The Common Good

In the Image of God

Sojomail - May 1, 2008


One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews, and I get asked a lot of questions, is: Is faith important to your politics? It's like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone "of faith," it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn't affect your politics.

- former Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair, in a speech detailing the role of faith in his political career. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

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In the Image of God

When Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke to the U.N. General Assembly, many hoped he would denounce specific wars and injustices. But he rather took a step back and addressed the fundamental principles that the world community should follow. His speech was a primer on Catholic social teaching – solidarity, human dignity, and the common good.

The heart of his speech was grounded in human rights based on the "innate dignity" of every person. Benedict said:

The life of the community, both domestically and internationally, clearly demonstrates that respect for rights, and the guarantees that follow from them, are measures of the common good that serve to evaluate the relationship between justice and injustice, development and poverty, security and conflict. The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security. Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace. ... a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help to achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favours conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace.

In other words, the recognition that each of us is created in the image of God means that what is at stake in how we treat one another is nothing less than how we regard the image of God in us. This recognition leads to:

Indeed, questions of security, development goals, reduction of local and global inequalities, protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate, require all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law, and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. I am thinking especially of those countries in Africa and other parts of the world which remain on the margins of authentic integral development, and are therefore at risk of experiencing only the negative effects of globalization. In the context of international relations, it is necessary to recognize the higher role played by rules and structures that are intrinsically ordered to promote the common good, and therefore to safeguard human freedom.

That is the heart of the issue. It is always the "least of these" — the poorest and must vulnerable — who test our commitment. Those who are the left out and forgotten are those whose human rights must be protected by international bodies and international law, the "structures that are intrinsically ordered to promote the common good."

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Never Again (by Duane Shank)

Today is the commemoration of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) in the modern Jewish calendar. The date was originally enacted by the Israeli Parliament in 1953, but has now become a commemoration by the international Jewish community and friends. It is a day to commemorate the more than 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis from 1938-1945. It is a day to reflect on the fact that when the rest of the world knew what was happening, too little was done to stop it. And, it is a day to reflect on contemporary genocides, such as Darfur, and redouble our efforts to ensure that "never again" becomes a reality.

N.T. Wright and Bart Ehrman: New Stories and Resurrection (Part 1 of 2 by Melvin Bray)

As did Brian McLaren, I recently read the conversation between N. T. Wright and Bart Ehrman, hosted by Beliefnet. I must admit my incredible bias upfront. I have a deep appreciation for Tom Wright and was embarrassingly quite ignorant of Bart Ehrman. Wright had given me the language and academic credibility for a narrative theology at which I had arrived serendipitously. I had long appreciated Wright for challenging the Christian tradition to reckon with the contextual realities that shape biblical claims. Although my faith may require less now in terms of traditional apologetic constructions to substantiate it, I am grateful for Wright's insistence on intellectual honesty when interpreting scripture. But I was immediately captivated by Ehrman's story. It was the best thing he could have done for me. While a fan and student of the quality of thinking that Wright epitomizes, I adamantly believe that everyone has the right to tell his/her own story.

N.T. Wright and Bart Ehrman Discuss Evil (Without Flaming) (by Brian McLaren)

Ehrman, an Evangelical Christian in his younger years, describes how in later adulthood his faith became a casualty of his inability to reconcile the world's heinous suffering with the existence of a gracious and good God. N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop and scholar, responds. This "blogalogue" isn't a debate: there is no winner, except those who read and gain insight from the dialogue partners - both in the substance of their comments and in their mutually respectful mode of discourse.

A Better Answer to High Fuel Prices (by Mary Nelson)

Recently, both President Bush and an oil company spokesperson, speaking to the rising gas prices, pushed for building more refineries and upping the production of oil here in the States. No mention of exorbitant oil company profits. No mention of our need to drastically reduce use of cars and gasoline, to change lifestyles. No mention of the working poor who are stuck without public transportation to jobs remote from their inner-city or inner-ring suburban homes. Reducing dependence on the automobile will mean a lot more than raising fuel efficiency standards for cars and buying more efficient automobiles. It will need a change of lifestyle, removing frivolous car trips, using public transportation, and changing the priorities of government transportation funding.

Praying for a Real Liberation Army (by Nontando Hadebe)

A lot has happened this past week, starting with the international day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday, April 27. Churches all over the world stood in solidarity with the plight of Zimbabweans and condemned the widespread violence and intimidation of citizens by the government. Not surprisingly, there were counterclaims by government and some politicians in the region that the violence is exaggerated and not "serious." This got me thinking about what constitutes "serious violence." Is it mass massacres where thousands upon thousands of lives are lost? By defining crisis in relation to statistics, politicians continue to devalue the lives of Africans.

John Marks' Reasons to Believe (interview by Becky Garrison)

I met John Marks, author of Reasons to Believe during a screening of Purple State of Mind. Given that we're both transplanted Southerners, I was interested in exploring why he chose to leave the faith of his childhood. Following is a short interview of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation.

A Vision for Freedom in Zimbabwe (interview with Dr. David Kaulemu)

The challenge here is in reconstructing, both in terms of our vision and also in terms of our institutions, and also our personnel, our skills—reconstructing in such a way that we speak a different language where we are really concerned about the poverty in the country, we're really concerned about the dignity of human beings—each and every human being—it doesn't matter which tribe, which ethnic group, which race. And so to really begin to talk about new citizenship in a free Zimbabwe.

Wright Ex-Factor (by Diana Butler Bass)

Over the last several days, I watched Rev. Jeremiah Wright in discussions of faith, theology, history, and culture on television. The three-plus hours I devoted to PBS and CNN amounted to some of the most sophisticated and thoughtful programming on American culture and racial issues that any news station has offered in recent years. And, for those who really listened to Rev. Wright, he moved from being a political liability in the current presidential campaign to demonstrating why he is one of the nation's most compelling spokespersons of the African-American community and of progressive Christianity.

'I Was Skeptical' (by Jim Wallis)

Last evening, I spoke at the Belmont Heights Baptist Church, just off the campus of Belmont University in Nashville. It was a good event, with the always-inspiring music of Ashley Cleveland, Kenny Greenberg, and Marcus Hammond. As is usually the case, there were a large number of young people in attendance. This morning I saw a blog post by someone who was there that I thought I'd share. He wrote: "I was skeptical, but after hearing Jim Wallis speak tonight ... I'm very much on board with what he and Sojourners (his social justice organization) are doing."

The Power of Conscience (by Nontando Hadebe)

Only two African leaders have been vocal about their opposition to the crisis in Zimbabwe -- these leaders are from Zambia and Botswana. However, I must add that, to their credit, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, and South Africa refused to allow a ship carrying weapons destined for Zimbabwe to dock in their ports. In the case of South Africa, it was the actions of dockworkers and drivers who refused to unload the cargo from the ship, and the court action co-sponsored by the Anglican church that prevented the arms from being transported to Zimbabwe. This is an amazing example of the power of citizens who follow their conscience and refuse to participate in actions that will harm fellow human beings -- even in defiance of their government. These actions inspire hope and courage.


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