To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City
- Book Information
Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, Eerdmans Publishing, 2002.
- Main Point
Gornik defines shalom as “the flourishing of justice, wholeness, and health.” The preeminent theme of To Live in Peace is churches advancing the “shalom of American inner cities” by ministering to their spiritual needs while peacefully addressing the structural dimensions of poverty.
- Key Point
- Structures of Sin and Injustice
Urban exclusion, poverty, and misery are bound up with larger and perverse social, economic, and political actions and priorities, namely, a coalition of institutions and intentions that systematically oppress entire neighborhoods by excluding them from the distribution of quality goods and public services. For this reason, poverty is a social construct, a form of injustice that God is deeply concerned with. Better yet, God loves justice and is the defender of the poor and excluded.
Until now, I always thought “ghettos” where something that just happened over time. Now I have come to find out that they are spatially-based institutional forms of ethnoracial closure and control. I am now aware of my duty, as one of God’s many ambassadors, to deconstruct the walls that divide, control, and injure the poor in our community.
- The Things That Make for Peace
Moral preachments nor personalized programs are adequate to counter the deep effects of sin and bellicose powers that work within the system. What is demanded is change and spiritual vision according to shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, to redress the inner city’s narrative of violence and exclusion. Shalom is more than the absence of conflict, it is the presence of right and harmonious relationships, inclusionary practices that result in individuals and communities flourishing.
I agree, peacemaking ought to be the primary mode of discipleship required for urban transformation in changing cities with multiple forms of exclusion, e.g., entire neighborhoods segregated from social and economic opportunities. Ultimately, I believe that the same peace of Christ that is transforming me has the power to transform communities and cities.
- Presence: Dwelling as Neighbors and Friends
Presence (context) – all Christians should find ways to dwell redemptively in their city; sharing as friends in the everyday experiences of life; investing as neighbors in the development of others builds social capital.
I agree, if social capital is the basis for local activism then Christians, as agents of change, must be willing share in the struggles of inner-city life in order to establish the network to effect change.
- The Three R’s Plus One
The Three R’s Plus One strategy is one practical ecclesiology that, ideally, stands to bring about justice for all.
- Relocation – It is essential live in the community where impact is sought. Incarnational witness is the source of the church’s strength; reverses the ongoing demographic decline of the city.
- Reconciliation – The church is to embrace, love, forgive, and incorporate people across all barriers of gender, ethnicity, race, culture, and class; heals the fissures of race, ethnicity, and class that have divided the city.
- Redistribution – Christians are to work for just relationships in tangible ways, i.e., sharing their time, resources, gifts, and skills; refutes the capital depletion, labor-market detachment, and exploitation prevalent in excluded urban neighborhoods.
- Repentance – Moving forward to a new way of obedience, a turning in a new direction; intentionally works against racism and systemic injustice that leads to brokenness in neighborhoods.
I agree, seeking after justice and reconciliation is constitutive of ecclesial life in union with Christ and in action in the world.
- Controversial Idea
What is the shape of the church’s calling to be a central actor in social change in relation to public responsibility?
With regard to receiving public funding, Gornik introduces the line of reasoning that while the witness of faith-based groups is important, their primary goal should be results, i.e., building more houses or helping children succeed in school, not conversion. The threat is that a work that began for the glory of God may become increasingly secularized as faith-based organizations partner with the government, foundations, and corporations. Rather than reject the secular partnerships and project funding all together Gornik challenges churches to undertake theological reflection in order to cultivate the right loyalties, commitments, and practices.
I am inclined to agree with Gornik. In order for the church to be a major player in social change it is going to have to be wise and social. If faith-based organizations continue to choose dying on every hill where it comes to partnering with secular agencies, they will never live to be the central actors of public responsibility God intends them to be.
Cautionary Note: The Danger of Idealizing Community
Entire Christian communities have been shattered because of imposed wishful images that the church never lived up to. Moreover, human idealized images of what the church ought to look like are actually a hindrance to genuine community. To love a dream of Christian community more than the actual Christian community puts those who do so at odds with the divine ideal. By God’s design, genuine Christian community is a mosaic of broken and imperfect interdependent people bearing with one another. Patterns of vulnerability, brokenness, and sinfulness are always present in the church. For no other reason did Peter charge the saints to love one another earnestly than to overlook multitudes of sin, i.e., the nonideal. “Love is necessary for spiritual survival.”
In order for me to thrive with the church I must surrender my human idealized image of what I think church ought to be. In addition, practicing overlooking other people’s faults rather than magnifying them as well as being thankful for the community I am apart of will contribute to the unity of our local church body.
- Biggest Shortcoming
Theological Reflections on the Creation of Urban Space
I wholeheartedly agree with Gornik that based on sound analysis of the inner and biblical writers, Christian commitment to community development, organizing, and holistic ministry in the U.S.’s inner cities should be animated by the biblical demand to do justice, not the modern rhetoric of charity or compassion. Poverty is the symptom of much more deeply rooted systematic injustices.
Having said that, my understanding is that Gornik’s narrow theological reflections on the recreation of urban space is narrow to a fault. His successful model deconstructs one poverty stricken “ghetto” in order to construct Christian “ghettos.” In my opinion this is an honorable vision but would be better served by a more encompassing exegesis of cities and regions not just fifteen blocks. Being able to educate people with a working knowledge of the greater city surrounding them will empower them to move out from the beachhead into the neighboring communities and regions with the gospel of peace.
 Gornik, 181.
 Ibid., xi.
 Ibid., 51.
 Gornik, 53.
 Ibid., 97-99.
 Ibid., 97-99.
 Ibid, 115-118.
 Gornik, 167-169.
 Ibid., 227-231.
J. Daryl Charles, “1 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, vol. 13 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition. ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 346.
 Gornik, 89.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 62.