I recently spoke at the seminary from which I graduated, and I said we need to rebuild a faith in us.
As much as we need to rebuild critical infrastructure, we need to mend our nation’s social fabric. We can get there with a new type of stubbornness in our politics, one that is principled about understanding our neighbors rather than fearing them. As we understand our neighbors, we start to see ourselves in our neighbors. We see the needs we share in common, and how important it is for us to stand together to achieve our shared goals. We won’t agree on everything, but we can find ways to stand together.
When the Minnesota Legislature is in session, every floor debate in the House and Senate begins with a chaplain for the day delivering a prayer. Chaplains come from all corners of Christianity, and Jews and Muslims offer prayers too. As a pastor, I’m always curious to hear what these religious leaders will say.
Repeatedly, they reference the common good. They ask legislators to remember the common good, to work for the common good, to serve the common good. Conservative and liberal Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all point to the common good.
I’m not a Catholic, but I know that the common good is foundational to Catholic social teaching.
Pope Benedict once said, “the more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them.” Pope Benedict connects pursuing the common good in our politics with loving the neighbor, and I hear the religious leaders praying before our legislative sessions doing the same. They ask us to listen, to understand what our neighbors are going through, to adjust our thinking and come together.
This is a stark contrast to the fear and division politics that we are increasingly accepting as normal. Many politicians intentionally stoke racial and geographic divisions because it fires up their base even though it tears us apart. Powerful interests like Facebook choose their profits over patriotism, amplifying anything that gets more attention, including misinformation, and hateful and violent posts.
Lee Drutman, an expert on political violence has said, “When you start dehumanizing political opponents or really anybody, it becomes easier to inflict violence on them.” Nationwide, threats of violence towards school board, health officials, and others, are on the rise. Too many people in politics encourage us to see each other as enemies to be despised rather than neighbors with shared needs.
The solution is remembering the common good, seeking to understand and care for our neighbors. We will discover needs in common across race and across geography. We need health care, child care, good schools, good jobs, clean water and a stable climate, together. We don’t need to fear one another. We can come together, and we must. As we do, we will push the dangerous, violent views that have become mainstream in our politics to the isolated, lonely edges where they belong.