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.


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

  1. John, thank you for this thoughtful meditation. It seems we have forgotten that we cannot separate ourselves from our neighbors — whether next door or around the world. Increasingly, your fate is tied to my own. The impulse for blaming others and taking care of me became public policy with the Reagan Administration. Until then, for example, public education was important not for how it prepared individuals to make money but to create an informed and soulful (my word) national community. Political leaders don’t talk much about our mutual interests any more. Maybe you should run for public office.

  2. I agree that unity with others needs to be more universal than some folks choose it to be. Even the Nazi’s went home after gruesome deeds done to others, and at home they held their children and played with them. It seems to me to be about inclusion versus exclusion. Social equality is a prerequisite for the kingdom of heaven. C. S. Lewis addressed this issue in one of his books. After death a wealthy man ended up in pre-heaven. He could have chosen to move onwards into heaven, but he felt so offended that there was a former prostitute there who also had the same choice, that he chose rather to leave than to move into heaven where ‘the
    likes of her was also welcome. The choices people make to exclude others here and now may form a barrier to receiving God’s grace, not just here and now but also in the afterlife.

  3. Basically the problem is a lack of empathy. Not being able to mentally put yourself in someone else’s situation may be the root of all that haunts our sick society.

  4. Parents want the same for kids until it comes to the differences of the child. Then it depends on the parents faith and beliefs what happens. LGBTQIA kids know this well, children with disabilities know this. Kids born in other various scenarios know this. Some get the unconditional love and acceptance, others get the Bible thrown at then as a weapon, and put in reparative therapy, of put in a home for the disabled, or end up in foster care as their parents don’t want them. A message to those kids, just because your parents don’t want you does not mean you are not loved. There are plenty of us that will take you in if the government would get out of the way
    Many LGBT adults would love to raise children but the agencies refuse them. So unconditional love for these kids is blocked and they have to deal with the foster system..
    Think about stuff.like that,. That’s what religion does…

  5. I thought it was some people have so much fear that they love their guns and conveniences more than they can love the children who are the future of our earth. Does it really just boil down to greed?

  6. Pingback: Just Loving Your Own Child Isn’t Enough | Knitternun's Blog

  7. I chose not to have children for good and important reasons when I was ten years old and when I was in my twenties and thirties, I saw how wise I was at ten to have made the decision I did, I was fortunate enough, to be among the first generation of the Pill and I had a **choice.**

    Something that motivated me was a deep desire not to treat a child the way I had been treated. I did not want to pass that along to another generation. I observed the way my grandparents treated my parents and realized my paraents treated us the way they themselves had been treated and that BS was going to end with me. At least as far as I am concerned. One of my brothers had three daughters and he was as abusive to them as our father was to us.

    Sometimes I think I who never had children love children more than people who have them. I have been appalled at the way people treat their kids in the supermarket. Or the way they allow their kids to bully others. I could go on with my observations over the years but I won’t.

    John has said a few things I’d like to address.

    “And so right now, the real battle in America right now 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.”

    Those filled with contempt, who are without compassion, who only care for their own, are people who have been taught to fear that which is different from themselves. They have been taught to believe this right down to the gut level so that their first, knee-jerk reaction is to reject everything which is different from themselves.

    When I was in elementary school in Social Studies we were taught about the Melting Pot that is the USA… how people from all over the world come here and cease to be this, that, or the other because we all become Americans, i.e. we all become the same.

    Except we don’t, do we? People didn’t come to the USA and change their religion. People didn’t come to the USA and 100% change their languages. People didn’t come to the USA and change their cultural identities. People most especially did not come to the USA and change their skin color.

    The Melting Pot only works for those who can absorb into the dominant culture. For the most part in the USA, this means white Protestants of primarily Anglo-Saxon descent. We Amalfitanos and Pavlovitzes stick out like sore thumbs. Even more so when people are not white

    If (and I use the little-taught subjunctive here, I am not posing a hypothetical question) we claim to know Jesus, then we know that God is perfect love and perfect love casts out all fear. Since this is true, why do we cling to our fear?

    We cling to our fear in so may ways… white nationalism, white supremacy, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, various forms of bigotry, racism, gynophobia, misogyny. Etc. There is a litany of fears we embrace instead of embracing Jesus who demands that we face our fears and be healed of them.

