When it comes to politicians who profess to be Christians, it’s difficult to know which is the more egregious betrayal: simply ignoring Jesus for the sake of a partisan political agenda, or enlisting Jesus in support of an agenda that runs contrary to the letter and spirit of his teachings.
Yet the vast majority of Republican congresspersons, a full 99% of whom say they’re Christian—not to mention the current president, who trumpeted his faith during last year’s campaign—endorse political policies that run counter to one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian morality: respect for the common good.
If these politicians took the common good seriously, they wouldn’t be seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act; roll back environmental protection measures; deregulate the financial sector; endorse huge tax breaks for the super rich; prevent families fleeing from war-torn nations from seeking refuge on our shores; penalize and deport hardworking undocumented workers; relegate gays and lesbians to second-class legal citizenship; and tolerate as the leader of their party a man who has a history of deception, bullying, and narcissistic braggadocio.
And yet I’ll bet at least some of them wore WWJD bracelets when the things were still in vogue.
What is meant by the “common good”? The Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (26) put it like this: the common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”
What’s the Christian basis for the moral imperative of the common good?
This means that all residents in a nation have a vested interest in the maintenance of social, political, and economic conditions that enable them to become fully actualized persons. But it also means that those members of society who are especially hard-pressed through no fault of their own are entitled to extra support to help them reach a material standard of living consonant with psychological and spiritual well-being.
Individuals as well as governments therefore have a moral responsibility to seek policies that are genuinely conducive to human flourishing.
Moreover, as Pope Francis has recently stressed, moral responsibility for the common good is intergenerational, extending to future, as yet unborn, generations. The earth’s natural resources and ecological health, he writes in Laudato Si’ (159 ff), are held in trust. Our immediate interests “cannot exclude those who come after us.”
What’s the Christian basis for the moral imperative of the common good? It can’t be merely self-interested interdependence, although it’s clear that we are indeed interdependent and that working for the genuine good of society inevitably benefits everyone. Instead, what specifically grounds the Christian notion of the common good is the simple fact that all persons share the same Divine Parent, that we’re spiritual and moral siblings to one another, and that therefore we are, to answer Cain’s ancient question (Genesis 4:9), very much indeed keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The spiritual communion that binds us together is underscored for Christians by the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, first enunciated by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26). We are joined together in Christ, as organs and limbs are joined together in a single body, and whatever the part does affects the whole. It’s therefore incumbent upon the parts to be mindful of their responsibility to the whole.
Our fundamental linkage, then, requires us to affirm solidarity with our fellow humans rather than adopting a radically (aka, selfishly) individualist or libertarian position which keeps them at arm’s length and abjures any responsibility for either their individual well-being or the common good.
In the final analysis, we Christians are called by our baptismal vows to participate in Jesus’ ministry—a word which very aptly derives from the Latin ministerium, which means “service.” From first to last, Jesus placed himself at the service of others, especially those who were sick, destitute, and outcast, and he called upon his followers to do likewise. He even went so far as to insist that a refusal to serve them amounted to a rejection of him—the spiritual linkage, once again, that undergirds the doctrine of the common good.
Politicians who profess to be Christians are called, like all Christians, to service. It’s a duty laid equally upon us all. But their positions of authority and leadership lend additional weight to their moral responsibility because their decisions and policies are capable of impacting the common good in profoundly far-reaching ways. If they govern in the callous and self-serving manner that unfortunately is becoming the signature style of President Trump and congressional Republicans, especially the so-called Freedom Caucus (freedom from what? from responsibility to the common good, apparently), they do grave damage to the common good and particular harm to society’s most vulnerable members.
And in so doing, they forfeit the right, until they confess, repent, and convert, to call themselves Christians.