Life in the Kingdom Blog

Golden Rule Activism

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.

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  • Thanks, Ken. I really like your story. I think your encounter with the security guard really does illustrate an important principle of Golden Rule activism: You oppose oppressive *actions* without dehumanizing the *person* who carries out those oppressive actions. It's like the well-known saying "Hate the sin but love the sinner," which, given my Course in Miracles background, I would rephrase as something like "Oppose the error but love the brother who makes the error." Of course, that's not an easy thing to do, which is why we need spiritual practice! :)
  • I am a little delayed in responding but I am trying to wrap my mind around the idea of "Golden Rule activism". I actually love the term but I am trying to get at the spirit of the idea. I catch a glimpse on how it works and then it slips away once I start to imagine putting it into action, as it seems to dampen my motivation, my righteousness, and the emotional rush of an oppositional stance. Yet, the truth of this idea is so compelling that I keep thinking that this the only way to be truly effective instead of creating more resentment and fear.

    I have been wondering how to take a stand for the marginalized, or a cause, without it turning into triumph or condemnation on my part over those who stand on the other side. One way to help me get in touch with the spirit of the Golden Rule is to stand in the shoes of the oppressor, not in sharing his position, but realizing he has the same needs as I do, which helps me see him as not different and less deserving.

    O.K the following story is nowhere a good example of constructive activism but the experience did offer me perhaps a sense of the Golden Rule in action. When I was 17 years old I attended the California Jam II, which was a huge rock concert. Actually, my two buddies and I did not have tickets because they were sold out, and we were probably just broke. Therefore, we remained in the parking lot outside the concert. In fact, it turned that a large number of would-be concert goers were in a similar boat of not being able to attend. I remember the crowd gathering at a portion of fence that was partially toppled and they started to get rowdy, ready to trample the rest of the fence and make a rush toward the concert area. There was hired security guards lined up to oppose this stampede, actually huge college football players, standing in a line. They actually had baseball mitts to catch an occasional bottle being thrown at them. I remember one vivid moment where everyone agreed to rush the fence on the count of three and upon shouting out "three" in unison only one person actually adhered to the plan and breached the fence. He was rewarded by being thoroughly pummeled and his beaten body thrown back over the fence.

    Being a rebellious teenager and already at odds with authority figures, I saw this as justification to see these guards as the oppressive bullies on how they treated that poor man. I remember walking up to the fence to face off with a particular huge guard (thank God there was still a fence between us) ready to oppose him, not sure how. I then looked him in the eye and immediately saw a man who was afraid. I immediately felt compassion for him and his predicament. We were no longer different. He then asked me to leave, which I did because I did not want him to be afraid anymore and that he mattered.

    I am not sure if this is getting at the heart of Golden Rule activism but it seems like a step in the right direction. I know there are many shining examples of the Golden Rule activism I could find from those who stood for real and just causes. I guess while pondering on how to embody the way of Golden Rule activism this memory popped into my mind. It had an impact on me and is one I have never forgotten.
  • Thanks, Robert. And good on Nicola! I was actually thinking the same thing: If I were living in Sedona, I definitely would have been at the Phoenix airport.
  • Greg, I really appreciated this very thoughtful piece. As you say, there are no easy answers, but whatever real answers there are, the Golden Rule has to be at the heart of them. I love the term "Golden Rule activism." I also thought your example from Patricia of the migrant shelter captured it. It should be interesting to see what we all feel called to do as this situation unfolds. I think it's going to come out of the specific interaction of hanging onto the Golden Rule while feeling the pressure of specific developments. Nicola, for instance, was saying (before Trump's immigration ban was lifted) that if we were still in Sedona, she would be down with a sign at the Phoenix airport saying we welcome Muslims.
  • Hi Alexandra,

    Thanks for your response. I think you have really expressed the essence of it: We need to get the mindset right to the best of our ability, and then act on that basis, using all of the tools I mentioned and more to discern the best course of action. I agree that this action may include limits that are implemented in the best interests of all concerned.

