The Common Good

Jim Wallis on the Common Good

Date: April 7, 2013

1. You’ve been at the forefront of the immigration debate, bringing the faith community to the table. Why were people of faith, particularly conservatives, hesitant on immigration reform before, and why are they engaged now?

Three reasons: First, evangelicals have had a genuine biblical conversion to how God wants us to respond to “the stranger” and especially when Jesus says how we treat them is how we treat him. Second, evangelicals have had a relational conversion as immigrant families, including the undocumented, have become part of their communities and churches. When you worship with people you get to know them. Third, all our churches are experiencing most of their growth from immigrants—from the Catholics to the Southern Baptists—and “the strangers” are integral to the future of the church in America. My new book explains how we are helping the political leaders to do the right thing by providing both moral courage and political cover for them; and how this differs so much from the bitter budget debates for example. We explore how politics loses and finds the common good.

2. You just wrote a new book, On God’s Side. What’s it about? What are the key differences between this work and your previous ones, including God’s Politics?

“Our life together can be better” is the opening line of the book and expresses the hunger that many people feel today. I wrote the book on a three month sabbatical during the election year, with a discipline not to engage the news cycle but only to watch it at night after long days of reading, reflection, and writing. I saw how polarized, vitriolic, and depressing our political debate has become and realized that we had lost something very important—an ancient idea called “the common good.” The spiritual foundation for the common good is “to love your neighbor as yourself” and is found in all our faith traditions. But the common good is also in our secular democratic traditions and could be something we could gather around—common ground for the common good; as is now happening on immigration reform for example. I apply the ethic of the common good to the economy, the role of government, the renewal of democracy, the reality of globalization, and even how to do conflict resolution with our enemies. But the common good isn’t just about politics but our personal decisions that we make every day in our workplaces, congregations, communities, and our households where we live our lives as parents and kids, and those closest to us. How do we treat our immediate neighbors, our poor neighbors, our undocumented neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our gay neighbors? And I explain why the kind of Jesus Christians believe in will determine the kind of Christians they are going to be. This book is more biblical and theological than God’s Politics but then applies the practice of the common good to the biggest questions we face today and, especially, shows where we can find hope.