Monday, April 14, 2008

Community and Culture

The recent post and comments by "anonymous" concerning Alleluia! Community in Augusta, GA, are especially enlightening. Reading the covenant of their community, I can find little that is directly problematic. The subordination of the community covenant to the primary obligations to marriage, celibacy, and church really should provide a safeguard against being abused or misled. The proverbial devil lies in the details.

Like so many of these organizations, Alleluia! (the exclamation point is part of their name) was founded and led by untrained lay persons, relying, as they thought, on the "leadings of the Holy Spirit." Members of this and many other communities learn what the Church teaches (including how to interpret Scripture) not from their bishop or parish priest, but from the community leaders. So Paul DeCelles of the POP interpreted Acts 2:42-47 not in terms of the teaching of the successors of the Apostles and the celebration of the Eucharist ("breaking of the bread") but in terms of the teaching of the coordinators, weekly community meetings, and sharing meals in households, especially on Lord's Day.

What I think is especially important is the culture that "anonymous" describes. These groups not only have formal teachings, which "anonymous" has shared, but also practical applications. So I can imagine an Alleluia! leader responding to "anonymous" that no one was ever punished for failing to attend the annual RTL march or something of that sort. And this is probably true. But that's not the point. The member knows that her behavior is not acceptable, that she will have to explain—possibly before others—why she seems unwilling to work with her headship to get her priorities in order. She will be expected to take extra steps to manifest her commitment to the life of the community.

"Love" and "commitment" become bullying words in community. You are obliged to make clear to everyone that you really do love your brothers and sisters. Single people love their brethren by freely letting go of material things and then trusting in brothers and sisters and in the Lord to meet their future needs. And the culture of the community is such that you dare not question this love. If you can't trust your head and the leaders God has raised up for us, is there anyone you will trust?

Our POP leaders always insisted that everyone was free to choose about their own lives. But although we often heard in community meetings about members' trusting in and obeying their heads, we never heard people sharing about taking unexpected and creative initiatives. The culture was one that fostered an, indeed, exalted obedience.


Anonymous said...

Adrian is correct. The Alleluia Community Covenant sounds like it could be a good thing. However, the fact that it is only open to interpretation by the elders makes it into a an open-ended contract. I signed with all good intentions. But as time went on, I found that as this quote said, "For those who join Alleluia it is expected that they commit themselves in a primary way to living our Christian ideals in union with those who who have a similar desire and commitment. This means committing their time and resources, their whole lives, to the community to whatever extent is necessary to further its life and mission." The "its" refers to the Alleluia Community. By signing the covenant, I had committed my life to furthering the life and mission of the community, as it turned out, whatever the cost.

I am called to follow the Lord, whatever the cost. But I have the guarantee that on His end of things, He loves me without measure and wants the best for me. The community, in so many of its teachings replaced "the Lord" in Scriptures with "the community". To the elders, what Alleluia was calling its members to was synonymous with what the Lord was calling them to. When we would sing something like "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back", the implication was understood to mean that we would continue on in our community commitment.

When we would sing Psalm 89, I have made a covenant with my chosen, given my servant my word, again the understanding was that this related to the Alleluia covenant in that the Alleluia covenant was just like the one the Lord made with His Chosen.

The chief elder of Alleluia was a former career military man. One other of the 3 elders spent several years in the military. Much of the community was run similarly to the military. If you were told to do something, you did not question it, you did it. Many teachings were handled legalistically. For instance, Matthew 18:15, mentioned in the quote from the 20th anniversay book. If you offended me, I was to go tell you. You were to ask my forgiveness. I was to forgive you. Very cut and dried. You were never to say, "Im sorry", but only, "Please forgive me." This was often required, legalistically of children with their parents, which led to lots of resentment. Wrongs and hurts were not dealt with, only the performance of the legalistic ceremony.

The freedom of the Spirit that we read about in the Scriptures was noticeably absent from community life. Everyone acted the way they were supposed to, jumping and waving their arms and shouting "Hallelujah!" at prayer meetings. Smiling and singing and hugging. We were an amazing troupe of actors.

Very few would actually question anything that was going on. The natural assumption made by a community member who had questioning thoughts was that these were from a temptation from the devil against the commitment he or she had made to the community.

If you have not read Adrian's article "More than the Devil's Due", that tells a lot about how ALleluia and many of these communities handle their "authority".

And the ending of the covenant, "Be held to this covenant and hold one another to it.
We promise to love one another and to call each other to holiness. We believe that this is the way God has chosen for our sanctification. We willingly ask Him to use it." is an open invitation for the elders and for "headship" to expect members to do as they say because "we believe that this is the way God has chosen for our sanctification."

lisa a. said...

Anon, I have to comment on the "formula" for forgiveness for it makes me almost laugh given my experience with Alleluia! members. In the instances that a child from Alleluia! asked for forgiveness of an adult (I witnessed this) for his teen behavior and it was clear that he was used to being forgiven on-the-spot, I heard from the family how "inappropriate it was for this adult not to forgive her son".

In other words, the formula was broken ("please forgive me" <> forgiveness). Not to say that people shouldn't be forgiven when they are sincerely sorry and ask for it, throw in a little penance and restitution. The "sincerely sorry" part was sorely lacking and this child used this formula to get away with things like a typical teen and then demand forgiveness.

