Who Is Our Neighbor Today?

Excerpted from “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good” (Brazos Press, 2013)

An Ethic for Our Global Neighbor

An ethic for our global neighbor is emerging now. And it comes right out of Jesus’s parable. People are learning the lessons of the Good Samaritan and have chosen to live out that ethic on a global scale. In reaching out to those they now define as their neighbors, young people are making new connections and commitments, forging alliances, seeking to resolve conflicts, and giving their time and energy to actually solving problems instead of just talking and complaining about them. It’s a wonderful thing, for example, to sit in on an intense discussion among young social entrepreneurs—from both the private and nonprofit sectors at places like the World Economic Forum—about how to solve the problem of water management and conservation in the world today, which is likely one of the greatest problems we will ever face. Just watching and listening to their conversation is a great encouragement to me because it is clear that the global identity and ethic of the neighbor is now being applied across all boundaries and around the world. I think Jesus might be smiling too.

This ethic that reminds us to love our neighbors as ourselves now even extends to defining those who make the products we use as neighbors. That extension is especially occurring among many young people who don’t want to mindlessly consume products that are made by exploited children who are the same age as they are. Yes, the ethic of the Good Samaritan is even extending to our shopping habits.

I was invited to speak to a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, about the terrible violence in the Congo, fueled by brutal militias who rain down terror on helpless civilian populations. The discussion was focused on how the money that supports these militias and buys their weapons comes from the “dirty minerals” they control and sell—minerals that are essential in making our cell phones.

I was the lunchtime speaker, whose role is always to try to be inspirational as people eat their meal. I started by reciting the Good Samaritan passage to a very diverse (and mostly secular) audience; reading the Bible got their attention. I asked how the discussion Jesus had with his legal questioner in the Gospel story might apply to our globalized world and even to the problem of dirty minerals. Are the individuals involved in making our lives work now (and most of us would say that we can’t function without a cell phone!) really our neighbors, left on the side of the global road—alone, fearful, and vulnerable?

Jesus taught his disciples the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This is the ethical commandment that is held in common with all the world’s major religious traditions. It is both our common ground and our higher ground. In the same way, Jesus affirmed that the way to eternal life is to obey these commands: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27 NIV; see Mark 12:29–31).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here