What binds us needs to outstrip what divides us

If there is one admonition from St. Paul that I pray will distinguish 2017 from 2016 it is this: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

We have seen the divisiveness that self-interest alone plays in our society. Whether individualism or group-ism, the spirit of “me and people-like-me” is fraying the fabric of the rich tapestries of our nation and communities.

Demographics now drive decisions as big as a presidential election. We know what left-handed, lesbian, Latina Libertarians care about and how they are likely to affect the vote (probably not much … yet). Pandering to voter power blocs shifts attention from the good of the whole to the benefit of some over against others.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann channels the Hebrew prophets in his diagnosis of our disease and its prescriptive cure: “The great crisis among us is the crisis of ‘the common good,’ the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny — haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity.”

We are told that Donald Trump’s election was partly a reaction to social forces that had diminished the sense of dignity of working-class white people in America. Extending the benefits of marriage to gay citizens felt threatening to the traditional institution of the marriage between a man and a woman. The Black Lives Matter movement felt threatening to supporters of law enforcement. The presence of undocumented immigrants from Mexico felt threatening to those without college educations, white and black alike.

It goes the other way, too: blue-collar, white Christians were equated with the oppressing class that kept all minority groups from prospering, even though they felt equally as powerless and deprived in an increasingly high-tech workforce that left them behind with stagnant wages and little to hope for.

Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to see themselves in the struggle of others and learn empathy that might lead to the common good, they (name the group) retreated into camps pitted against others by elevating and privileging their own suffering, while ridiculing, denying or ignoring that of their neighbors. The way forward can only be to break out of our packs and form new friendships across dividing lines.

Call it “enlightened self-interest,” if you need the promise of your own well-being to motivate your advocacy of the interest of others. But in the end, there will be no lasting peace and no enduring prosperity that is not broadly shared.

The politics of resentment may win an election, but it will not build a country or bind a community. Only a commitment to the common good can do that.


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