The Common Good
March 2014

Loving Our Neighbors on a Global Scale

by Jim Wallis | March 2014

We are all neighbors now, whether we like it or not.

“GOD CREATED the world and we created borders.”

That obvious recognition was shared at a recent consultation in Quito, Ecuador, between North American and Latin American churches on “Faith, Economy, and Migration.” Felipe Adolf, president of the Latin American Council of Churches, shared that conclusion on how issues of migration and reform are global and not just local.

It’s very easy to see the problems confronting our nation and feel as though the challenges facing the rest of the world are simply too much to bear. Continuing poverty and unemployment, discrimination of all kinds, and wars and rumors of wars fill our newsfeeds, papers, and TV screens. But it’s naïve and narrow to think this way. Many of the threats we face are global in nature and don’t know any boundaries. Through our economies and consumption habits, media, travels and migrations, and for Christians in particular our faith, we are inextricably connected with men and women around the world. It’s always been important, but now especially so, to think globally when it comes to faith and justice.

Sojourners has a long history of doing this very thing. We started as a little group of two kinds of people—those who had grown up conservative evangelicals and were deeply frustrated with the lack of attention to issues of justice and peace, and those who had just come to faith from the student movements and counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. We met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and began to study and pray through the scriptures about injustice, war, and poverty. The Vietnam War was raging, and we were looking for a biblical understanding of the events of our time.

The first issue of Sojourners magazine, then called The Post-American, which our small group published in the fall of 1971, was meant to introduce our generation to a Jesus we thought was radical and to a biblical faith that was the foundation for changing the world.

Since then, we have aimed to tell the story of U.S. foreign policy through a biblical lens—in the nuclear arms race, in Central America, in South Africa, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most recently in Syria.

For many years, we have turned to trusted people in many parts of the world who have served as our eyes and ears to help us understand what was really going on. I’ve walked with them in their places and met the faces that shape their lives. And they have always taught me much more than what I hear about those faces and places on cable television.

GLOBAL PANDEMIC diseases can’t be stopped by the walls we put up. The threats posed by rapid climate change could affect all of us, wherever we live, and particularly those who lack resources to protect themselves. Massive migration caused by poverty, conflict, or environmental pressures creates new tensions and upheavals for new immigrants and for the people who live in places where those immigrants go. And the impact of war and violence in one part of the world usually spreads its costs in both financial and human terms to many other places.

We are all neighbors now, whether we like it or not. And as Christians, we are called to live out Christ’s command to love our neighbor, even on a global scale. People across the world make the products we use every day. For example, the money that supports violent militias in Congo comes from the minerals they control and sell to manufacturers who make our cell phones. In places such as Bangladesh, women and children work—and sometimes die—in sweatshops that make the clothes we wear.

And very important, the center of the 21st century church has moved to the global South. This past year we welcomed our first Latin American pope, who has held our feet—and consciences—to the fire when it comes to addressing global poverty and inequality.

So what does it mean to live globally in this new reality? How do we stand with our sisters and brothers in faith when we may never meet them? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves when our country faces its own set of challenges?

I believe that it starts with listening. It’s tempting to go to war-torn countries with our own—often uninformed—ideas about how to solve their problems. But what we’ve always found is that when we go to places to give, we end up receiving, and when we go with the hope of bringing change, we are changed. So here at Sojourners we’re making an effort to ask our brothers and sisters in the global South to help us know how we can better be their brothers and sisters.

Those who live in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world have a particular temptation to be parochial in our worldview—seeing everything from an American lens. Though we continue to be deeply engaged in the issues that shape our own neighborhoods and nation, it is also necessary to be “post-American.” 

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine. 

Image: Close up shot of hands reaching each other,  jokerpro / Shutterstock.com 

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