-dom builders filled with Holy Ghost power, grounded in mutual relationship, and led by the love of Jesus Christ, then community organizing should be a daily practice used by the Church.
What keeps us afraid?
How would our message on Sunday be different if we engaged in the practice of community organizing?
In what ways should we expand our definition of and relationship to power?
What needs to change in our practice of relationship building in order for true transformation to occur?
What language do we need to acquire? What culture shifts do we need to make?
I look forward to the conversation in the comments!
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/hers/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter, minister, spiritual entrepreneur, teacher, and life-long learner committed to the liberation of colonized peoples, centering the marginalized, building power and creating community. She lives in Chicago with her spouse and their teenage son (pray for us) and has two adult daughters and nine grandchildren (!—please keep praying ;)) Dr. Pagán-Banks currently serves as executive director of A Just Harvest, pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.
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