The Common Good

Text: The Moral State of the Union

I'm Jim Wallis, of Sojourners and author of The Great Awakening. As the President prepares to deliver his State of the Union message to the country, I want to share some of my reflections on the Moral State of the Union.

I am speaking as a person of faith who feels the hunger in America for a new vision of our life together, and sees the opportunity to apply our best moral values to the urgent problems we face. I am not an elected official or political partisan, but a religious leader who believes that real solutions must transcend partisan politics. For too long, we have had a politics of blame and fear, while America is hungry for a politics of hope and solutions. It is time to find common ground by moving to higher ground.

Because we have lost a commitment to the common good, politics is failing to solve the deepest crises of our time. Real solutions will require our best thinking and dialogue, but also call us to transformation and renewal.


Most Americans know that the important issues we face have an essential moral character. It is the role of faith communities to remind us of that fact. But religion has no monopoly on morality. We need a new, morally-centered discourse on politics that welcomes each of us to the table.


A government that works for the common good is central. There is a growing desire for integrity across our political spectrum. Corruption violates our basic principles. Money and power distort our political decision-making and even our elections. We must restore trust in our government and reclaim the integrity of our democratic system.


At this moment in history, we need new directions.


Who is left out and left behind is always a religious and moral question. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the health of a society was measured by how it cared for its weakest and most vulnerable, and prosperity was to be shared by all. Jesus proclaimed a gospel that was "good news to the poor."


I am an evangelical Christian, and a commitment to "the least of these" is central to my personal faith and compels my public actions. It is time to lift up practical policies and effective practices that "make work work" for low-income families and challenge the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor. We must find a new moral and political will to overcome poverty that combines personal and social responsibility with a commitment to support strong families. We need a grand alliance between liberals and conservatives to produce new and effective strategies. Answering the call to lift people out of poverty will require spiritual commitment and bipartisan political leadership.


Our world continues to be plagued by tragic violence. The war in Iraq goes on and on, with nearly 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. The cost and consequences of a disastrous war are moral issues our country must address. The only moral and practical course is to dramatically change the direction of U.S. policy, starting with an honest national debate about how to extricate ourselves from Iraq with the least possible damage to everyone involved. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is growing in strength and al Qaeda remains on the Pakistan border. Pakistan itself is struggling now between dictatorship and democracy. Genocide in Darfur continues with the world community seeming unable or unwilling to act. A new foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy addressing global poverty over militarism and endless wars is now urgently needed. We must move beyond a foreign policy that sees war as the only way to confront real evil.


Our earth and the fragile atmosphere that surrounds it are God's good creation. Yet, our environment is in jeopardy as global warming continues unchecked and our air and water are polluted. Good stewardship of our resources is a religious and moral question. Energy conservation and less dependence on fossil fuels are commitments that could change our future- from the renewal of our lifestyles to the moral redemption of our foreign policies.


A culture that promotes healthy families is necessary to raise our children with strong values, and the breakdown of family and community in our society must be addressed. But we need serious solutions, not the scapegoating of others. And wouldn't coming together to find common ground that dramatically reduces the number of abortions be better than both the left and the right using it as an issue to divide us?


We need a new politics inspired by our deepest held values. We must summon the best in the American people, and unite to solve some of the moral issues of our time. Americans are much less concerned about what is liberal or conservative, what is Democrat or Republican. Rather, we care about what is right and what works.


We are in the midst of a historic election campaign, with the candidates battling to convince voters that each has the vision and the capacity to really bring change; but it is absolutely clear that change has already won this election. The voters have spoken and they want a new direction. A new generation of voters wants a new kind of politics in the U.S. that would overcome the partisan deadlocks and ideological battles of the present to find real solutions to our social problems.



But we know that the change must go deeper than politics. In fact, unless change goes deeper, politics won't really change. We should each remember that even if our favorite candidate wins (whoever that turns out to be), he or she will not be able to really change the big moral issues of our time unless and until there are social movements pushing for those changes from outside of politics. Political leaders in Washington have changed the U.S. less often than social movements have. The country is signaling it is hungry for change again, and we will need to see the kind of spiritual and social movement that can deliver on that hope.


Even a candidate who runs on change, really wants it, and goes to Washington to make it, will confront a vast array of powerful forces which will do everything possible to prevent real change. Politics is unlikely to be changed merely from within - no matter who wins, and no matter now sincere they are, we will not see significant change unless, and until, the pressure increases from the outside. Because when politics fails to resolve or even address the most significant moral issues, what often occurs is that social movements rise up to change politics; and the best social movements always have spiritual foundations. In American history, what are called "Great Awakenings" have occurred when spiritual revival was linked to social movements for change

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)