Common Good: Can we still find common ground?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Common Good
Jim Wallis, author photo courtesy of the publisher.

Jim Wallis, author photo courtesy of the publisher.

restoring America’s Common Good sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?

This week, I am inviting you to discuss the conclusions of best-selling author Jim Wallis in his new book: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Also this week, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Jim Wallis about the first half of his new book in which Wallis describes his spiritual inspiration. In OurValues, we’re looking at the second half of the Wallis book, called Practices for the Common Good, in which he outlines nuts-and-bolts ideas for reaching this goal.

HERE is the problem Wallis sees: “We’ve lost our civility, the ability to have public discussion that isn’t harsh or dismissive.” What we need, he argues, is a commitment to an ancient idea: the Common Good. It is “the best way to find common ground with other people—even with those who don’t agree with us or share our faith commitments.” Wallis is a public theologian and overall editor of Sojourners magazine. The title of his new book comes from Lincoln’s famous remark, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

I hope you’ll add a comment today on our first question this week: Can we still find common ground so that we can begin to talk? Consider these responses.

FIRST, Jim Wallis offers this insight: Neither liberals nor conservatives have all the answers; in fact, they each have half an answer. The Common Good requires what he calls “the two best big ideas of conservatism and liberalism.” These are personal responsibility, a defining theme among conservatives, and social responsibility, a rallying cry among liberals. We are responsible for ourselves and our families—and we are responsible for others broadly defined. “I believe that both conservative and liberal insights and commitments are necessary for it to exist,” Wallis writes.

SECOND, my own research over many years shows that Americans share a surprising number of core values. These are values agreed upon by large majorities of Americans over a long period of time. Later this year I will be releasing a book-length exploration of these core values for small-group discussion. Think about the refreshing power of this idea. Rather than endlessly arguing about hot-button issues, discussion groups could start by discussing core values on which Americans agree. Among the 10 core values in my own upcoming book are: Equal Opportunities, which I summarized in an earlier column; Freedom to fully participate in political decisions; and Respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups.

Could these ideas help us find a common ground to start talking?

How do you define the Common Good?

Please, read along with us all this week as we discuss more of Jim Wallis’s ideas for reviving the Common Good. And, please, add a thoughtful comment, below. We will ask Jim Wallis to stop by and look over our discussion mid-week.

Please leave a comment below:

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  1. Jane Wells says

    Wallis’ statement that neither red nor blue have the full picture reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend when we were describing our political stances.
    She said “I consider myself a fiscally conservative Democrat.” I couldn’t help but grin when I replied, “Huh… well, I’ve always thought of myself as a socially compassionate Republican.”

  2. Ramblin Rob says

    “Common Good?” What is “Common” today? Trying to define the common good causes me concern because it seems we are coming at this from a Judeo/Christian position and not from a “common” position. What do we use to define our “Core Values”? I think first we have to determine the source of our core values before we can have a common discussion. I would think that history dictates the use of the Declaration of Independence as our core value, the rest is supporting that end. Religion today is in a turmoil as it no longer guides our common conscience. Ramblin Rob

  3. seaside roses says

    I like both Rob and Jane’s answers, and I identify with Jane’s description of herself.
    For me as a Christian, it is not most important that “we all get along”, but rather, as you quoted Lincoln, that we are on God’s side.
    So, Christians are always going to be at least somewhat politically incorrect, as we know that for the Lord, the bottom line is NOT quality of life on earth, but salvation of your soul and reconciliation with Him.
    That makes us tending to be working at different purposes than the general public, and “common ground” can become “compromise” for the Christian.
    A Christian is always going to have compassion on those who are suffering, but he/she also knows that God lets people reap what they have sown so that they will hopefully cry out to Him for help and salvation.

  4. Kurt J. Kolka says

    Well put, Jane and Rose. I can no longer define myself as part of a political party, because I see areas where both parties are off from what I see as what God would have us do. I really like your definition though, Jane!