That formula does not work in the real world and it sounds like it didn't work in Alleluia! either. You simply cannot demand someone forgive you. You can only ask in all humility and hope for the best. But please forgive me if I have offended anyone in any way...;)

Adrian said...

Anonymous is right. I remember the songs "I have Decided to Follow Jesus" and "Psalm 89." We too sang those with the sense that they applied to our POP covenant. So how can you follow Jesus (no turning back) if you turn your back on the teachings of the community?

And Psalm 89 is about Yahweh's covenant with David and his descendants, especially Jesus, and not about a community covenant.

Rob J. said...

I was a member of the charismatic movement from 2001 - current; both through the ALPHA program (as a former ordained elder in the United Methodist denomination) and currently as a Vatican-supporting, Pope Benedict-loyalist (including all moral and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church).

My experience with People of Praise (2002 - 2004) was "mixed" at best, and HORRIFIC at worst!

(yes, as someone well-trained in the Classic Spiritual Disciplines, and as a former Methodist clergy, I was supposed to somehow subsume all legitimate charismatic authority under P o P's arbitrary "headship" system!)

My experience was positive to the extent that Dorothy Ranaghan (and by extension Kevin) were "in authority," but when many of these arbitrarily-chosen "leaders" were heading up Praise Worship, the results were DISASTROUS! (sadly, including one gentleman, a regular daily mass attendee who underwent a deliverance session, only to almost commit suicide a few weeks later--I fortunately had lunch with this young man, who confessed ANONYMOUSLY how he had been contemplating suicide after the said deliverance).

Finally, my own marriage (now officially "annulled" by the ultra-liberal, gay-rights supporting diocese of Rochester, N.Y.) was utterly destroyed, at least in part, by my involvement with the People of Praise.

I currently teach Applied Ethics and World Religions at St. Petersburg College, attend/am a member of a GREAT Franciscan-led downtown, urban Roman Catholic-rite parish (i.e. I was a Melkite briefly . . .), and I am re-building! :-)

Thank you for this forum.

Sincerely in Jesus Christ, Rob J. King

flobi said...

I am not going to defend every action that has occurred by Alleluia leaders in the past, especially since I wasn't privy to it, but it has been acknowledged that there have been authority (and other) issues and a great deal of effort has been applied to change this. However, "If you were told to do something, you did not question it, you did it." directly goes against the next word after "agree to obey" in the covenant and that is to "correct" those in headship (noting that there are incorrect ways of doing even this). Obviously, if they were perfect, that word would not need be there.

"We were an amazing troupe of actors." To say that there are none who are acting may be a lie (and frankly they shouldn't be doing those things insincerely), but I love singing and hugging, et. al. and I would ask why someone would stay around for 10, 20 and 30+ years doing it if they didn't want to, especially with the other community requirements and with the media pushing the idea that it's your life and you should live how you want.

"The natural assumption made by a community member who had questioning thoughts was that these were from a temptation from the devil against the commitment he or she had made to the community." This is a sad commentary on how not to deal with issues. I have never had anyone indicate to me that this type of thought ever has occurred (before your comment).

What it really boils down to is that the community (Alleluia or any other Christian community) itself is a tool and tools can be misused (from either end of leadership), but sincere love, forgiveness, generosity, brothership and sistership are the norm among Alleluia members, not the exception (though there are exceptions, exceptions should not be held up as the example).

Ecce Quam Bonam said...

Not everyone in covenant community wakes up at some point and realizes they have been living like sheep. I've been in Alleluia since 1981 and I have never been blindly obedient, and it is offensive to suggest we in Alleluia just do whatever we're told because it's simply "the thing to do". I have put some issues on hold--temporarily-- until it was possible to deal with them effectively, and I know others have done the same on occasion. That didn't, however, make us sheep. It meant we have some maturity and patience, and persistence.

Among many other things, good things, life in community also is a never-ending process of addressing issues, correcting our errors and calling each other forward (ie, "...seeking always the vision and growth to which the Spirit is calling us"). Doing that is our responsibility as members of our community. To "go along" for the sake of getting along or because that's "just the way it's done" is to be unfaithful to our covenant, which demands that we be informed, responsible and actively involved in discerning what the Lord is calling us to do and be.

PoP, WOG/SotS and others may have experienced serious problems with leadership, but one very important difference about Alleluia Community has, perhaps, shielded us from that: our "charism" is to be a people, not to have a "mission" that its members function to further. We have been more like a big extended family holding a common set of beliefs and standards rather than a religious organization. We certainly aren't a church.

Not everyone likes it, especially teenagers who are eager to embrace the culture that bombards them and mocks the Catholic and Christian worldview. And there is plenty of plain old human failing. We are sinners, after all. But we do have mechanisms in place, based on the teaching of Jesus, the Apostles and the teachings of the Church, for dealing with those failings, in our families and among each other at large. It works far more than it doesn't, despite the tendency of the young and sometime of us all to take the easy, formulaic route.

Other covenant communities may have contributed little to their dioceses in terms of those entering holy orders, but it has not been the case with us. For at least a decade, as our young people have grown up, anywhere from 20% to 33% or more of the young men preparing for the priesthood from our diocese have either been members of Alleluia Community or grew up in the community. Without the young people from Alleluia Community, the Diocese of Savannah wouldn't rank second in the nation for new vacations. And this doesn't even include those who have joined religious orders, both men and women.