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Public Virtue
Public Virtue

Solidarity: A Public Virtue

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Public Virtue

Solidarity: A Public Virtue
Sunday, November 1, 2020

Citizens of the United States will finish voting this week. Many of us are feeling demoralized, and many others carry serious distrust of American political institutions. The most vulnerable in a society have already experienced the discouragement from which so many are suffering today. They know firsthand that the system has not worked, at least not for them, for a long time.

Two years ago, I wrote in Sojourners magazine that for me, personally, voting is a deeply moral act—a decisive statement of Christian faith that I matter, that justice matters, and that other people matter.

Sadly, for many religious people, the public forum has historically remained the most disconnected from our faith. Unlike its Jewish forebears, Christianity, in its first two thousand years, has kept its morality mostly private, interior, and heaven-bound, but with very few direct implications for what is now called our collective economic, social, or political life. I am not talking about partisan politics here, but simply the connecting of the inner world with the outer world.

This week our meditations will be focusing on what I call “public virtue.” The virtue in which I was trained in the seminary, I’m sorry to say, was “private” virtue that taught me how I could be virtuous in my interior life. As my novice master put it in a good 1961 fashion, “Try to make it as easy as possible for all others to love you.”

Perhaps I, myself, was good and could go to heaven. But such personal salvation does not come close to the mystery of the Body of Christ, which turns focus outward, to ask: how can I be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my city, my church, my community, and the world? It really is a different starting place. It’s not seeking my own ego enhancement, but the spiritual and physical well-being of others, as Jesus did.

There really is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. Even to say nothing is to say something. If we say nothing, we communicate that the status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. This common “non-political” stance is an illusion, and the powerful have always been able to use it to manipulate people.

We must use the power of the Gospel to critique and affirm both the Left and the Right on most public positions, even while knowing that political or programmatic changes—of themselves—will never fully bring about the goodness, charity, or transformation that the Gospel offers the world.

What I mean by public virtue is primarily about solidarity with others, as opposed to an exclusive concern with “my inner life.”  As different parts of the Body of Christ, we each have strengths and gifts that are needed by the entire body. We are called by the Spirit to use these gifts in service and love for our hurting world and not just for our private sense of “holiness.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “A Deeply Moral Act: Voting Is a Decisive Statement of Christian Faith that I Matter, Justice Matters, and Others Matter,” Sojourners, vol. 47, no. 10 (November 2018), 19;

“Introduction,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 11, 12;

Rebuilding from the Bottom Up, reflection (November 11, 2016); and

“Universal Christ Values,” part 1, Another Name for Every Thing, season 3, episode 1 (February 15, 2020), audio podcast.

Image credit: Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson
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