    Jews, Christians, Muslims all believe in the exact same God. Yeah, sure, Jews and Muslims don’t believe in a Trinitarian God, but it is still the same God. How much fear ought that knowledge to eradicate?

    Earliest known human remains have been discovered in Africa, suggesting that once upon a time, all of us humans were black. Whether you accept Evolution as the science or Creation as the sole source of information, it still comes down to the same thing, All us humans were once black and so we probably all still have black DNA. That God chose blackness as the first skin color ought to provide us with a great deal of healing of our fears of people with other skin colors.

    It is not easy to confront one’s fears. It is terrifying, in fact. It is also scary to step outside one’s tribe and turn one’s back on the fear that unites that tribe. It is terrifying for a woman to leave her alcoholic and/or drug-addicted husband, take her kids, and start a new life. Any change is frightening because we are all conditioned to fear the unknown. Things are, it is only unknown until we step into it and then it becomes the known because it will turn out we have far more common than otherwise

    I deeply believe this. I deeply believe this is the beginning of the spiritual life. This is the way we mature in spirituality.

    Refuge is offered in the Facebook group ”Celebrate What Christians Have in Common” where a daily buffet is spread of Asceticism and art, cartoons and quotes, comics and contemplation, memes and meditations, music and musings, photographs and prayers, just about anything that is one of the many voices from the many flavors of Christianity.

    There is one discipline required of all who join: one must not utter a negative word because this space is a refuge, a respite, a place of peace and quiet. If one chooses to engage in discussion one may only write about one can affirm in the selection. No arguments, no vitriolic words, no spammers, and trolls will be tolerated,

Please come and celebrate what Christians have in common and let us together remember our faith is based upon God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and not the actions and choices of frail, sinful human beings.


  8. simply Put
    Love is Not Slack, Does not permit wayward living, does not condone evil , shuns evil, disciplines wrong doing.
    If we dont discipline for wrong doing and dont set standards according to Gods Holy word, and live by a standard that does not change with every wind of doctrine , then the lie , the deciet , the evil will take over and fill in the gap.
    there is always something in the gap, fills the void , come in to take the place of Good .
    That is Evil
    The absence of Light is Darkness
    The removal of Good is Evil
    Wrong and Right have nothing in common
    God or Man
    Goodness or Evil
    Satan is the prince of the powers of the Air , going thru out the earth seeing who he can devour , and taking captive those who reject the truth and follow after thier own way , thier own flesh , thier own will
    YOU have to decide which way you choose
    Jesus Christ , Truth, Gods Holy Love
    or the others which take advantage of you , use you , throw you out once finished with you.
    Read the Books of the Bible and see. Prove you this day if God is real or the deciever s are real.
    Test God , cry out for God to open the doors to your heart so you can see clearly .
    Dont Be Decieved God is Not mocked , what so ever a man, women , person sows they reap , more than , greater than, and later than
    Jesus wants to be your True Love , Friend, Leader, Great God
    Jesus Christ died for all sin, not just some, yet all dont except him , because of Deception and following others who dont really love them , they just want a following

  9. Our inability or refusal to reach out or over or beyond those we perceive as our own is encouraged by an administration that is intentionally and thoughtfully using fear to provoke separation and divisiveness. Keep us frightened. Keep us separated. Keep us uninformed. Perfect recipe for high-jacking the human spirit.

    Don’t give up on us, Pastor John. We need your fighting spirit!!!!

  10. John. You lock your doors for security at night or when you go away. Why? Because you value the hard work you have done in obtaining yr possessions. And you don’t invite the riff raff enmass into your lovely home because you don’t want chaos to come in and make your life a living hell. By keeping the riff raff at bay you can keep law an order i your house and you can have peace and quiet to plan strategies on how you can send usefull aid and support to help the riff raff. If you allow them to swamb into your house and settle, pretty soon you and all your possessions are either all used up or wrecked and you and your house are no good for anything! There are no reserves left to help you or anyone else.
    There is also a lesson to be found for you in the story of the wooden horse or Troy!l

    • Perhaps a good portion of the problem is referring to others as “riff raff” rather than as people with their own thoughts, dreams, emotions, fears….

    • As John said,
      “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.”
      Exemplified in this comment.

