The Golden Rule is a rule of thumb for many of us. For some of us it may have been the cultural version: “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” For most of us it means, “do unto others what you would like done to you.” These two standards are somewhat at odds. “Every person for themselves. Get what you can before others get it all. Winning isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.” OR The idea through scripture that says that every person matters. Every person is a child of God and should be treated the way we want to be treated. We are caught between two sets of values: getting ahead and going for the win or caring for others. And our choice matters.
How do we handle problems that come up?
That choice of primary values is will determine how we solve problems. One set of values tends to discount the importance of other people who may be hurting, especially if they either aren’t like us, or don’t have either wealth or influence. Their lives may be disposable, or at least not worth changing our plans to accommodate. The other set of values leads us to changing our plans, even to our detriment, in order to care for the needs of others. We seek to solve problems in a way that leaves the community stronger.
The Acts church has some problems. Widows from two different ethnic groups aren’t being treated equally. It’s an equity problem, and despite their faith beliefs, community practice lagged behind. The Hellenistic widows were suffering. It was a matter of privilege, of long-standing practice, and some cultural barriers. Dismantling racist structures is never easy. But care for the needy was an important value in the early church, so this needed to be resolved. In fact, care for the needy showed God’s presence and grace in the community. The problem of economic disparity and treatment of the poor, raised questions about the presence of God among them which was another problem. And a third problem was that the apostles were too busy with these administrative tasks to actually do what they were called to do: teach and preach.
It would have been easy to turn this into an argument of whether there was fair treatment of the widows and whose fault that was, or criticism of the apostles for not managing everything that needed to be done. All too often church conflicts turn into taking sides or attacking leadership. But the church found another way. Instead, other workers were assigned to care for the widows, and the apostles went back to focusing on preaching and teaching. The church stepped up to resolve the issues and their witness and practice of compassion were restored. The church actually grew stronger through the way they managed conflict!
Nehemiah had conflicts too. The external conflicts were with Sanballat and Tobias, who wanted the wall project to fail. They made threats, stirred up resistance, and tried to pull Nehemiah off the project “to talk.” Nehemiah instead prayed and stayed focused on his goal.
The internal conflicts were harder. There was a socio-economic crisis on three levels caused by the desire of the upper class to increase their wealth, even at the expense of their neighbors. 1. The landless farmers, migrant workers, had it worst. Having lost their land, they were forced to rent out their children’s labor, or sell them, for food. 2. The farmers with land had to pledge their fields for grain. Building the wall meant that they weren’t in their fields for the harvest, which was already smaller because of drought. Because a farmer’s annual income was dependent on their harvest, and the harvest was poor, they had to pledge their fields to pay taxes to the Persians. Taxes were based on expected harvests, not actual ones. The women were left struggling to gather the harvest while the men were building the wall. 3. Many were forced to borrow silver from the wealthy, who were charging interest, to pay their taxes. Nehemiah confronted the upper class. He declared no more fields would be taken, prohibited foreclosures on any property, prohibited taking people into slavery as forfeit of debts (which then the community had to redeem), rebated of all interest to borrowers, and forced oaths not to do these things in the future. “No getting rich on the backs of your neighbors,” he said. Nehemiah found another way, and the community was stronger.
Goals of Love
This idea of WIN-WIN, that EVERYONE should win, is a bit strange to us. We are more accustomed to the idea that IF there is a winner – hopefully us – there is also a LOSER. But these scripture carry the idea of proceeding in ways that are good for ALL people – so everyone wins. The welfare of all believers matters, and also the welfare of persons outside the community of faith.
Stephen Covey explains in his book that winning OVER someone creates a relationship deficit. He describes relationships as a bank account where deposits are made by acts of kindness, being loyal, apologizing when you hurt someone, and making sure that expectations are understood. Deposits into accounts happen when the other person feels valued, appreciated, and cared for. Withdrawals come when the other person feels used, abused, taken for granted, or betrayed – anything that makes them the loser in the relationship. And withdrawals are harder to make up than an equal number of deposits. Regular deposits over time are the best way to strengthen a relationship.
Mutuality is the key to the Bible’s Golden Rule. Mutual concern – concern about for others matching concern for ourselves. This means that we don’t WIN unless the other person feels equally valued. THIS TRULY requires a different way of thinking about the world and how we live in it. So instead of thinking what I want for the day, we consider what EVERYONE wants for the day. Not how I want to spend my money, but what the needs of others require me to do with it. What are the goals of love?
Are a few cans of food in the donation bins the proper way to respond to the 40% of our neighbors who do not have enough to eat?
How would God have us use our COVID relief check if we our finances are secure, when so many people are struggling now like our grandparents and great-grandparents did in the Depression?
It is hard for us to think in these terms because we have bought into the understanding of life based on competition and the myth that everyone should be able to make it on their own two feet. Right now, many jobs are just gone. Many incomes have disappeared and housing isn’t secure. Health expenses can create instant debt when people don’t have the insurance that went with their jobs – and can’t afford COBRA policies without income.
Imagine what it would look like if we shifted our thinking from ME to WE and worked so everyone could win!
In “Chariots of Fire,” there is a life-changing moment when Lord Andrew Lindsay comes into the meeting where the British Olympic committee are pressuring Eric Liddell to run on Sunday despite his religious beliefs. Lord Lindsay had already won a silver medal, and he offers his 400 meter race to Eric Liddell. It is a generous and elegant offer to allow Mr. Liddell to run without compromising his beliefs. He seems to offer it freely, concerned as he is with his teammate. His goal is what is best for all. It is the goal of love. Everyone matters. Everyone wins.
Heifer International. The last night of a youth mission week at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, AK found our group in a Tibetan yurt in International Village. An Indonesian house on stilts, Guatemalan clay house, Zimbabwean straw hut, Red Cross Refugee cinder block building, Appalachian house, and some border stick dorms also were in the village. Each group was assigned a dwelling, and given resources that they would have. We were allowed to trade for other things we needed, and were told, “You have all that you need.” Our group had two cups of oil, representing yak butter. Zimbabwe had vegetables. Appalachia had matches and sticks for a fire. Guatemala had clean water, rice and vegetables. The refugees had nothing and needed to beg – without words. We had some good traders in our group, and they knew the value of oil. But we had an accident – our cooking pot of food spilled, leaving us with about a half a cup of rice and vegetables for 12 of us. Our two older boys began offering labor making fires for some food – and the night wouldn’t have been a disaster. But then the group from Guatemala came and invited all of the homes and people to bring what they had to create a potluck. It was amazing. A marvelous stir fry was created from everything that was brought. It didn’t matter who had what or who had more or less. WE had a feast. Together. There was no competition. Everyone had what they needed. The goal was love: for all to have enough. For everyone there it was a glimpse of the banquet in the kingdom of God.
It matters how we resolve conflicts. It matters how we treat others who may not agree with us. For people of faith, this goal of love builds our communities, and enables us to be witness in the world.
As the poet Edwin Markham said, “We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.”