Last week I was blessed to be invited to a reception and speaking engagement that featured Jim Wallis from Sojourners. Jim has just had a sabbatical and this was his first week back out on the road. It was clear that he had benefitted from the sabbatical time – some clear thoughts and new ideas were in his message. And one of them reminded me of something I have said and thought and think bears repeating here.
In the rancor of today’s political environment it is easy to simply dismiss everything that comes from the “other” side as somewhat ignorant (or even evil). It is as if the conservative and liberal voices in our culture have nothing in common and no way to understand each other. But Wallis pointed to the one theme that seems to be present in both – and it is the one that lies at the heart of our work at Day 8 Strategies. That theme is “responsibility.” In fact, the whole notion behind “Day 8” is the Hebrew covenant that calls us into responsible partnership with God. This is represented when Jewish boys are circumcised on the eighth day of their lives. It is also represented when on the eighth day of the week (early Christians were sometimes referred to as “8th day worshippers”), Christ was raised from the dead and a new creation was begun.
Jim Wallis rightly pointed out this truth – that conservatives understand the importance of individual responsibility. What we do with our lives matters and we are called to accept responsibility and live faithful, meaningful and accountable lives. No one else can do that for us. He also noted that liberals are right in understanding how important our responsibility to each other is. To the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the answer from the faith community and the witness of scripture is clearly, “yes.”
Sadly, rather than seeing responsibility as a shared value on which we can build a fair and just world, each side seems hell-bent on showing how their take on this is right and the other is somehow almost evil. Conservatives would throw many who are in need to the wolves. Liberals would hang on to things that lack elements that teach and encourage personal responsibility and empowerment. Bringing both of these to bear gives us a new chance to reclaim the concept of “the common good,” the base for what many people of faith believe is the whole purpose of social ethics and good policy. Check out Protestants for the Common Good for one faith-based group working from this perspective.
Faith groups need to somehow step outside of this and make an important contribution. Being responsible for yourself, whenever possible, is healthy and important. Being responsible for others, whenever needed, is equally healthy and important. Both are grounded in a scriptural view of a world where life flourishes and a mix of personal freedom and shared resources is lived out with care and concern for all. It seems clear to me that faith communities have something healthy, politically relevant and non-partisan about this. This may be a strange time in history where being prophetic makes the prophet sound like one of the nice guys!