Amidst the ongoing impasse between American conservatives and liberals with regard to politics, I cannot recall hearing much in way of any conversation about responsibility. Whatever happened, I have to wonder, to that word? Responsibility.
As an aging boomer, I carry this old memory in mind of how freedom is roughly equivalent to responsibility. That was what I was raised to believe. As a teenager, my parents took great pains to teach me both their correlation and causation. I got the message. But where is this same message today?
As I look about and among my fellow Americans today, I see two groups of responsible people fighting off their differently perceived threats to our freedom as a nation. I see conservatives arguing for personal responsibility as if defending our rights to freedom as individuals. I see liberals arguing for social responsibility as if defending our rights to a free society. I see a lot of arguing, but I don’t see a lot of listening, or understanding, or giving credit where credit is due.
It seems as though we have reached an impasse in some misguided quest for a zero sum victory in all of this. One where victory is situated in either personal or social responsibility but never both. Which then begs the question: why not both?
Having dedicated my own tandem careers of mental health counseling and Christian ministry to the aiding of individuals through introspection and communities through intervention, I have a critical example that more Americans, especially those of the Christian faith, might well consider. It goes like this.
The Christian scriptures bear witness to the ancient Hebrew people in their own quest for a free society. Threats to their freedom were numerous, but always their defense was to act responsibility, both personally and socially. Or at least that was the plan or the plot as laid out by the Jewish Torah with reinforcement by their own prophets.
The story of Christian scripture largely centers around what goes wrong whenever that plot is lost and people abide by only half a loaf, personal but not social responsibility or else social but not personal responsibility.
The Christian New Testament bears witness to the man, Jesus, who enters the scene as a Jewish rabbi intent upon fulfilling the Jewish Torah and restoring the plan or plot he named the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. He took nothing away from the conservative Pharisees of his day, practitioners of personal but not social responsibility. He did nothing to abolish their own side of the law. But he did rile up those conservatives by insisting that if they wanted any kind of free society or entry into God’s Kingdom of heaven on earth, they would have to add social responsibility to their repertoire. In other words, Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the both/and, not the old zero sum game of either/or.
I wonder if that’s not what is missing from our own contemporary land of feuding liberals and conservatives. (Not to mention our own churches.) I wonder if we Americans have not lost our own plan or plot. Have we gotten ourselves boxed in to thinking either we are personally responsible on the conservative side or else socially responsible like the liberals?
Have we lost the message of freedom that comes from both sides of the responsibility equation? Have we lost our balance and fallen for some all-or-nothing politics of personality or society, win or lose? If so, we will all lose and perhaps deservedly so.
It seems to me this is the time for restoring our lost plot as a nation. (And as Christians alike.) Time for another conversation. One that reinforces the strengths of both our conservatives and our liberals, emphasizes both personal and social responsibility, and holds to account those who would fight against the other instead of for our positive sum and common good. We still have time for a win/win if we’re only willing to have both this old and this new conversation.
About responsible freedom.