(Defending the Common Good, Part 2)
“Come…for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.”
–Matthew 25, verses 34-36
It is remarkable what it takes to realize that our world has been in crisis for a long time.
In Chris Iosso’s opening editorial, he provides a list of specific ways in which the church has been and must be engaged in a world of human mistakes. I speak here to a broader motivation for faith in the world, not as a force for a rigid society, but as an inspiration for radical change.
On June 23, 2007, a young Senator from Illinois spoke at the UCC General Synod and made a call for a radical kind of love in society. I was 13 years old.
Up to that point there had always been, in my mind, a gulf between the worlds of politics and faith. “Real” faith, to me, was synonymous with love and inclusion: my pastor’s name was Mom, and I had grown up in a sanctuary where the mantra was “no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I rejected any less-welcoming religious rhetoric as a “false image of Christianity,” and self-righteously contented myself with ignoring it. Meanwhile, the inequities of the world seemed distant from my personal faith.
Senator Obama turned the tables on the illusion that my faith could or should exist in a vacuum. He asserted that we could not walk away from “moral problems rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness.” He called for a new “politics of conscience”, and articulated the goal of reclaiming the language of faith to bring about change. The language of faith is crucial because it operates outside the limits of self-centered interests, allowing for the radical love which puts others before oneself. It takes that kind of radical love to build a society in which we actively care for each other—ALL of each other—instead of fighting only for our own self-interest.
Radical love comes at personal risk, and it takes a remarkable degree of faith. There are many good reasons why we doubt each other, why we doubt the integrity of politicians, and why we often doubt the sincerity of religious institutions.
We doubt because we are not satisfied by the incomplete and conflicting narratives which we are given. And to be fair, these narratives often fail us.
The false narrative that, in order for “us” to thrive, others
must be cast aside follows a pattern which reaches back millennia.
We live in a world where millions of children are impoverished, and where refugees and displaced people have topped 65 million, yet we are told that we cannot afford to reach out and help them as a nation.
We live in a nation of rampant racial segregation in education, housing, and the criminal justice system, and yet we are told that this is a post-racial society.
We live in a society where the rights of individuals to love someone, to control their own bodies with a measure of privacy, to worship as they please, and to be treated equally under the law are constantly in question, and yet we are told that we are free. But, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Our status quo has long been that of a world in crisis;
we just haven’t always acknowledged it.
We are not yet free, not from the fear which binds us to division and injustice. The false narrative that, in order for “us” to thrive, others must be cast aside follows a pattern which reaches back millennia. Fear tells us to put ourselves first, callous to the needs and freedoms of other people. Jesus flips that on its head, saying that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
Our status quo has long been that of a world in crisis; we just haven’t always acknowledged it. Jesus did, consistently working to defend people at the margins of his society: women, children, religious and cultural “others,” the sick, the impoverished, and the scorned.
Jesus knew that change only comes when we are collectively willing to challenge our own assumptions. In particular, he challenged us to acknowledge all people as neighbors, and to love your neighbor as yourself—NOT second to yourself. And so, in following Jesus, we must strive to release ourselves from the limiting assumptions that divide us.
If we follow Jesus, we will continually challenge the social and institutional barriers among people of different ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds. We will seek engagement with the needs and identities of all people, and we will learn to draw each other into equal communion in our nation and our world.
It is precisely in an era of doubt that faith becomes essential.
This may seem an unrealistic goal in an era of doubt and mistrust, when people believe what we want to believe and dismiss all other perspectives as “Fake News” because we have been lied to before. In fact, for humans operating according to the status quo, it is impossible—and I am just one more young idealist charging into the fog which shrouds this War on Truth. Yet I maintain that it is precisely in an era of doubt that faith becomes essential.
As long as we remain stuck in societal indifference, Fake News wins at pitting us against each other. But, when Fake News rhetoric is carrying the day, the best answer we can muster is faith in the peacemaking banner of the Good News: we are loved unconditionally; so is everyone else. In the knowledge of this radical love, we can accomplish things together which are impossible to do alone—if we in turn have the faith to take a risk, and love radically in turn.
We must be confident enough to engage with doubt and learn from it, instead of blindly denying anything which challenges our assumptions.
We must be brave enough to embrace people of all creeds and identities, instead of calling them our enemies.
We must have faith enough to challenge a world in crisis, in defense of the common good.
For an overview of policy work that the Church has been doing toward this goal over decades, read Chris’ opening editorial. As for what we can do today: look around. The time to act is at hand—it always has been.
AUTHOR BIO: Henry Koenig Stone serves in Louisville, KY as current Managing Editor of Unbound and Associate for Young Adult Social Witness. Originally from Rochester, NY, Henry comes from a long line of pastors and professors. His family has practiced an equally long critical tradition of having “roast preacher” for Sunday lunch. Henry holds a B.A. in Economics (2015) from the University of Chicago and an MPP (2017) from UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. His past work has focused on policy analyses of healthcare pilot programs and public health systems. A baritone, Henry is a fan of both sacred and irreverent vocal traditions. His favorite place on earth is Dunkirk Camp & Conference Center, where he has been a summer camp counselor for many years.