Common good

The Common Good Amid Individualism

Two churches,  Silva Vikmane /

Two churches, Silva Vikmane /

As Americans, we live in a culture that is hyper-individuated, fragmented, and dehumanizing as it pushes a mantra of success based on material accumulation and power. Being in community with others is the countercultural answer to this. Doing so with others unlike ourselves is an important part of this. At the end of the day, above the polarization and partisanship, there is much we can do to promote the common good together. As Maddie put it at a meeting that brought Christians of opposing social interpretations together, "We may never agree on some issues, but that is not why we're here; we're good people, you're good people, let's do good together."

Submission: Freedom and Community

Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.

All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments:  Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.

Stars Align on South Africa Human Rights Day

Photo by A. Warmback

Children lead the sermon on 5th Sunday of Lent at St. John Baptist. Photo by A. Warmback

Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. We would be less human if we do so…we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.

       - President Nelson Mandela- December 1997

There is visceral identification by South Africans with the suffering of the Palestinians.

Newspapers and speakers at South Africa Human Rights Day/U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focused on the liberation of the oppressed and the importance of a mobilized civil society to stand with the marginalized. The events commemorate the nonviolent protest against the racial passbooks, March 21, 1960. The day ended tragically with the Sharpeville massacre, which left 69 people dead and 180 injured. Nelson Mandela burned his discriminatory passbook a week later and the long march for freedom and dignity began in earnest. Even when it is still a journey in progress of real equality and democracy for all, there is an intentionality expressed best by Mandela.

Reclaiming the Commons

Soho Square, London, pablo /

Soho Square, London, pablo /

The commons was the name for the public space shared by all in New England towns. It is the root of commonwealth, a nice term for an entire civic entity, like a state, in which every citizen is viewed as a stake-holder. Its values are the opposite of those decried in the lament “private wealth and public squalor.” The commons are the opposite of gated communities. 

Today, there are two crises of the commons — one on the right and one on the left. One is indifference to the commons, even starving the commons. This means the demise of “social capital” (the sum total of all social networks and human investments in a community or polity) and civic values shared by all, and their surrender to utilitarian individualism and the dominance of the market. The other is the argument over what discourse style is appropriate to the commons — what language should be spoken and what subjects allowed in public life. Hint: lucid rationality is in, religion is out.

What Does It Mean to Be on God's Side?

"My concern is not whether God is on our side...but to be on God's side."

"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side." - Abraham Lincoln

The need for the common good has never seemed so timely.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.