The Common Good

A New Year

Sojomail - January 3, 2013

A New Year

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At Sojourners, people are just getting back from their holiday breaks with their families and some will still be out this week. D.C. public schools don’t even start until next week for my two boys.

Of course, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives came back early to avoid sending the nation off of the “fiscal cliff.” For the first time in two decades, taxes were increased for the wealthiest two percent, something most Americans support. And programs the Circle of Protection seeks to protect for the most vulnerable, including important tax credits that have kept millions of Americans out of poverty, were kept safe in the final deal.

The legislators barely succeeded in coming to a compromise but largely avoided the more challenging issues of the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” and an agreement on long-term deficit reduction.  The compromise delayed the sequester for two months, which means it will kick in around the same time as an anticipated debt ceiling fight in which Republicans say they will force the nation into default unless they get the spending cuts they want.

I applaud the president's continued commitment to protect poor and vulnerable people as reflected in this deal. I encourage him to remain steadfast in his refusal to negotiate such important matters with those risking our nation’s economic health to advance their own political ideology.

The result of this last moment political compromise, which people on both sides say they don’t like, makes sure that the fiscal fights will again be all that Washington will be talking about in the first quarter of the New Year.

But what have yet to be made clear to the American people are the fundamental moral choices we will make in this debate over the nation’s fiscal soul. I am convinced that must now be the role of the faith community — to make those choices clear. That is a task for a new year; more on that soon.

On a more positive note, the moral pressure from outside, including the faith community, has apparently convinced both Republicans and Democrats that it’s the time to fix a completely broken immigration system. That pressure must continue until both sides finally do the right thing. The faith community has come together on the need to protect “the strangers” among us and, with our help, we can bring the politicians together too — or at least enough of them.

And the tragedy in Newtown that hurt us all so deeply, especially so many American parents, does have the capacity to start a national conversation on guns, mental health, and our culture of violence in America. The only way to honor and memorialize the deaths of those 20 precious children is to refuse to allow old special interests to block that conversation and the changes that must come from it. These three issues will be priorities for us this New Year.

At a deeper level, we have to move to a much more basic commitment, beyond all the particular issues, post-Left and Right, to a fundamental renewal of a most ancient and yet very timely and necessary vision: the idea and spirit of the common good. I spent most of 2012 thinking, praying, and writing about that biblical and theological vision and how it might apply to the biggest questions we now face. The new book I’ve finished will come out in the spring, and it’s called On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. I’m very hopeful about it and think it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. And it’s clearly what I want to say right now. The book tour begins on April 1, and I look forward to coming to your part of the country this year with “a vision for the common good.”

Now let’s go back to the beginning of this column about the New Year and the time we have all just spent with our families. Don’t forget the time you just had with your children and those family and friends you have spent these last days with. And let’s remember that these closest relationships are so very important. Let this be a year where we show how much we care about them. It’s called building the common good from the inside out.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in April. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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