Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Entitlement or Connectionalism?

In my last post I began thinking about what we mean by the term “entitlement,” and why it seems to be such a negative idea for so many. A colleague whose congregation had applied for a grant from the conference shared with me that one of our conference goals this year is “reducing the sense of entitlement” of our churches.

When I heard that, I spoke with a respected friend who is a part of the Congregational Development Team to ask him about entitlement. I asked, “What is the difference between entitlement and connectionalism?” After some thought, he replied that connectionalism implies an outward focus that seeks to build the broader ministry of the denomination, whereas entitlement implies an inward focus in which one is simply trying to get one’s share of the resources.

I think this distinction is helpful, but it doesn’t fully explain to me why a sense of entitlement is a bad thing. A connectional church is centered around the notion that we are all a part of the body of Christ together as a community. In that light, entitlement seems to be a foundational principle of God’s justice. And if you will indulge me in a bit of proof texting, read the following:

+ Luke 18:22: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
+ Acts 2:44-45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
+ Deuteronomy 10:17-18: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.”
+ Psalm 10:17-18: “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.”

When I was a kid, Mom taught me how to share my toys. When I had a Matchbox car that one of my friends wanted to play with for a while, the right thing to do was to let him play with it. No question about it. The one who has is expected to share with the one who has not.

Extrapolate that principle into grown-up terms like “connectionalism,” and we have to ask some big questions about why those who have and control the resources are trying to reduce the sense of entitlement in our world. Perhaps the intention is to ensure that only the very neediest are given the necessary resources. But I have the feeling that things have been generalized to the point that, rather than “show mercy to your neighbor” (i.e. Luke 10:37) as a foundational principle, we are being told to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

The way I see things, that may be an American ideal, but it is not very Christian.

(Next question: Why is it only the rich and powerful who decry the culture of entitlement? I welcome your comments, and I will write some more on this topic in days to come.)


Anonymous said...


I stuggle with the word entitlement because I am never sure how people mean it. As Christians it can be dangerous to talk about entitlement. Are we entitled to God's grace or is it a gift that we receive? The issue we seem to be discussing is an issue of trust. If I expect someone I help out to misuse the assistance, I will not want to help them out again. I don't trust them. We Methodists do not always treat one another as if we are in a covenant community striving for the same goals. Living out connectionalism is a challenge when we don't seem to trust each other, heck being a Christian community is tough if you don't trust one another. Did the Corinthians have trouble with that?

Dennis Harper

David said...

Hey Andy--

Had a kinda-sorta-parallel conversation the other day: we were talking about affirmative action and other "diversity-encouraging" policies, and I mentioned that as an upper-middle-class white male, I have few "strikes" against me—except for the gay card.

I reflected on several scenarios in which I've been invited to participate simply because I'm an out gay man, and mused that it would have been nice to be invited because, say, I had demonstrated profundity of thought and clarity of communication, instead of because "my people" were "owed" a chance to speak on our own behalf.

I guess what I'm getting at is, even for the underling, the "blessing" of entitlement is not necessarily un-"mixed."

But then, whom among us really deserves any blessing, to begin with?

Mulling along with you,