[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions. Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]
As I described in my earlier post today, our family suffered losses in the past few days. I’ve been absent from the very same political discussion I was trying to foster. Please pardon the absence. But I do want to take one last chance to encourage all my FB friends to be thoughtful about their role in shaping the communities in which we find ourselves. Political debate, for all its frustrations, matters. Votes matter. So I’d like to pose one last question before the election. Will you give it some thought?
In response to one of my earlier posts, the wise and benevolent Sandra Mosley Gerhardt commented that politicians all seem to talk about “the children.” We should, they say, think of the future of our children when deciding how to vote. Sandra asked, “and WHO are OUR children?”
I think Sandra has gone to the heart of the matter. In the study of ethics, folks will tell you that the concept of “loyalty” is the most difficult concept to explain. We all have “special relationships” (family, friends, etc.), and it’s not easy to explain why we should regard their interests as having priority over the interests of folks who aren’t in relationship with us. At least, if you believe in an ethic of Christian love, it’s hard to explain. After all, aren’t we supposed to care about EVERY person? Shouldn’t we treat every neighbor as a brother or sister? Every child as a part of our own, extended family?
But we do have loyalties. We often prioritize family over non-family, friend over non-friends, fellow citizens over non-citizens, etc. This is often understandable and often surely ok. For example, if you have a kidney to donate, and both your sister and your next-door neighbor need your kidney, could anyone fault you for making the choice for your sister? But why is that the right choice? Both the sister and the next-door neighbor are children of God and have infinite worth. The example just illustrates the difficulty of explaining special relations in the context of ethics, especially Christian ethics.
So maybe it’s understandable that we act on our loyalties. But sometimes our loyalties create challenges and conflicts for us. Maybe, for example, we have ethical obligations to our children, but does that mean we have NO obligations to others’ children? Maybe we have ethical obligations to our fellow citizens, but does that mean we have NO obligations to immigrants? You get my point – even folks beyond the sphere of loyalties and special relations are, or should be (at least if we claim Christian ethics – or Jewish or Muslim ethics, for that matter), within the sphere of our regard for their well-being.
So many of my compatriots (fellow citizens) would protect their compatriots at any cost. So many would protect their affluence (usually disguised as defense of their own children’s welfare) at any cost. So many of my co-religionists (Protestant Christian, in my case) would protect their “values” at the cost of people and relationships – something oddly conflicting with Jesus’ own “values,” of course. I don’t think “at any cost” is probably a good ethic for anyone. Most of us agree, for example, that we should avoid, e.g., using chemical weapons against innocent civilians to defend our compatriots. Most (I hope) understand that sharing from our abundance (paying taxes) to support some public goods (like schools) will prevent many children from going hungry and will give them futures they couldn’t have otherwise. And as for Christians protecting their values – let’ just remind ourselves that Jesus didn’t really talk about “values” in the abstract. He talked about relationships. Sometimes I hear fellow Christians yelling “self-reliance” and “personal responsibility,” all the while forgetting real people and real compassion. Christ calls us higher.
So from my perspective, sure, let’s each do the best we can to take care of the ones to whom we have loyalties, and let’s encourage others to do so, BUT LET’S NOT STOP THERE. As Christ once commented, even the pagans do that. When it so happens that my neighbors are in need, let’s remember Matthew 25 (about “the least of these”). So many Christians act like paying taxes is somehow immoral, because it’s taking from “me” and “mine.” I tend to think that, while we (via our collective efforts – aka government) should act and spend our collective resources (aka taxes) wisely and efficiently, we as a country should be measured by how we treat the poor and the powerless, and by how we share and even sacrifice to care for them.
So Sandra’s point is surely a good one: Surely every child is ours. Surely the future of every child of God is, to the extent I can influence it, a matter of my concern. Your concern, too, right? When we vote, if we are thinking about our ethical commitments, shouldn’t we extend the reach of our care beyond our personal interests and our “special relations”?
Put another way: When we vote, to whom and to what do we give our loyalties? Aren’t all the children of God (including the grown up ones) OUR children?
Please respond, but please follow the rules: Be nice. Be respectful. Remember, we are trying to demonstrate that it IS possible to talk about politics in the interest of building and growing community, and that, even if we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable! I’ll look forward to your comments. And go vote Tuesday!