BY REV. H. STEPHEN SHOEMAKER
It seems alarming to many that the social fabric of our nation is tearing. The social compact that knits us together in mutual regard is more than frayed. Is there a “common good” that is worthy of the Christian’s attention — and the Church’s vocation?
Our regard for public health was dealt a blow during the pandemic when the urgings of The Center For Disease Control to help control the spread of Covid-19 was ignored and in some places ridiculed. To be or not to be vaccinated was considered by some an individual matter alone, with little or no regard for the welfare of others. “ Freedom” was their cry. Or, it became a political rallying point for politicians who delayed the introduction of vaccines that were being produced to make political points. Trust in the findings of science was disregarded, especially and alarmingly among some Christian groups. The undermining of the public health has only grown since then. The Union County Commissioners are now voting whether to take the fluoride out of County’s water supply because many are objecting to it because they should have the freedom to choose water free from fluoride.
And what about public schools? There has been a concerted effort to undermine both confidence in and funding for our public schools. The funding of private schools in our nation has been dramatically increased through government-funded vouchers for private education. Some Christians want to starve public education; others want to conquer it in Jesus’ name. School board meetings have become battle grounds all across the nation.
Does God want us to be concerned about the health of the public sphere of life? And how much? The prophet Jeremiah sent this word to the Hebrew people captured in Babylonian Exile, where they lived in captivity for close to 70 years. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah sent to them this word from the Lord: “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.”
We are talking about Babylon here, the enemy nation and its capital city! Seek its welfare? Pray for it? There are Christians who feel that America today is a Babylon in which they live, and they have little interest in seeking its welfare except, as some believe, that it must be taken over for Jesus’ sake—the goal of Christian Nationalism and a militant theology that says the church must take dominion over every domain of culture, including politics, education and the press. Too many Christians think they live in a “ no duty zone.” How quaint that word “duty” sounds today.
As the church and Christians enter the public square to promote the common good, it is dedicated to the good of all, especially to those most vulnerable in our midst. The most-oft repeated command in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures was to care for the widows, orphans and strangers (or immigrants). The church in the public realm cares for the welfare of all people, all races and religions and from every economic condition.
Such public engagement is opposite from what Bill Moyers has called “political religion” — which uses religion as “an instrument of political combat.”
So let us in our own community be about the repair of our social fabric, stitch by tiny stitch: in every act of good will, through the support of non-profits, churches, helping agencies and schools, and by electing public officials who work for the good of all, not just their own and their kind. The love of neighbor has a public face.
Rev. H. Stephen Shoemaker is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville.