Does The U.S. Have A Special Role In Protecting Humanity?

In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.

With power, responsibility

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, head of Jewish studies, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland Park, Kan.: One of the first duties given in the Bible is for Adam to "tend and protect" the Garden of Eden . As the world's first "superpower," it fell to him to be the steward of God's creation. This verse is often applied to environmental issues, but does it not apply to the social ecology of humanity ? With power comes great responsibility, and those who choose to enjoy the fruits of power have special responsibility for others. As the cliche goes, "It comes with the territory."

In the Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot (Values of our Ancestors), Hillel said: "In a place where there are no men, be the man."

In another passage, Hillel is often misquoted as saying: "If I'm not for myself who will be for me, but if I'm for myself alone what am I?" The Hebrew more literally translates as: "If I'm not for myself, who will be for me, and being for myself what am I?" In other words, what does it mean to advocate for yourself?

A wise person knows that, in any calculation, the best self advocacy is one that takes the concern for others as paramount. This is the paradigm for enlightened self-interest , and the mist ranslation is actually a profound interpretation of what Hillel truly meant.

Hillel completes his statement with a call to action: "If not now, when?" Indeed.

A light for the nations

The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe: Does America have a special role to play?

Absolutely. America is a city set on a hill, a light for the nations.

But not just the United States; God's Earth is filled with cities set on hills. From Honolulu to Hanoi, from New York to Nairobi, every culture has gifts to offer.

Americans bring to the world table an enlightened view of the value of every person and an unwavering belief in human goodness and potential.

Long before President John F. Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon, President Abraham Lincoln appealed, during the darkest days of our union, to "the better angels of our nature," callin g us to rise above our divisions, to live as friends and not enemies.

Lincoln was followed by the likes of Jane Addams, the founder of modern social work. Born into privilege in the 1860s, Addams spent much of her life on the tough streets of Chicago working with the poorest of the poor, not because she pitied them, but because they were created in God's image and essential to the community. "Every human being is a creative agent and a possible generat or of fine enthusiasm," she wrote.

At times, though, the individualism and accomplishments we celebrate border on idolatry. We need the witness of cultures where the focus, from health to wealth, is on the community. Every c ountry, every culture, indeed, has a special role to play.