God and Community Organizing

A Covenantal Approach

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Hak Joon Lee
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , October
     2020.
     290 pages.
     $49.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781481313155.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

I approached Hak Joon Lee’s God and Community Organizing: A Covenantal Approach as a leader in an Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) Member Organization in British Columbia, Canada, the Metro Vancouver Alliance (MVA). I was part of helping to establish it over many years, culminating in the founding of MVA in 2014. This is to say I have come to the book with the experience of fifteen years of involvement in IAF, which is a major focus of the book, along with the IAF founder Saul Alinsky, in regards to community organizing.

This book lays a serious foundation for Christians and the church collectively to examine what contribution churches can bring to community organizing. The IAF civil society that has been in existence for eighty years now, solidly established in communities across the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and other countries.

In the introduction, Lee names the four crisis areas that set the scene for the necessity of the biblical covenant to meet community organizing. These four are the renewal of community and individuals, moral agency, democracy reweaving of civil society and its institutions and global ordering (193).

It is from this stepping point that Lee lays out the biblical roots of the Hebrew covenant and into Christianity in the life of Jesus. He investigates the Puritan experience and Martin Luther King Jr. within the context of covenant and social change. From there, the author thoroughly looks at the history of Saul Alinsky’s work in eventually establishing IAF.

As an Anglican priest and member of an MVA institution, I was looking specifically in this book to see how the church could benefit in practical ways from this analysis. Lee is respectful of the role of community organizing and IAF while simultaneously asking the tough questions of whether it goes deeply enough in addressing the reality of the four areas of crisis. He does see that the churches (and I would say companion religious communities who are covenant grounded), have much to offer from a faith understanding.

As I reflected on this with my experience of the practice of the community organizing methods of IAF (which Lee lays out), I also recalled the contribution that the churches have sought to bring to MVA here in the lower mainland of British Columbia.

The religious institutions have brought a faith perspective in addressing the reality of social issues, and the underlying disintegration of community that Lee names. This is to say that Lee’s critique of where IAF organizing can be deepened did resonate with me regarding the contribution from a covenantal understanding that he sets out. One aspect that Lee calls forth in this contribution is the faith community gathering around the Eucharist and how this shapes Christians in approaching community organizing, not only in a pragmatic way, but instilled and imbued in what it is to be a people of the table. In  summary, this author grounds his theology on the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist which are for him about commitment and inclusion in the life of God in Christ and everything that a covenant community entails. Lee clearly desires in this book to connect liturgy and the faithful call of the churches in community organizing meeting covenantal organizing.

The author is thoughtful in his analysis regarding the role of covenantal organizing meeting community organizing as the way that God is organizing God’s people towards justice, peace, and equality. It is the way that he sees in our time, that God is working with God’s people to bring forth the shalom, that God so deeply desires for humanity and all creation. This meeting of covenantal organizing and community organizing is a way for churches to be participants in God’s desire for the care of all creation towards justice.

This is a book for those already on this path of community organizing and ready to reflect on it from a covenantal organizing perspective, for those who are uncertain about how the churches or religious institutions can be part of civil society organizing, for those who are sceptical about finding a place with nonreligious organizations working together for the common good, and those who want their religious institutions to begin a journey of being involved politically in systemic change with the wider community and need to start from a theological view point.     Lee clearly lays out a way forward for religious institutions to struggle thoughtfully with their call to be involved. This book sets out the compelling call of God for a faithful way for God’s people to be in relationship with the wider community living out God’s organizing model of covenant in bringing God’s shalom into reality.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Margaret Marquardt is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, BC, Canada, and chair of the Diocese of New Westminster, Eco-Justice and Peace Unit.

Date of Review: 
October 26, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Hak Joon Lee is Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Keywords: 

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