Community: For Good or Evil
I spent most of the summer in Nelson Mandel’s Long Walk to Freedom. I chose to read it in entirety, compelled to know as much as I could about this global figure. Only ten when he was released from prison, I have limited memories of what was on the news surrounding his release and international influence. And yet as I was reading Mandela, my mind continued to wander to what was not written on the pages, specifically how the community at home must have felt and the role they played in the ultimate dismantling of apartheid.
Coupled with Mandela, Desmond Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness provides an account of his role on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and some of the over 20,000 accounts that were submitted for amnesty. Throughout his work, Anglican Archbishop Tutu reinforces the core of human dignity of every person involved regardless of their role surrounding apartheid. As he stated several times, “a person is a person through other persons,” emphasizing the innate connection between humanity and community.
Holding these two works together, we can see the power that community had in the creation and implementation of apartheid, the degrading measures taken to separate one race from another, as well as the efforts that were taken to dismantle it at every level. I am a strong believer that we were created in and for community, knowing that one is not meant to do life in a silo. Mandela articulated about the communities that he had outside of prison (his family, the ANC, general supporters) as well as the communities held within the prion wall (fellow freedom fighters and prison guards). Mandela spoke of the sacrifices his wife and children made and as he would describe his long periods of time without pay, Winnie being fired from jobs, or the family being forcibly moved out of their home, I sat with the wonder of who was surrounding them during those times. Who was watching the kids when Winnie was looking for work or at a job? Who was making dinner? Washing and folding the clothes? Helping the children with their schooling? How were bills being paid and transportation being provided, especially on those long journeys to the courthouse to watch the trials? Reflecting upon the struggle, Mandela wrote, “when your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.” His children were raised in a community supporting what their father was imprisoned for, but without the reality of their father in their daily life. What a strange environment to have grown up in.
Tutu also references much about community: the white minority that allowed apartheid to survive, the people that suffered and even died in heinous acts of violence, and those that perpetrated unspeakable crimes on others. He states, “our humanity is caught up in that of all others. We are human because we belong. We are made for community, for togetherness, for family, to exist in a delicate network of interdependence.” He speaks of both our capacity for evil and for good – and the same is true of communities as it is for an individual. Political ideologies, religious values, and moral standards are often reinforced by being within the context of community with like-minded people, for better or worse. While there is not much room to elaborate at this point, I found Tutu to have more direct connections to previous works including the concepts of differentiation, the role of evangelicalism and capitalism within apartheid, and the biases each member of the commission brought to the table.
What I find sticking to me above the rest after reading and processing both Mandela and Tutu is their ability to hear of and experience the worst that humanity has to offer and walk in a manner that holds tightly to hope, forgiveness, and peace. I often had to skip over the accounts that Tutu included because even reading of such evil was too much for my mind and heart to hold. But these two men, both with significant roles in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and global influence on peace, seem to have understood more acutely how and why Jesus was able to endure the cross and still ask the Father to forgive those that were driving the nails through his body. As Tutu surmises, “God wants to show that there is life after conflict and repression – that because of forgiveness there is a future.” Oh, that we may continue to look towards and live a life in view of the eternal future that awaits us.
 Tutu, 35.
 Mandela, 217, 220, 556.
 Ibid., 600.
 Tutu, 196.
11 responses to “Community: For Good or Evil”
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Kayli, what a powerful commentary on community and reminder of how God calls us to complement each other as we serve Him in whatever context He has called us.
Thank you Henry. I’ve learned much about community from you these last few years!
Mandela’s Book had been on my reading list for a long time; I’m glad I finally got around to it. The magnanimous nature of both Mandela and Tutu both struck me as well. So much injustice, so much evil and sin, but both those men were able to set that aside and work for a future where all South Africans can contribute. This book was one to read slowly, thoughtfully, and not a cursory glance through the first and last chapters. I’m so glad we got to read both these books just before our trip; sorry you won’t be able to make it.
You’ll have to soak it all in for me, Troy, and report back. I can’t wait to hear how everyone processes being there in person.
Sounds great, I’m sure we’ll all be able to talk for hours on end about the experience.
Kayli, like Henry I appreciate your reflection on community and the lengths both Mandela and Tutu went to keep that at the forefront of their work.
What are ways you might apply Tutu’s wisdom of forgiveness to the structure for your students?
Nicole: I’ve already been thinking about ways of incorporating these two readings into the work I do with undergraduate students — possibly with my honors students and embedding some of this into my pre- and post- work for individuals and teams that go abroad. We already are pretty forward in how we address conflict within a team setting but it would be interesting to have teams to engage the work on a daily basis around campus.
Kayli, do you have the practice scenarios?
Kayli, I really enjoyed reading how you put the two books in parallel regarding community. I fear that our sense of community in the American culture grows more and more shallow over the decades. I noted the same quote you used from Tutu’s book: “our humanity is caught up in that of all others. We are human because we belong. We are made for community, for togetherness, for family, to exist in a delicate network of interdependence.” Those words jumped off the page to me. What implications do you see from that aspect of community in your role within a school? What advice would you have for a pastor in trying to create those places of belonging in the local church?
Roy: If I could pinpoint the strength in my university, it would be community. This is the top descriptor that students, faculty, and staff identify when asked about what is different or unique about us. And thankfully it is true. What is fun, is walking student through how to engage in genuine ways — how to bring their whole self into the community, to be known in a safe environment, and wrestle with the hard topics or mistakes.
For the local church, I think there’s a larger challenge post-Covid with so many not seeing the value of the church community. If there is one area I’d say the enemy has gained momentum these last few years it is convincing followers that the engagement in the local church is not very important. For me, I think when trying to create places of belonging, start with what you know — is there a space for those grieving? those battling addictions? those needing connection at different life stages? Look at what folks are seeking pastoral counseling for and then perhaps set up mini-communities around those topics.
Thank you for your prompt post. You inspire me. I myself have been to Auschwitz too many times and can relate to your need to skip some of the atrocities described. There is only so much the heart can take. Do you have any insights as to how, as leaders, we can continue to face the injustices around us and press through toward a redemptive solution? When do you walk away? When do you preserve? What makes it a worthy cause?