When I Say “Community Organizer” What Comes to Mind?

There is a generational divide, perhaps, when we ponder the term “community organizer.” Several faithbased groups full of Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians, Muslims, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Unitarians serve in the community organizer model.

But for another generation who remembers the violence of the 1960s – to say that we in the church want to create a new role called “Community Organizer” – this brings discomfort if not pain. Some of my colleagues and I witnessed this last weekend in a debate about what to call a new Presbytery staff position.

I like the term Community Organizer. I have spoken in favor of this job title.

Even if this term screams not-so-positive things for some, I’m a big fan of reclaiming words that started out meaning one thing and now mean another due to cultural usurp-age: Evangelism. Bible-Believing. Feminist.

But upon further reflection, I’m also mindful of what Paul said about getting in the way of someone else’s spiritual journey. What if a term that we find excellent makes others miserable?

For example: My mind is on Ferguson today. And I recall last summer when Governor Nixon called for a curfew after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. The first thing that some black citizens of a certain generation think when they hear “curfew” is sundowning.” While a curfew might have been a good idea in theory (get people safely home) the word hit a nerve. (And then there’s also that issue of violating the constitutional right to assemble peacefully.)

Yes we can reclaim words. But would we be willing to give up the perfect word for an alternative if it brought peace? I hope so.

Image of Jesus training twelve new community organizers a.k.a. “The Sending of the Twelve” by Duccio DiBuoninsegnaca (14th c)

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