We teach our children from a very young age not to be selfish. It’s one of those qualities we easily see as a negative.
When one child is selfishly guarding a toy to themselves, we interject, “Now, remember. We have to be nice and share with our friends.” Or when another child selfishly demands somebody else to hand over a toy, we may say, “Now, you have to wait your turn.”
We understand selfishness as something that is wrong.
Why then is this philosophy of “America First” so popular in the United States? America First is the foreign policy equivalent of, “This toy is mine, and you can’t have it.”
We see it in the way we talk about refugees and immigrants. We view them as freeloaders and drains on society even when conservative think tanks demonstrate otherwise.
We see it in the way we speak about our global neighbors, trying to wash our hands of responsibility, whether in terms of disaster, warfare or the environment.
America First basically translates to, “We don’t care what happens as long as we are safe,” and it is hopelessly tied to ethnocentrism.
Perhaps we can tie the quick reappearance of America First to conservatives’ love affair with Ayn Rand, who saw selfishness as a virtue and altruism as a plague, but that only goes for those who know who Ayn Rand is.
Out of the millions of supporters of America First, there are many who do not make that connection. The connection must be more basic.
Reinhold Niebuhr, in his book “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” addresses this very issue. He notes that we tend to see selfishness as an evil between people, but when it’s between groups it’s seen as moral.
It’s moral to guard our resources here in America because it’s good to take care of our own. Meanwhile, half the world may be dying of starvation, but that’s not our problem.
If it were two people, though, and I had all the resources and you were starving to death, it would be grossly immoral for me not to share. All you have to do is look at Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus to find this truth.
The problem is that there is basically no difference in these two. In both scenarios, there are people thriving, or at least surviving, and some who are not. Both are immoral situations. Both are sinful situations. Just because one is geopolitical and one personal doesn’t change the morality of it.
America First is just as sinful as the rich man in Luke 16.
The Christian faith offers the antidote to this line of thinking where greed on a societal scale is considered moral.
Remember that oft quoted passage in Galatians 3:28 where Paul says that there is now no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, but all are one in Christ Jesus?
It’s interesting that Paul uses political, religious, gender and class designations here. In Christ, all of those designations are unimportant. The groups we used to claim are no more, and only one group remains. We are all brothers and sisters.
The biblical vision of God’s kingdom is one that destroys all national, ethnic, religious, linguistic and sexual divisions. There is no longer us or them. We can no longer say we have to take care of our own first because all are our own, and that family extends even beyond humanity to include all of creation.
So may we repent of our sinful and selfish America First inclinations and instead look for how we can be a blessing to all peoples, both here in the United States and wherever in the world they are found.
Blake Hart is missions coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @blake_hart.
Blake Hart is executive director of the Carolina Immigrant Alliance.