What do the Borg of Star Trek fame, South Africa’s ruling party, and the church have in common? All three function in terms of their understanding of the philosophy known as ‘collectivism’.
Now don’t stop reading, because this article deals with an issue that many, if not most, Christians and particularly church leaders have to deal with at one time or another – what is best for the greater good.
Collectivism has been defined in so many ways, but I understand it as the belief that the common good of the group is more important than the good of the individual. The extent of the ‘group’ can vary from the whole of humanity, to a country, a political party, or even a local church. The Borg is a fictional alien species that are linked together by a group mind, a hive mentality, they call The Collective. South Africa’s ruling party (The ANC) also regard themselves as a collective and I suspect they secretly cherish the Borg mantra of “resistance is futile”. I have called this article ‘The Borg Dilemma’ because collectivism creates some real dilemmas especially for those in positions of leadership or influence.
A couple of days ago the Secretary-General of the ANC expressed the nature of the sort of dilemma I am talking about. He stated on national television that in his official capacity he was sometimes obliged to convey decisions and give reasons for these decisions that he does not personally agree with. He explained that he was part of the ’collective’ and therefore was obligated to conform to the group decisions and ‘party line’. In the absence of any biblical values, his dilemma may simply be personal image and reputation versus group cohesion. However, for a person whose conscience is prescribed by biblical values the dilemma is more complex.
Let’s take the case of a church leadership group that takes decisions that compromise the beliefs and convictions of one of its members.
What is that leader supposed to do? On the one hand he or she wants to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ, the church, but on the other hand personal integrity and commitment to truth demands potentially divisive action. Obviously this leader would voice his objection to his peers, but what then? He could continue to argue for a different decision or way forward at the risk of creating disunity first in the leadership group and then in the church at large. He could resign as a leader and if pressured by others to disclose his reasons for resigning he could simply leave the church. Or perhaps he could say nothing and tacitly support what he believes to be a wrong and potentially destructive decision. This is indeed a dilemma because group interest stands in apparent opposition to individual conscience and integrity. To make matters worse, if he is correct in his objections then the church as a whole will inevitably suffer the consequences of the wrong decision, either immediately or later.
A starting point for resolving this sort of dilemma is to realise that there is often a false dichotomy involved. What is best for the group is usually placed in juxtaposition to what is best for the individual, but for the Christian the real question is simply what is BEST. And what is best will always satisfy the criteria of both truth and love. The Ephesians 4:15 injunction to speak the truth in love means that love and truth must be linked, and that truth must be motivated and applied in love. Both the group and the individual good is best served by the loving application of truth.
In the example I cited the dissenting leader would be wise to attempt to speak truth out of a motivation and in a manner that would do least harm to the unity of the church body.
Key elements of this would be humility, refusal to accuse or denigrate others, acknowledgement of the worth and contribution of those holding a different view, and gracious and non-inflammatory communication.
Two proverbs speak to the combinations I am describing; ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Prov. 15:1), and ‘An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips’ (Prov. 24:26).
The Lord Jesus Christ embodied and epitomised both truth and love (grace) for it is written, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). And John’s benediction to the church reads, ‘Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love’ (2 John 3).