The Common Good

On God’s Side: For the Common Good

Sojomail - March 28, 2013

On God’s Side: For the Common Good

Get a FREE trial issue of Sojourners

Donate Today!


A revealing thing happens when you remove yourself from the daily drum of politics and become a mere observer. I did just that last year, during some of the most divisive moments of the presidential election. Sitting back and watching the deluge of insults and accusations that feeds our political system, I witnessed the worst of us as a nation. And I came to the conclusion that it’s time to reframe our priorities.

When did we trade the idea of public servants for the false idols of power and privilege? When did we trade governing for campaigning? And when did we trade valuing those with the best ideas for rewarding those with the most money?

We’ve lost something as a nation when we can no longer look at one another as people, as Americans, and — for people of faith  — as brothers and sisters.  Differing opinions have become worst enemies and political parties have devolved into nothing more than petty games of blame.

During a three-month sabbatical, observing this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, I prayed, meditated, read — and then I put pen to paper. The resulting book gets to the root of what I believe is the answer to our current state of unrest. It is not about Right and Left — or merely about partisan politics — but rather about the quality of our life together. It's about moving beyond the political ideologies that have both polarized and paralyzed us, by regaining a moral compass for both our public and personal lives — and reclaiming an ancient yet, urgent and timely idea: the common good.

I called the book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Goodpulling from a famous Abraham Lincoln quote: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

That was probably the most important thing about religion ever said by an American president. Presidents and policymakers usually want to claim that God is on their side, their country's side, and even their political party’s side. But what does it mean to be on God’s side?

I believe it starts with focusing on the common good — not just in politics, but in all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, communal, and, public lives. That old but always new ethic simply says we must care for more than just ourselves or our own group. We must care for our neighbor as well, and for the health of the life we share with one another. It echoes a very basic tenet of Christianity and other faiths — love your neighbor as yourself — still the most transformational ethic in history.

As a Christian believer, I hold that call close to my heart and see that the biblical call to the common good means caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, and valuing others as ourselves. These ideals inform my steps as a follower of Jesus, but they are also key to moving our country forward regardless of our religious faith, spiritual identity, or none of the above. The common good is a moral call for us all as men and women, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, employees and colleagues, friends and acquaintances, religious and secular. It’s what we owe each to each other.

How can we inspire the common good in every aspect of our lives? What does the common good in practice look like?

Well, we are seeing it today, even in some corners of Washington, D.C. It is playing out in the immigration debate as bipartisan groups come together to find common ground for the 11 million individuals whose lives are torn apart by our broken immigration system. Policy makers on both sides of the aisle have come to understand the moral imperative of ensuring the well being of those within our country — of keeping families together and welcoming those who already share their lives, their work, and their church pews with us. If we can uphold the common good on immigration, I believe it is possible elsewhere.

It’s time to ask what it would look like if we could practice the common good in the massive debates that are now dividing our country: economic fairness and social trust; the purpose rather than the size of government; the moral path to fiscal sustainability, ethics for globalization; coming together to holistically prevent gun violence; conflict resolution over endless wars; and countless others.

And if we are truly committed to discovering what it means to be on God's side, it is time to go much deeper in seeking a redemptive path forward. It's time to move beyond our shallow and superficial, often hateful politics and media. It’s time to do the spiritual reflection that could provide the moral compass that our politics and economics have lost and that even our religions can forget.

As I wrote, my purpose became ever more clear: to help spark a national conversation about the meaning and application of the common good. Although the call to the common good goes back centuries, the need for a new dialogue about what it means and what its practice would require of us has never seemed more critical.

On Monday, I begin a nationwide tour — 40 events in 16 cities so far. During these “Common Good Forums,” I hope to help lead the conversation on how we can move forward in our communities, cities, neighborhoods, and ultimately as a country, joining together in the common good.

And you can join me: on Facebook and Twitter, I will be posting my thoughts, sharing photos from the road, and offering exclusive access to the conversations that will help shape this national dialogue. And I want to hear back from you, too!

I think it is fitting that this whole process begins right after we walk through Holy Week. I’ve felt the weight of this season on my soul as I look at where we are as a nation. It’s a weight that reflects the very real brokenness of this world, evident in not only our politics, but in our daily walk as we ‘do life’ together and too often fail to see the face of God in each other.

But there is a hope and a true joy in the redemption that we get to share this Sunday.

I pray that this book’s message will carry with it that hope during this time when many still feel quite hopeless. For a whole new generation, the common good is becoming an ethic and a vision worth committing one’s life to. The opening sentence carries a hope that many people are hungry for:

“Our life together can be better.”

Please follow along as we begin this national dialogue. Follow Jim on Facebook and Twitter to receive first access to a special offer to purchase On God’s Side.

Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, releases April 1. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog

View latest articles from the God's Politics blog »

On Door Prizes, Pony Rides, and a Gazillion Eggs When the Gospel Ought To Be Enough
by Eugene Cho

No doubt that Resurrection Sunday (or otherwise known to the masses as Easter) is one of the most significant events and Sundays for the church. While it wouldn't be wise to reduce the totality of God's narrative to one event, the death and resurrection of Christ is undoubtedly crucial. Our faith and the credibility of the gospel hinges upon the historicity and veracity of the resurrection of Christ.

Bright Young Things?
by Tara C. Samples

Like most women I know, I have struggled with the realities of sexual objectification all of my life. The tension between my faith and my experience has been an obstacle in discovering my worth before God. My faith teaches me that women and girls were divinely created in the very image of God, and together with men and boys we are equal co-heirs of eternity with Christ. My faith teaches that this image is reflected in a woman's total being, her mind, her soul, her heart and, inclusive of, but not based upon her body and sexuality. But my experience teaches another lesson. 

To Whom Do They Answer?
by Daniel Weeks

During this Holy Week, Christians around the world turn inward to reflect on the mystery and miracle of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Those two surpassing events are more than good enough to occupy the mind and heart of every believer. 

The Holy Week Journey
by The Rev. Kenneth Tanner

You and I bring our life experiences with us when we gather with other Christ followers for worship. Everything that has happened to us on our pilgrimage in this world accompanies us, in fact, wherever we go.

Our past is part of what makes us unique persons. What we have endured and felt and accomplished informs our conversations and often helps determines our actions in the present moment. This is what it means to be human.

An Open Letter to Rob Bell
by Tripp Hudgins

This letter was written on a plane a week ago. I posted it originally on Facebook as a status update. Out of curiosity I took a gander at it again and decided I wanted to share it here. Things are so fluid on the Ol' F-Book that I thought keeping it here would be good to do. Rob's new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, offers someting new and something familiar all at once. What I think Rob is doing is not so much giving us new ideas (though, given some of the ecclesial silos many of us have been reared in, some of these ideas might seem new). Instead, Rob is lending his voice to many Christians. 

Poverty in America: It’s not what you think.

Check out the new documentary from Sojourners: The Line. Click the link above to watch the trailer!

Strangers in the Land

Every Christian is an "undocumented foreigner"—in the world but not of it. Learn more about Strangers in the Land, a six-week devotional on immigration, the church, and the Bible. From the editors of Sojourners magazine.

Order your Dorothy Day bag!

Dorothy Day says, "Food for the body is not enough...there must be food for the soul." You can say it, too, as you shop with Sojourners' exclusive stuffable, reusable, and durable shopping bag.

Are you Hungry for Justice?

Learn more with this 6-week devotional guide from the editors of Sojourners magazine. Feed your hunger with daily prayer and readings that explore the Bible's call to social justice. Click on the link above.