Just Loving Your Own Child Isn’t Enough, America

I used to believe that all people were essentially the same; that across the diving lines of politics and religion, and beneath the surface veneer of language and personality—that we were all really fighting for the same things.

I’ve spent two decades as a pastor, ministering under the assumption that we’re all in this together, that we’re all for one another, that at a heart level we’re each nearly identical.

I don’t know if I believe that any longer.

I’m meeting many people right now in America, who really don’t seem to want the things that I want—at least not for other people.

I think they want for their kids what I want for mine, and so in this respect we’re the same—but that’s about where our paths diverge.

When it comes to those people they don’t naturally feel affinity for or have obvious commonality with, it really seems like they couldn’t care less. Actually, it seems they’re openly hostile to those folks.

Last week after a speaking event, a woman talked about the people she views as her adversaries across the aisles of religion and politics:

“Deep down” she said, “all parents want the same thing; they want their kids to be healthy and happy and safe; to be able to live beautiful, productive lives.”

I knew what she was trying to say, and I suppose that’s likely true—but it also isn’t good enough in the days in which we find ourselves. We need to be people who love on a greater scale than that.

Most decent human beings love and want to care for their children. The desire to protect our own is a hard-wired brain feature built on millions of years of self-preservation and survival instincts. It’s certainly good, but it isn’t all that virtuous either.

This natural impulse explains the rising tribalism we find ourselves in; people hunkered down in heavily fortified bunkers alongside those they deem “their people”— whether based on race or religion or nation of origin or political affiliation.

This highly selective, self-serving compassion is the very heart of America First.
It’s the foundation of a border wall.
It’s the reason someone applauds ICE raids or travel bans, or opposes free lunch programs or universal health care: not wanting someone else to have something they have.

The terrified religion, fierce Nationalism, and rising hostility toward marginalized communities on display in America, is the fruit of a toxic selfishness that needs to horde resources, opportunity, and benefit—for fear it will be left without.

And so right now, the real battle in America isn’t between good people and bad people—it’s between open-handed people and close-fisted people. It is a war to cultivate compassion or contempt for those who have less. 

Poised on either sides of the debate in matters of education and healthcare and faith and immigration, aren’t people who love their children and people who don’t—but people who love all children, and those who care only for their own.

In this very fundamental way—we’re not the same.

Yes, I agree that most people in America want similar things for themselves and for those they see as their family, their people, their tribe.

I just believe that isn’t enough.

I believe Humanity is the greater tribe.

My Christian faith tradition tells me that love for my neighbor is my great aspiration and calling, but it also tells me that everyone is my neighbor; not just those who speak my language or share my pigmentation or share my politics or believe in my God.

I can either see myself as a citizen of the diverse, expansive planet—or I can make my home in a gated community of people who look, think, talk, and believe like me. Too many folks right now have settles on the latter—and this is the emotional civil war we find ourselves in.

America has no shortage of people who care about their kids. We’re nearly at capacity.
It is, however, in desperate need of people who care about someone else’s children with a similar passion and urgency; who want every child to be free from threat and fed well and given hope and encouraged to dream and released to be whatever that dream invites them to be.

Loving your child is a fine and beautiful thing, America.

Humanity asks much more than that of us.

Whether or not we’re willing is another matter.


39 thoughts on “Just Loving Your Own Child Isn’t Enough, America

  1. You write: “My Christian faith tradition tells me that love for my neighbor is my great aspiration and calling, but it also tells me that everyone is my neighbor; not just those who speak my language or share my pigmentation or share my politics or believe in my God.”

    This is an admirable sentiment, and a true Christian teaching. But I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I fear that while you’re extremely good at loving “humanity” – far-flung, imaginary strangers who DON’T speak your language or share your pigmentation or believe in your God – you could work on cultivating love for your ACTUAL neighbors… especially those that don’t share your politics. I find that you often mischaracterize the hearts and minds of conservatives, and even of us moderates who are desperately trying to maintain some sense of understanding and common humanity between increasingly divided Americans. (You tell us we’re “apathetic” or “complicit” if we don’t join your crusade of bashing and scolding white evangelicals, for instance. In reality, many of us simply don’t see that method of discourse as productive; we, in fact, see it as counterproductive, culturally-speaking. Religiously-speaking, as a mainline protestant – PC USA – I don’t believe God calls me to place myself above other Christians, deciding who is and isn’t the “right kind.” I leave that to God.)

