I was deeply moved last week by Robert’s blog on “The Golden Rule Revisited.” In it, he says that the Golden Rule is the reversal of our conventional way of being in which I am an end in myself and other people are merely means to serving me as end. No, the Golden Rule says: Other people are ends in themselves, just as I am, and I should behave toward them accordingly. I should treat them the way I myself want to be treated, because all of us are equally important and equally valuable.
Robert ends his blog with an inspiring call to action:
“What would happen to our lives if we did that? To our relationships? To our world? Can you imagine anything as revolutionary as that single idea? The Golden Rule is the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else. May we go forward committed to using that key in every encounter we have.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve watched the disturbing actions of Donald Trump unfold in the first week of his presidency—especially the executive orders banning refugees, banning entry of people from selected Muslim-majority countries, and pushing forward his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. I and some of my colleagues at the Mustard Seed Venture have been contemplating how to respond to the threat the Trump administration poses on so many fronts. What should we do?
The possible responses are many and varied, and we’ve already engaged in some actions individually. (Ken, for instance, joined the women’s march in Sedona.) But what occurred to me is that given our commitment to living the Kingdom as Jesus calls us to do, everything we do needs to be rooted in the Golden Rule. Our activism needs to be Golden Rule activism. In other words, everything we do needs to be rooted in the deep conviction that all people are ends in themselves, all people are equally important and valuable, and so we should treat all people the way we would want to be treated. This extends not only to people we may feel called to stand up for, but to people who disagree with us or even aggressively oppose us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and love our “enemies” as well. Everybody matters, everybody matters equally, and everybody matters immensely.
Given this foundation, what should we do specifically? Well, as they say, the devil is in the details. The specific people to support, issues to act upon, actions to take and the like will have to emerge from our best use of reason, education, inspiration, creativity, dialogue, and guidance. Most of the big problems we face, especially in the midst of the chaos the Trump administration has unleashed, lack easy answers. But I’m convinced that better answers will emerge if we deeply and truly ask ourselves on a regular basis, “Is the way I am proposing to treat other people the way I myself would want to be treated?”
What might Golden Rule activism look like in everyday life? My partner, Patricia, works on immigration issues here in Mexico, and she has shared with me some shining examples of people putting a version of this into action. For instance, she told me about a case where a migrant aid organization wanted to put a migrant shelter in a particular town. The migrants coming through desperately needed such a shelter, but many of the townspeople balked at the idea, because migrant shelters in Mexico tend to attract criminals who prey on the migrants—and the townspeople.
At first, the migrant aid organization and the townspeople were in a deadlock. But after a lot of debate, they were able to find a location for the shelter that both served the migrants’ needs and alleviated the townspeople’s concerns. In other words, a solution was found that honored the needs and concerns of everyone involved—all of the people were treated as important and valuable ends in themselves. Though I don’t know if anyone overtly invoked the Golden Rule in this case, I think the spirit of it was present: It looks like each person tried to treat the others the way he or she would want to be treated. This is Golden Rule activism.
Of course, I have no illusions that Golden Rule activism will always lead to tidy solutions like this one. As I said, most of the big problems we face lack easy answers. And of course, loving our “enemies” is not going to ensure that they immediately sit at the table of communion with us—Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers were greeted with dogs, truncheons, and water cannons, and we know how the Romans responded to Jesus. To be sure, most of the activism we engage in won’t lead to responses anywhere near as extreme as these. But as much as I would love to believe otherwise, I think we are in for dark times ahead.
That being said, I do think using the Golden Rule as our guide is not only in accordance with our commitment to Jesus’ way—a way rooted in a loving God and his beloved Kingdom—but also gives us our best shot at long-term transformation. After all, it’s something that has a tremendous universal appeal. Robert pointed out last week that some version of the Golden Rule appears in all of the great religious traditions, and even nonreligious people generally find its logic compelling. As wedded as we are to “me first” and the double standards that arise from that dictum, I think something deep inside all of us intuits that treating people the way we want to be treated is, as Robert says, “the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else.”
So, if you feel yourself called to some form of activism in response to the challenges that face us in the age of Trump, I encourage you to consider making the Golden Rule the basis of it. Ask yourself as you contemplate taking action, “Is the way I am proposing to treat other people here the way I myself would want to be treated?” This question is in part about the form of how people are treated, but it is not primarily about that—after all, as we all know, the form of how you want to be treated can often be quite different than the form of how others want to be treated. Rather, the heart of the question is the underlying content behind the form: “Am I truly loving these people—all of them, even those who disagree with me or aggressively oppose me—just as I want to be loved?”
This is the key, and to paraphrase Robert’s call to action from last week: May we go forward committed to using this key in every form of activism we are called to carry out.