‘I am human because I belong, I participate, I share' – community and Trinity in peacebuilding

Integral mission and theologyPeacebuilding
Candles. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In my last post, I wrote about diversity and inclusion. In this piece I’m going to look at the idea of community – which is the place where diversity and inclusion exist – and at the model we have for true community: the Trinity.

As Christians we believe that God is ‘three-in-one’: a Trinity, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that God, essentially, exists ‘in community’, and that the love that flows between the members of the Trinity overflows and is expressed in the creation of the world. Because of this and because we believe that humans are made in the image of God, we understand that relationships and community are essential to human life and flourishing. In fact, it isn’t just the case that we need relationships and community; rather, we are made to be with one another. 

The story of salvation, especially as it is seen in Jesus’ incarnation and at Pentecost, is that the triune God invites people to be a part of the godly community again. When we respond to Christ, we enter this community. As we do this, we are called to give up our own self-interest and to care for other people in relationships that acknowledge our differences and enable us to flourish. 

Within this community we have responsibilities to each other, and our well-being is essentially connected to each other’s. The story of Cain and Abel is an early example of this. In Genesis 4 it is clear that God expects Cain to be his brother’s keeper, and Cain is punished for breaking that bond. In Acts we see the way that the early church shared their resources and cared for each other (Acts 4:32–35). 

Paul believed that the church should be the community that showed the diversity and unity of the body of Christ to the world. He argued that no single part of the body can be reduced to the function of another, and no part can subsist alone (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12). He also suggests that community is sustained by supporting and affirming others – that is, by love – so that the community remains united (1 Cor. 10; Rom. 14).

In this short clip René August talks about the importance of reconciliation in building community.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about the importance of forgiveness for the future of a community (in this case, post-apartheid South Africa), he describes the way that each person’s humanity is inextricably bound up with that of other people, using the African concept of ubuntu as an illustration. 

‘I am human because I belong. I participate, I share. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others... for he or she has a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when other are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed… Ubuntu means that in a real sense even the supporters of apartheid were victims of the vicious system which they implemented and which they supported so enthusiastically. Our humanity was intertwined.’ 

(No Future Without Forgiveness (Random House, 2000), p. 35) 

Conflict emerges in the breakdown of relationships within and between communities. However, an ubuntu kind of understanding of our relationships with others in our communities helps us to honour rights, dignity and diversity without getting caught up in self-interest and individualism. It also helps us to seek justice and build peace together in our communities. 

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.