    It’s actually pretty easy to love humanity. What’s difficult – very difficult, sometimes – is loving individual humans – warts and all – and seeing Jesus in each of them. Whenever I feel myself puffing up with pride about my “love of humanity,” while nursing anger and even hatred toward certain individuals and groups (i.e. “white evangelicals”), I remind myself of what Screwtape said to Wormwood:

    “Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.”

    Peace to you, John. The peace that passes all understanding.

  2. Thank you John. It does come down to that – love your neighbor as you love yourself and presumably as you love your family and your friends. Do unto others as you would have done to you – and don’t do to others what you would not want done to yourself and your family. We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we are called to still seek the best for them just as we seek the best for ourselves. it’s often not a truly easy thing, and I don’t see a lot of this behavior in the country lately. Still, I hope that if every person who understands this acts as a small beacon for it, the light will spread.

  3. Not that I have ANY desire to turn this thread into another debate on gun control, but I’ve been saying something over the past few school shootings.

    It seems to me that people love their guns more than OTHER people’s children.

    But this could be about other things besides guns.

    If we knew that if we sacrificed something we enjoy (not a necessity), that it would directly benefit or prevent harm to other people kids, shouldn’t we feel at least SOME measure of compassion that would lead us to consider giving that up? Doesn’t love consider the OTHER’S needs and wants as of more importance than our OWN? And believe me, I’m pointing this finger at ME first. But it’s something we all need to really think about.

  4. I hear what you are saying and it is something that i strive to achieve. In the long run, it creates a world where everyone wins.

    But isn’t your argument a little simplistic. Some of the comments reflect a lack of empathy while criticizing others for the lack thereof. When i listen to people on either side of these issues, neither side listens to understand.

    While it is easy to tell people what is right, it feels to me that it lacks empathy for the humanity in that person. I am responding with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind. From what I remember, it is very difficult for a person to advance their thinking until their lower needs are met.

    Isn’t it possible that people may appear greedy/selfish for “thinking of their kids” when the fear they face is their child’s survival in a world of limited resources? Generally, it would be against the nature of human survival to starve to death by giving the last of the food to another. To dismiss this as selfish is as short-sighted as saying the single mom who works all of the time to make ends meet is not a good parent because she doesn’t spend enough time with her children. But the kids need housing and food first.

    I am not trying to make excuses, but until people start listening to others, there is a good chance that people who are fighting for their survival will only hear us asking them to help other people’s children while their children’s survival is threatened. They have to understand how their children are being protected too.

    I once tried helping a stray dog by giving it some food. As i offered the food to the dog, it tried to bite me. I didn’t take it personal and understood that the attack was not about me, but about where they were in life. Many of the comments on here feel like the initial thoughts I had with the dog: shock, outrage, and then a thought to dismiss it and just walk away to let it fend for itself. But that is not what the injured dog needed.

  5. I have a very dear friend who is a former nun. She is sweet and kind and caring. She regularly volunteers for a group who makes home visits to help the poor and elderly make minor home repairs and do clean ups. She is a GOOD person! So I was understandably shocked when a year or so ago, she insisted to me that she hates ALL Muslims, and wishes that God would just wipe them from the face of the Earth!!! At first I was sure that I had misheard her, so I asked her to repeat it, and with no compunction at all, she did! I struggled to rephrase her statement and suggest that she only meant ISIS and other terrorist groups, but she did not equivocation and actually exuded the kind of self-righteous pride that the current occupant of the Oval Office usually displays. I mentioned Muslim children and old women, but she stood behind her statement, and I truthfully cannot think of a time when I have been as stunned!

    I bring this up in response to this piece, because it is an example of that same self-righteous thinking that would lead some to worry for their own child but not others.

    To realize that this heart that I thought was so open and full of love could so completely dismiss the existence of a whole region of peoples simply because of their faith, devastated me, and although we are still close friends, I can’t get that exchange out of my mind.

    My takeaway is that the hearts of these people have always contained this dark hardness towards “others”, but it was never so gleefully on display before this hate-filled White House tenant began his campaign and ultimately took his place as the leader of the free world. A Pandora’s Box has been opened, and the ugliness has been exposed, and I have serious doubts as to the chances of the box being closed once mor . Saddest of all, is that these hard-hearted people truly believe that God supports their views and their hate…

  6. Pingback: Reblog: Just Loving Your Own Child Isn’t Enough, America by John Pavlovitz | WebWeaverBlog

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