Never Ourselves Alone: Circling Back on the Journey
Written by J. Bennett Guess
August - September 2008
Editor's note: In September, I will turn over this newspaper's editorial leadership to the Rev. Gregg Brekke (see story on page 3). Although I will continue to have a hands-on role as the newspaper's publisher, you'll probably hear a little less from me as reporter and editor.
Five years ago, when I became editor of United Church News, my first editorial explained the rationale for the name of my recurring column, "Never Ourselves Alone," which I plan to continue, but only on occasion.
So, as I continue to serve this newspaper and the denomination in new ways, I have decided to end this part of my journey just where I started it. Enjoy the reprint.
At the first National Woman's Suffrage Convention held in 1869 in Washington, D.C., there was heated debate over the heart and soul of the emerging women's movement. Would it be a campaign for women's suffrage only? Or would it support universal voting rights for both men and women, black and white?
At the end of the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony — arguably the founders of the U.S. women's movement — refused to support black male suffrage exclusively. Instead, they insisted that black women, as well as white, had an inalienable right to the vote, along with their male counterparts. In her newspaper "Revolution," Stanton wrote an editorial column about the controversy.
"When we contrast the condition of the most fortunate women at the north with the living death colored men endure everywhere, there seems to be a selfishness in our present position," she wrote. "But remember we speak not for ourselves alone, but for all womankind, in poverty, ignorance and hopeless dependence, for the women of this oppressed race too, who in slavery have known a depth of misery and degradation that no man can ever appreciate."
"Not for ourselves alone." It did not take long for Stanton's words to become a mantra for those who insisted on "both/and" rather than "either/or."
Almost 100 years later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would echo Stanton's sentiment, saying he dreamed "of a nation where all our gifts and resources are not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity." Likewise, centuries earlier, the Apostle Paul said it his own way, "How can the head say to the foot, 'I have no need of you?'"
Never ourselves alone — It's not only a political statement; it's a theological one. It underscores the best of who we hope to be as the UCC — a multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming, accessible to all church. It's about widening our gaze so that the joys and concerns of our neighbors become our own.
When I was named editor of United Church News, I considered a thousand possible titles for my new column. But my mind eventually fixed on Stanton's editorial catch phrase of generations ago. How right she was: No movement can ill-afford the defeating luxury of self-interest, especially one that is rooted in the life and love of Jesus Christ.
That's why I can't envision a single column I would want to write that would not fit well under this three-word heading: Never ourselves alone. Whether writing about what it's like for someone to live with a chronic illness, or how U.S. policies are affecting the poor at home or abroad, or why it's so difficult to stay focused as a Christian in this age of distraction, every issue worth our while as Christians consistently invites us to stretch our worldview and widen our embrace, so that more and more of God's love will flow among us.
Jokingly or otherwise, the mantra of our age has become "It's all about me." That's why, when asked what I want this editor's column to say to our readers, I will reply, "We are never alone." I believe this affirmation includes pastoral and prophetic dimensions, and I'm betting there will be hundreds of stories, both comforting and challenging, to prove my point.