Session Six

Church and Family as Schools of Civic Virtue

“How Can we Teach Citizenship When we Don’t Even Have Time to Eat Together?”

As sociologist Robert Putnam has observed, although bowling is still popular, we are bowling alone more often. This decline of league membership is a handy metaphor for membership in other community groups. The fact is that social organizations enhance the lives of individuals and communities. Unfortunately, the demands of family and work often leave people too busy to volunteer and to serve the community. Yet churches and families can serve as schools of civic virtue which help individuals to live out Christian ethics in the context of citizenship. When put into practice by congregations, the traditions of covenant, community and common good can help individuals become faithful citizens.

Volunteering to Help the Homeless

This video offers a starting point for discussion of volunteering as a way of transforming lives. Direct engagement with persons in need, undergirded by a faith-based network, can change the perspective not only of the served, but of the server.

Key Issues

  • Individualism and covenant have been characteristics of our national identity, yet the American story also includes the symbols of “[c]ooperation, teamwork, joining groups, and being a good neighbor. We are not self-sufficient beings who achieved success entirely on our own. From the moment of birth, we are in community with other people.”
  • According to Donald Shriver, if Christians are to grow in their ability to serve the common good, this must be nurtured in three mutually enforcing arenas: 1) worship together, 2) a circle of friends, and 3) experiences of working together for the common good in secular society.

Questions for Discussion

  1. A volunteer says that his work “helps to put a face on poverty” by confronting him with the common humanity of individuals who happen to be homeless. When you see homelessness portrayed in the media or in the rhetoric of politicians, what sort of image does it portray?
  2. One volunteer admits jumping to conclusions when she encounters a homeless guest who was reluctant to speak, confusing his hesitancy with anger. What sort of conclusions have you reached when you viewed the homeless from a distance?

Practicing Citizenship in Church and Family

Sociologist Robert Bellah discusses with Donald W. Shriver the role of the church and family in teaching citizenship.

Questions for Discussion

  1.  “Every institution is educational,” says Robert Bellah, “And everything we do is teaching us something.”  When we shop in a huge supermarket filled with an array of goods, or view the media, including television and the Internet, we are learning something.  When have you experienced television, the Internet, the press, or advertising as educational in this broad sense, either for good or ill?
  2. “Worship pulls me out of the thousands of pressures of daily life and gives me a bigger perspective,” according to Bellah.  “Church is reminding us that the society in which we live is far from everything.”  At this point in history, “the church can help us see that our citizenship is in the world, not just the nation-state.”  How can the worship  experience be shaped, through sermon, prayer, music or electronic media, to reflect these larger loyalties?

Faithful Citizen: Living Responsibly in a Global Society

A six-part study guide designed for use in congregational development. The guide includes in-depth discussion of global issues effecting our faith and our response to the world as well as questions for discussion and where to look for more resources.

Purchase the PDF Companion Study Guide

$8.00/session or $40.00 for all six sessions