The Common Good

Jim Wallis on Congo, Supply Chain and the Good Samaritan

Editor’s Note: Below are Jim Wallis’ remarks as prepared for an event with the Brookings Institute and Global Witness. The day focused on two provisions within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act intended to aid the transparency of global natural resource governance. The rules concerning conflict minerals have yet to be implemented by the SEC to the detriment of countries like the Congo.

You can read more about conflict minerals HERE and about the importance of the SEC rules HERE.

JIM WALLIS:

My thanks to Brookings Institute and Global Witness for having me here today. It’s good to see some of my friends from Enough and our guest Delly Sesete.

A few weeks ago, I was at a celebration that was one of the few bi-partisan events that I’ve been to in D.C. in the past few years. It was a celebration that in 2015 we might see the first generation born HIV-free.

The glue, as I saw, that brought together Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and ideological foes such as Nancy Pelosi and Jesse Helms together… was faith and moral commitment.

Faith is something that is often used and abused here in Washington D.C.

Two senators—one a Republican and the other a Democrat— were eating together in the Senate Dining Room. The Republican senator said, “You Democrats know nothing about religion!” “That’s not  true,” insisted the Democratic senator. “We know a lot about religion.”  So the Republican issued a challenge, “I’ll bet twenty bucks you can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer!” The Democrat said that was easy, and began, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” The Republican then reached for his wallet and replied, “Darn, I didn’t think you could do it!”

But, sometimes we are able to find common ground by moving to higher ground. That is what has happened around HIV/AIDS, malaria and extreme global poverty. We are making progress.

Jesus taught his disciples the “golden rule.” It is the ethical commandment that is held in common with all the world’s major religious traditions. That I believe is our common ground and higher ground. Jesus’ iteration of that command was: “Love the lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

One day, somebody in Jesus’ audience got the bright idea to ask him the question, “And just who is my neighbor.”

Jesus responded with this famous story:

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

When we hear this story it is easy to condemn the Priest and the Levite for leaving somebody by the side of the road. But, they were technically just obeying the law. They were fulfilling, as they saw it, their responsibilities to their religious roles. They were both supposed to stay “clean” in order to fulfill their duties. Touching the bloody body would make them “unclean” and cause problems for them once they got to Jericho.

My job, they said, is at the end of the road…  I can’t get involved in the mess by the side of the road. It would only slow me down from my responsibilities once I get to Jericho.

If Jesus was here today and somebody asked him from the audience “And who is my neighbor?” I wouldn’t be surprised if he answered something like this:

[HOLDS UP CELL PHONE]

Your neighbor is every man woman and child who touched the supply chain used to make your cell phone, used to make the clothes you wear, the computers you type on and the cars you drive.

Your neighbors are all of God’s children. The theological reality that people of faith try to live out is that our neighbor is not defined by geographical proximity. Our neighbor is the person in need.

Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means a change of plans. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means we have to slow down a little bit. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor might even cost us money.

There are people who haven’t wanted to get involved in the mess by the side of the road. They walk by it and say that it’s somebody elses responsibility. My job, they say, is at the end of the road at Jericho.  I’m just being faithful to my shareholders by maximizing profit. My job is just getting the products people want into the hands of those that want them. I can’t be worried about those who get left by the side of the road of my supply chain. If I stop to help clean up the mess along the way it might cost time and money.

It’s not my job, I’m just responsible to the consumer. It’s not my job, all I am is the consumer. It’s not my job, I’m not breaking any rules. It’s not my job, I can’t change my plans now. It’s not my job, it would be too expensive to stop and help. And hey, if a few people do get hurt along the way isn’t there a good Samaritan around who will take care of it for me?

Jesus said that we all are responsible. It doesn’t matter if we think we have a good excuse to just keep on walking and ignore all the messy and unfair steps along the road of the supply chain. Since we are already responsible, the fact that we benefit as well makes us responsible not once but twice over.  

There might be an excuse to give your supervisor why you just walked on by, there might be an excuse to give your shareholders to just walk on by, there might be an excuse to give your customers to just walk on by but…

There is no moral excuse.

God’s children aren’t defined by color, creed or borders. We are all God’s children. Whether a high school student in America or the young people working in dangerous conditions in the mines of Eastern Congo. We are all God’s children.

The SEC isn’t a savior and no rules are going to fix every problem. It will take work and vigilance. But, from the Catholic Bishops of the Congo, Catholic Relief Services and numerous NGO’s on the ground we continue to hear that these rules will help the people of the Congo end a bloody and violent conflict.

These rules are the next step to make sure that we, whether manufacturers, investors or consumers, don’t just walk on by.

A key to the Congo’s peace and prosperity will be to ensure that American’s aren’t putting money into the hands of violent militias. That the natural wealth that the country has benefits the people who live there.

We have a responsibility. We have a job. We can’t just walk on by with our excuses because the people of the Congo are our neighbors.

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