    In line with the idea that everyone matters equally and immensely, I've also found it helpful to always keep in mind the actual flesh-and-blood human beings who are impacted by my actions, and ask myself with as much honesty as I can whether my action truly takes their status as ends in themselves into account. Of course it isn't easy to discern that in this very complicated world, but I think simply making the effort at least gets me going in the right direction.

    Finally, in the spirit of keeping those flesh-and-blood human beings in mind, I would heartily recommend that each of us make an effort to get to know people who are in groups we are unfamiliar with and might even be uncomfortable with. It changes you. That has been my experience living in Mexico for the last five years. I didn't have negative feelings about Mexicans before I came, but I love them and understand their situation now in ways that I never could have before, and that leads to different actions than what I would have considered before. Of course, I understand that most people don't have the desire or opportunity to go live in a foreign country. But in any way we can, I think we would do well to learn more about the "other."

  • Hey Greg and Samantha, I wanted to hop in here and add to the conversation. I love the story in your piece, Greg, where people were at odds in the beginning but in the end, because the people involved must have ultimately come to having open hearts and minds towards each other, found a solution that worked for everyone. That's really a beautiful story.

    What we're doing in this blog series is to discuss how we can get our underlying thoughts in line with what Jesus taught, and then each person needs to determine what they do in the world each day, moment to moment, based on the things you mentioned, Greg, their best use reason, education, inspiration, creativity, dialogue, and guidance, and I would add, probably a number of other factors.

    I believe it's possible to have a foundational belief as you said, Greg, that "Everybody matters, everybody matters equally, and everybody matters immensely," and in some situations, still ultimately decide to to set various kinds of boundaries in a caring, respectful manner. Both things are extremely challenging, to truly have a mindset that everyone matters immensely, and, if a boundary needs to be set, to do so in a caring, respectful manner.

    You quoted Robert saying, “the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else.” Wow, I love the word reverence here. Reverence for everyone, even if they disagree with us, is so important. That will make it possible, even if people disagree, to come to a solution like in your story, where everyone's needs and concerns are met.
  • Dear Samantha,

    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it, even though we clearly view the situation regarding Muslims quite differently.

    I personally do not believe that banning all people from an entire country (not simply "checking the claims and intentions of individuals") because of the actions of a very few is reasonable or loving, nor do I think it makes anyone safer—especially when the number of people in the United States killed by terrorist attacks committed by people from the seven banned countries

    As I said in the post, what we specifically are called to do when practicing Golden Rule activism "will have to emerge from our best use of reason, education, inspiration, creativity, dialogue, and guidance." A part of that is gathering facts about the true nature of a situation. Obviously, different people will disagree on what the true nature of the situation is. That's to be expected. All I can say is that according to my best understanding of the situation here, based on a great deal of research into the matter, the current ban does not pass my personal Golden Rule test. It is definitely not the way I would want to be treated.

    Thank you very much for your kind words about my posts. I'm glad that you find most of them helpful, and I hope that what I've said here is worthwhile food for thought, if nothing else.

  • Greg:
    I deeply respect your convictions and I am sure your realize that residents of all Mid Eastern countries are majority Muslim? To make a case that simply checking the claims and intentions of individuals trying to enter our Country is somehow mass proof of ego run amok, lack of compassion, or Muslim phobia seems to me missing the point. If Christians were treating their Brothers in the same manner as these few Countries and our Government put a temporary ban on entry; would you feel differently or the same considering we are still a Christian majority country? To me this simply about prudent measures for our safety and not at all Muslim phobia. If your feeling is Muslim phobia then It is impossible to put any sanctions on any Mid Eastern country since they are all Muslim. Most of us lock our doors at night because we feel that a necessary move to protect our families; is this a "me first" act when viewed by persons wanting to break in or is a legitimate caution to keep your family safe? I enjoy your posts, I keep many of them for reference and my mind is open to your points; but it seems to me that severing heads, is not being open to the Spirit of Love.
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