Don’t worry about the deleted comments. They are better for having been redone.
As for “covenant”, it is an ancient concept and perhaps it cannot be resuscitated, but it is perhaps useful for moving us beyond the concept of contract to describe the kinds of relationships we see emerging in the best of cMOOCs, and elsewhere.
I don’t think “those who committed to community” are “responsible for trying to keep others ‘happy’ or something”. You know I like soccer, so let me use that analogy again. When I make a “solemn promise” to an “intentional community” (to use Rebecca’s terms) of recreational soccer players, then I commit to showing up to play soccer, bringing whatever value I have as a soccer player to the game to enrich the game for all. I am responsible for the integrity of my commitment, just as the other players are responsible for their commitments. I am also responsible for maintaining a communal space where all the players can add their soccer value. I don’t cheat, I don’t intentionally injure, I don’t fight; rather, I promote good soccer play with integrity, whatever that means.
This doesn’t mean that I am responsible alone for keeping others in the intentional community. A recreational soccer league frequently has players who try soccer, find they don’t like it or their life circumstances shift, and they disengage. This happens, and the intentional community should let it happen. Each player is responsible for determining if the group’s intention resonates with them or not. If, for instance, I learn that I really like woodworking better than recreational soccer, then I should find a woodworking community. I shouldn’t expect the soccer club to turn to woodworking to keep me in the community, as this undermines the intention of the community.
On the other hand, the soccer club should be self-aware enough to use every loss of an engaged member as an opportunity to reflect on its intentions and to ask if its intentions and culture still sustain community. We all know examples of communities that have become toxic or whose intention has become irrelevant or damaging.
But all of this is a dynamic relationship, not a static, contractual relationship, worked through and sustained more by desire (love, affection, passion, commitment, etc.) rather than by a legalistic contract or set of rules. Professional soccer players have contracts with their teams, recreational players have covenants.
Keep in mind, though, that I am speaking of the extremes of both contracts and covenants for the purpose of distinguishing them from each other. In practice, they can shade into each other. I am also not suggesting that contracts are bad and covenants are good. They both have their affordances and limitations. But covenants seem to be more like the relationships that emerge in something like Rhizo14.