Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
The Jewish and Christian traditions share the commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). But what does love of one’s neighbor actually look like, in the realm of politics? Both traditions hold that it means prioritizing the common good over self-interest. In our current moment in the United States, I submit that loving one’s neighbor means prioritizing the common good over individual freedom, as some understand it: the right to make choices that endanger the health and safety of others.
The biblical book of Ruth exemplifies the sacrifice of freedom that love entails. Naomi, who has lost her husband and both of her sons while residing in the land of Moab, is determined to return alone to Bethlehem. She urges her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to return to their families; they are free to remarry, to start their lives over again. While Orpah tearfully returns, Ruth “clings to” Naomi (Ruth 1:14). Her declaration of love is well known: “Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).
“But what does love of one’s neighbor actually look like, in the realm of politics?”
Naomi is silenced by Ruth’s refusal to abandon her, but her next words, to the women of Bethlehem, must have pierced Ruth’s heart: “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara (‘Bitter’), for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I left here full, but the LORD has returned me empty” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Ruth is able to hear Naomi’s words as an expression of grief, not rejection, and she continues to love Naomi “as herself”—that is, as she hopes to be treated. Eventually, Naomi is able to recognize and reciprocate Ruth’s love. Naomi comes up with a plan that allows the two of them to form a family with Boaz, a righteous man of Bethlehem.
Many of us can identify with Naomi’s bitterness at this moment in American history, but let us follow Ruth’s example of steadfast love and work to repair our shattered society by putting the common good first.
Karina Martin Hogan
Dr. Karina Martin Hogan
Associate Professor of Theology