A good question: How can we promote the common good?
One question, four answers
‘Collaborate across the things which divide us’
The short answer is: by forming relationships with people who have different life experiences and whom we may not agree with. This is not easy, and goes against the way we’re often encouraged to think and act. But it’s when we collaborate across the things which divide us that we begin to build the common good.
And I do mean build. ‘Promoting’ or ‘seeking’ the common good makes it sound like it’s a sort of ‘utopian ideal’ or something to be imposed by one ‘enlightened’ group upon another. In fact, it’s the opposite – something we create together. And when we do this, we begin to transform our neighbourhoods and the lives of every person in them. The common good, properly understood, has the potential to make our communities, workplaces, institutions, not least our churches, places where everybody is valued and affirmed.
We seem to be losing a sense of our common life. Many voices today want to divide us –whether by class, ethnicity, religion, identity or whatever – rather than bring us together. As churches and Christians we have enormous potential to meet this challenge. We are people from all walks of life, all sectors of society. Our currency is love, hope, human dignity, family, interdependence. Can we help foster a culture of encounter where people with different experiences meet? Can we find the courage to ‘stay in the room’, keep the dialogue going, recognising the humanity in everyone, affirming the legitimacy of what they have to say? …
Jenny Sinclair is the founder of Together for the Common Good, a movement aiming to ‘bring alive the principle of the common good and to encourage people to work together across their differences’
‘A community of faith in a community of fate’
Seeking the common good means navigating between being a member of the Church as a community of faith and recognising that we are all members of a shared community of fate. What do I mean by that?
In your street or neighbourhood you do not choose who you live next door to. Rather, you find yourself living in close proximity with a bunch of people whom you may be very different from. They may speak a different language, have different eating habits or look at the world very differently to you. But whether you like it or not, you share the same fate as them. If the mains bursts, all your houses will get flooded. If the electricity is cut off, you all lose power. If taxes rise, you all pay more. If the economy goes bottom up, you all suffer.
The same can be said of our places of work, the schools our children attend and the country as a whole. You don’t have to like those around you but in their welfare your own welfare is bound up.
As Jeremiah 29 says: ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ Good citizenship of the community where you live involves asking what you have in common with others – good schools, clean and safer streets, nice parks, a wage that you can support a family on – we have an interest in these things, as do others in our community of fate, be they Muslims, Sikhs, or secularists. …
Luke Bretherton is Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University, North Carolina
‘By building strong relationships with one another’
I am part of a movement where the young and old unite, where Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders share great ambitions, where the organised poor can hold the rich to account and where the powerless few become the powerful masses. Up and down the country, the art (and science) of community organising is reweaving the fabrics of our society – the people behind this wake up call are Citizens UK – the UK’s largest and most powerful civil alliance movement. Here, the common good is thriving. What is the secret?
Citizens UK is made up of over 400 diverse and broad-based member institutions including churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, colleges and many other civic institutions. Together, they build strong relationships with one another and those in power and they act in solidarity for the common good. United they stand against all that is wrong, unfair and unchallenged.
What brings and keeps them together? They share their self-interest in thousands of deeply rooted one-to-one conversations; they gather together in large assemblies, move collectively and democratically on issues that are important to them and they leverage the tried and tested methods of Citizens UK’s community organising tools. These institutions invest in working together not only through their time but they also pledge membership dues to support their alliance because it is important to them. By focusing on the common good, they bring about extraordinary change, uphold justice and give dignity to those who have suffered hardship and loss. …
Kaneez Shaid is Chair of Trustees for Citizens UK
‘Churches can refuse to be tribal’
‘This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point,’ said the fourth-century preacher John Chrysostom, ‘namely, the seeking of the common good … for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbours.’
Right from the beginning of the Bible, God calls people to live in relationship with him and each other. So why are we experiencing such economic and social inequality, cultural polarisation across the western world as reflected in Brexit, Le Pen, Trump and a UK general election? To what and to whom do we want to belong?
The disunity that we feel is a task too big for governments alone. We all have a role and a responsibility. Churches can be the places that refuse to be tribal, which create spaces of welcome and encounter, and address mutual suspicion. To help realise that, Bible Society has launched a new resource, Calling People of Goodwill: The Bible and the common good. It aims to build the capacity of the laity and help churches develop in creating unity and community. Using six passages from Acts, Genesis, Amos, John, Peter and Revelation, we explore what the Bible has to say about the common good through reflections, discussion questions and prayers. …
Fleur Dorrell is Scripture Development Coordinator for the Bible Society. Calling People of Goodwill is available for £3.99 from bit.ly/bsocgood (ISBN: 9780564046577)
This is an extract from the June 2017 edition of Reform