The Common Good

The Prerequisite of the Common Good

Sojomail - November 8, 2012

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

The Prerequisite of the Common Good

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support

The day after the 2012 election brought a great feeling of relief. Most of us, whether our candidates won or lost, were so weary of what elections have become that we were just glad the process was over. Many were disappointed that dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington, D.C., had undermined their deep desires for “hope” and “change.” Politics have severely constrained those possibilities by focusing on blame instead of solutions, and winning instead of governing. And, as the most expensive election in American history just showed, the checks have replaced all the balances. 

But the election results produced neither the salvation nor the damnation of the country, as some of the pundits on both sides seemed to suggest. 

The results of the presidential election showed how dramatically a very diverse America is changing; people are longing for a vision of the common good that includes everyone. As one commentator put it, “the demographic time bomb” has now been set off in American politics — and getting mostly white, male, and older voters is no longer enough to win elections, as the Romney campaign learned on Tuesday. The common good welcomes all “the tribes” into God’s beloved community, and our social behavior and public policies must show that. Even after such a discouraging election campaign, many still hope that we are not as divided and cynical a people as our politics would lead us to believe, as President Barack Obama passionately said on election night to the diverse American coalition that had just re-elected him. 

As for religious voters, it appears a strategy of citing a “war on religion” — and doubling down on the long-failed strategy of citing abortion and traditional marriage as the two “non-negotiable” religious issues — once again failed. But at a deeper level, the meaning of “evangelical” in American politics is changing to now include African-American and Latino Christians whose theology is clearly “evangelical” and who overwhelmingly voted for the president this week. And despite the opposition of many Catholic bishops, Obama also won the Catholic vote, again, because of the influence of Latino Catholics and Catholic women voters.

But people of faith aren’t going to be entirely happy with any political leader, and they shouldn’t be. Many of them feel politically homeless in the raging battles between ideological extremes. But they could find their home in a new call for the common good — a vision drawn from the heart of our religious traditions that allows us to make our faith public, but not narrowly partisan. That requires a political engagement that emphasizes issues and people above personalities and partisanship. 

For example, fiscal responsibility is indeed a moral issue, but how we achieve it, and at whose expense, is also a moral choice. As the debates about the “fiscal cliff” now begin, expect the community of faith to be visibly and actively involved in pressing both Republicans and Democrats to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. An even deeper unity has grown across the faith community about the need to “welcome the stranger” by fixing a broken system with comprehensive immigration reform.

Trust has been lost in the fairness and opportunity of our economic system, and must be restored by asking what a “moral economy” would look like. More people think everyone deserves a “fair shot” and believe both our economic and political systems have been rigged on behalf of the wealthy and powerful. New senate voices like Elizabeth Warren are promising to be champions on those issues. 

Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? 

The need to restore the health of households, to strengthen marriage and prioritize the raising of children, is essential now, and can go even deeper than equal protection under the law for same sex couples — which also gained ground on Tuesday. Protecting “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened.  The failure of strident and partisan efforts by people like Franklin Graham and Ralph Reed to narrow those issues in the final stages of this election was very evident and significant. More and more Christians, especially younger ones, now believe our congregations will be finally evaluated not merely by their correct doctrines, but by whether their missions are serving the “parishes” of this whole world; here and now, not just for the hereafter. 

The prerequisite for solving the deepest problems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good. How do we work together, even with people we don’t agree with? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves, but also one another? Only by inspiring a spiritual and practical commitment to the common good can we rescue and redeem our politics.

Many of us believe that to be on God’s side, and not merely claim that God is on ours (to paraphrase Lincoln), means to live out the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

(That’s why every politician in Washington, D.C., needs to see Sojourners’ new documentary The Line and understand what it’s like to be poor in America today. If you chip in $15 today, we will hand-deliver a copy of The Line to your members of Congress. To show our appreciation, we’ll send you a copy, too.)

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in early 2013. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

'Lincoln:' An Honestly Good Movie
by Brandon Hook

Abraham Lincoln was a storyteller, so it's fitting that his story has been hashed out on the silver screen — without vampires.

And to say that it simply was "hashed out" would be an injustice to director Stephen Spielberg and everyone who contributed to Lincoln, a film that will be remembered as much for its beauty as the iconic character from which it gets its name.  
+ Click to continue

10 Things I Learned in the Middle East
by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love, and lead back in my neighborhood.  
+ Click to continue

Emergent Christian Cliches to Avoid
by Christian Piatt

Following the creation of my first five articles in this ongoing series about Christian cliches (links below), I was alerted to the fact that my lists were notably absent of particular cliches often employed by emergent Christians. While the emergent Christians are endeavoring to re-imagine the way we engage faith, one another and the world differently, the movement still is dependent on human beings. As such, we tend to screw it up.

So in the spirit of fairness, I offer you a list of things emergent Christians can and should strike from our daily lexicon …
+ Click to continue

Neighborliness is the New Sexy — 7 Ways to Achieve It
by Tripp Hudgins

It's a joke. Well, it was. There we were talking with Diana Butler Bass and others from SOGOMedia in an online forum about the Presidential Election and the words flowed forth: Neighborliness is the new sexy. It was ridiculous, but then I started mulling the idea over and this is what happened. Adam Ericksen and I started pondering what Seven Marks of Neighborliness might look like. 
+ Click to continue

Post-Election: Our Hope for the Future
by The Rev. Kenneth Tanner

Whether your guy won or whether your guy lost, do any of us believe that politicians or the political process can unite us or solve our nation's deepest troubles (the most serious of which are not economic)? 
+ Click to continue


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Christians and Islam: Do we share more than we realize? This discussion guide looks at the shared history, theological similarities and differences, and hopes for social justice that both Christians and Muslims share. Download now.

God is NOT a Republican or a Democrat. During this election season arm yourself with a political statement that makes sense. Get your sticker today!

Dorothy Day says, "Food for the body is not enough...there must be food for the soul." You can say it too as you shop with Sojourners' exclusive stuffable, reusable, and durable Shopping Bag. Order yours.

Do you want a great resource to help you deliver a passionate sermon on justice and peace? Do you need lectionary reflections from a trusted source? – Learn More About Preaching the Word.



Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.