By Bryant Lee
This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, CSB).
The word “gentrification” is akin to “cancer” in many communities for those who have given their lives to challenges and concerns of these neighborhoods. The reality is that communities are always evolving into new shapes and forms as new people, businesses, ministries, and development change the cultural landscape.
I hear the words of Jeremiah ringing in my ears from church planters to well-established pastors. However, I often sit with multiple community investors who harbor a sense of discomfort and disappointment with the changing context. When offering counsel, the question that must be answered, is what does God want? Does God care for those new residents as much as the existing residents and how do we live together to the glory of God?
If we believe that God is sovereign in all things then He must be orchestrating the changing complexity of communities for His glory. If we agree that the gospel has power to bring people of diverse backgrounds and social economic classes together then how do we go about this kind of work?
In Jesus' high priestly prayer found in John 17:20-23, he prays that essentially his people be identified by their unified purpose of demonstrating God’s love before a watching world. The first goal of community harmony must be finding peace with the person of Jesus Christ. This is where true peace begins and ends and to that end, we seek to build the spaces and places that give way to this glorious idea.
This is where the practicality of Jeremiah comes into play. In essence, we are encouraged to live not as solo practitioners but as a unified community. Look closer at all the admonishments to Israel and we will discover this is what both long-time residents and new residents want in their communities in the 21st century.
Surely no one is upset when an empty eyesore lot now has a new home to add beauty to the changing landscape, or who wouldn’t want a community garden where fresh produce can be shared by all. Even more exciting is the idea that our children are safe and families are thriving.
What makes gentrification hard is when we miss the remaining admonishments found in this text. First, pursue the wellbeing of the city or community, this would include all residents, not just the new money residents but also those who have years of both financial and human capital invested in the community. This is where those entering and those remaining must come to common ground.
Imagine with me what would happen if we started with prayer rather than petitions and broken promises. What impact could the collective community have if wellbeing of all were the goal and not just the happiness of a few?
We must be convinced that in a hostile world the idea of peace is possible when all of us are committed to the welfare of the community in the city we find ourselves.
Consider these four basic actions that help create peace.
1. Become an initiator of conversations in your community.
2. Invest both in property and people.
3. Be inclusive when new information surface that affects the greater community.
4. Involve others in the process of change.
The fact remains that gentrification is a constant reality of the ever changing cultural landscape of society. The greater fact is this: the gospel remains a great equalizer of all things old and new. The pursuit of peace is not just available but possible for all who desire to experience shalom.