The Common Good
January-February 1997

The Common Good

by Duane Shank | January-February 1997

Across the country, people are hungry to put their faith into action.

It was 17,000 miles to 34 communities with 63 public events in seven weeks: The Who Speaks for God?, Call to Renewal, and Sojourners fall speaking and organizing tour by Jim Wallis has ended. Thousands of people, from Harlem to Orange County, Seattle to Miami, heard the message of a new social movement mobilizing people of faith with a moral agenda.

Around the country, participants named several pressing issues as priorities for action.

How are states and communities going to deal with the welfare repeal bill? This legislation will be devastating to local communities. For the 500 people who attended the town meeting in Jackson, Mississippi, Gov. Kirk Fordice's plan to use as much of the welfare block-grant money as possible to build more prisons was a major concern. What national coordination and support can be brought to local and state political struggles in the coming year? More fundamentally, how do we develop new approaches to alleviating poverty?

We deeply need a new effort on racial justice. How do we move beyond simply responding to crises such as church burnings and begin to deal seriously with racism, the need for repentance and racial reconciliation, and the need for justice?

AN OPPORTUNITY TO reach common ground on some key social issues was also evident. It is widely agreed that 1.5 million abortions a year is a moral tragedy, and it does not seem likely that there will be a constitutional ban on abortion. How can "pro-life" and "pro-choice" people work together on strategies to reduce the number of abortions? Programs to better support women, to provide better health care, to emphasize male responsibility, and to improve adoption services could make a major difference.

It is widely agreed that the family is in trouble in this country, and it is also widely agreed that the rights of gay and lesbian people must be protected and defended. What kind of strategies, programs, and conversations can work toward both goals?

In the recent election, hundreds of millions of campaign dollars were basically unaccounted for. How can the religious community take the lead in raising moral outrage at a system where the wealthiest few control the funding of political campaigns, and the rest have no voice?

How do we address these issues?

First, we need to realize that all profound social transformation begins with individual transformation—personal renewal. Each of us needs to renew our covenant with God regularly. We must be rooted in the Word of God and connected to God in prayer. Our ability to heal the wounds of a broken society, to work for reconciliation, and to transform society ultimately depends on our empowerment by the Spirit.

But we cannot stop with individual transformation. As transformed individuals, we can then transform our society. When we know God and respond to God, we can change the world.

We also heard a concern for congregational renewal. As the visible body of Christ in the world, the church is the primary place where we live out our faith by collectively putting it into action. Many congregations are taking the first step by putting Leviticus 19 and Matthew 25 into practice in their communities—serving the poor, the hungry, the sick, the stranger, and those in prison.

Part of this concern is a deeper reflection on the relationship of faith and politics. Although it's been difficult this year, it is important to see politics as more than elections. Politics are about how we live together, how we seek to find common ground, and how we are informed and involved in our communities. We have largely lost in our country a sense of the "common good"—both Left and Right have too often emphasized individualism instead.

From this involvement in communities and neighborhoods comes an impact on the political system—national renewal. Our work in local communities must ultimately be connected to public policy. A network of active and faithful people, churches, and organizations can bring the insights learned in community work to advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.

We might see all of our groups and ministries involved in the Call to Renewal as islands in the storm, and our organizing goal as connecting the islands—coming together to make a difference in the nation. We support each other, strengthen each other, and increase the power of our advocacy by joining together.

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. To be put on the Call mailing list, please send your name and address to Call to Renewal, c/o Sojourners, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8842.

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