The Airbnb Scandal, Human Nature, and the Need for Church Sharing

August 4, 2011 in Church, Leaky Jar, Sharing

The much-discussed Airbnb scandal has so far generated a little light and much heat. Some commentators are treating this news as a death-blow to the newly-blossoming world of online sharing. Online sharing services are responding quickly by putting into place new protective measures and communicating openly about risks with their customer base. Those within the sharing community are worried about the setbacks this event will cause (as if it wasn’t already difficult enough to convince people that borrowing and sharing can be better than owning and guarding). Most interestingly, though, many within the sharing community appear to be surprised by this event, and many of the sharing services (particularly Airbnb) seem caught off guard that such a problem and abuse of trust could have occurred.

I say that this element of surprise is interesting, because it comes as no surprise to me (or, likely, any other devoted reader of St. Augustine or St. Paul) and it seems to give us a glimpse into the worldview of many sharing enthusiasts. That is, there seems to be an underlying belief that humans are ultimately good beings, who commit evil acts primarily because of circumstances, ignorance, and inequality. As a Christian, I must recognize the influence of those three elements as components of the negative term “the world” in Scripture (as a side note, the Bible tends to have two primary ways of using the term “world”: the first is a positive term and speaks of the world as all of God’s creation; the second is negative and generally refers to broken, sinful, twisted, corrupted, idolatrous, and oppressive systems generated by the sinful cooperation of human beings). At the same time, it is a distinctly Christian teaching that humans, who were originally created very good and in the image of God, have been innately sinful and wicked since the time of the first sin in the Garden. With such an understanding of human nature, any plan to develop a sharing service or community assumes from the beginning that it will need to put in place safeguards to help deter people from harming one another and to protect potential victims. Rather than simply seeking to build trust among their members as many have, sharing communities and services need to simultaneously give people reasons to be trustworthy.

While the (mostly secular) sharing services and sharing community take up the discussion of safeguards and risk mitigation, I believe that the example of the Airbnb fiasco also sounds a clarion call of the need for churches to implement sharing programs and develop sharing communities within their congregations. The average Christian church is particularly well-suited for developing the practice of sharing goods among its members for four key reasons:

  1. Sharing property is in the Church’s DNA, all the way back to the Book of Acts, and materialism has always been seen as an idolatrous system by the Church.
  2. Most churches (excepting the largest) are communities of people who know one another, who have social ties to one another.
  3. Most churches have a built-in structure as disciplined communities who recognize the rule of God as King in their lives and who accept loving discipline from their fellow church members and church leadership.
  4. Christians have the Holy Spirit living within them, Who enables them to actually live as a true community in which all of life can be shared.

In upcoming posts, I will share some ideas and reflections from my experience with my own church as we try to develop a system of sharing within our congregational community, but for now your questions, comments, arguments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcomed below.

See Also: Airbnb Places Wake Up Call to Sharing Entrepreneurs