    • The only “riff-raff” I see here is YOU. Jesus loved the “riff-raff” and came to them first—rather than kings and wealthy men. He chose to walk and work among the common people. While speaking so smugly from the position of your nice home and possessions, maybe you should take a moment to consider what Jesus said. Maybe you have already received your reward—which means no other rewards will ever be coming to you after you die.

      I gotta be honest. I am totally fed up with living sacks of sh*t like you!!!

  11. This a continuing battle between those who believe there are sufficient resources for all and those who believe all resources are scarce.

    People like me believe we don’t need to live as the uber wealthy do now, but there is enough already for everyone to have a decent and productive life.

    There are others who believe there never was and never will be so they gobble up everything they can. The problem with that paradigm is that for them there will never be enough.

    I think I’ll stick with my I have enough philosophy and be content.

  12. I always question the Christian who doesn’t see that “love your neighbor” means what it says. If we are all created in God’s image, as children of that God, wouldn’t that make us family? Wouldn’t we only want good things for our family –our neighbors? Isn’t that one of the cornerstones of Christ’s teaching? Yes, it’s challenging, but to whom much is given, much is expected.

  13. “America First” makes me cringe on my best days, scream on my worst and sick to my stomach on my sad days. It is a pathetic and disgusting testament to America that a political candidate OPENLY campaigned and WON on this nauseatingly selfish completely unchristian slogan (and was thoroughly embraced by the alleged “Religious Right” how is THAT for irony).

    Disgusting America. Even MORE disgusting for so called Christians. People like you John, give me HOPE for Christians. I don’t call myself one. I doubt I ever will because of the association with THOSE people. The 99% who make me want to throw something at my screen. Until I found your blog.

  14. Interesting approach to a very BIG problem. I don’t think 10 years ago we would even be having this discussion. What has happened to society?? America?? It saddens me . . .

  15. Read a wonderful piece on this very thing in Sojourners today, the idea of Community for Me is central to US culture, and it is anathema to MLK Jr’s idea of beloved community, a community I can serve in and love, one which values and nurtures others children as ones own. When you live in community approaching that beloved place, it is a truly amazing thing, when fear and selfish concern are washed away by love and caring across lines, you get a glimpse of how God wants this world to look, if only we had more of this.

  16. I became a Christian in 1976, at the age of 16 so I watched the rise of nationalistic Christianity, or whatever it is that is now passing for evangelical Christianity these days.
    I date the start of the breaking away from what Jesus said with James Dobson and Focus on the Family. When Christians began to focus on their families, their concern for the rest of the world took a back seat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jesus didn’t command us to love our families–he said to love your neighbors. We felt that if we were godly men/fathers and godly women/mothers raising our godly children, that we were doing what Jesus commanded. But it never was the path Christians were meant to travel. So we love our families? Great, even the heathens do that.

  17. I am so with you on this. Take it from an old lady, we do not have enough love in the world. We are told to love without exception. It is not for the faint of heart but if you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ than that is what he told us to do. Thanks once again for saying what so badly needs to be said. Peace and Love,

  18. You nailed it, John.
    Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor…”
    The Bibles I have read do not have an asterisk or a subscript number on that verse to a footnote listing exceptions.

  19. I have found that my circle of compassion grows as my God grows and becomes less of a cosmic, anxious, ego, with territory to defend and more of a pure Love, Graceful, Eternal Life in the midst of all I am and All. I find it much harder to expand that compassion in practical terms that challenge me as local, anxious, ego with territory to defend. I see us on a long arch of Love’s transforming Story and it is time to insist on progress even while we trust the One Who Loves everyone we will need more time to fully include as we all grow into Christ. Keep up the good work!

  20. Please do not proceed down this line of reasoning. It leads to despair.
    People are people and there is a segment that will never hear the word. Do not focus on them. Recognize they exist but focus on the rest of us.
    Those of us struggling with the paradox of life; accepting that we live in an imperfect, evil world trying to make it better through love.
    Keep up the good work.

  21. Another well written blogpost. However, I have come to believe that the difference between myself and you, John, is that I see the glass half full and you, the opposite. I see hope and people who do make a difference in the lives of others. I see people coming together for the common good. I am honestly sorry that you have so much negativity in your outlook on life. Arent Christians supposed to be a light in the darkness?

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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…

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