Brian McLaren: We Need a New National Mission Statement (Meditations on the Apartheid Museum Part 2)

Here is part two of a few meditations Brian McLaren has done lately. You can find part one here. The links out of the document are mine, not Brian’s.
What if some of us began a constructive national dialogue, post-political in the sense that it occurs on a level higher and deeper than the mid-range of partisan maneuvering, geared toward a rather simple but grand project: to articulate a national mission statement for the United States. This statement would tell us – and the world – what we’re about. It would serve as a rudder to guide us, and perhaps as a sail to energize us, and perhaps as a keel to stabilize us as well. It would help us make wise decisions, and to admit when we’ve made unwise ones. It would – perhaps this is too optimistic? – give us something above and beyond partisan politics to guide us, a common values fulcrum upon which to leverage our national debates, a shared vision and dream to which all parties and people could be called.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had a nice ring in the Declaration of Independence, but frankly, it has a bit of an individualistic and self-centered ring today. Consider, for example, what it would mean, for example, if our nation were more dedicated to the pursuit of peace and justice than to the pursuit of personal happiness, or to a sustainable life for all creatures instead of simply unlimited prosperity for ourselves.
Perhaps a project like this could invite the participation of every family, every elementary and secondary school child, every university, every church, synagogue, and mosque, every community organization, every state. Perhaps, if we made it a five-to-ten year project, the process could be even more important than the final product.
Perhaps there could be websites where people proposed and crafted elements of the mission statement, and grass-roots gatherings in coffee shops and community centers where various proposals were evaluated. Perhaps at the right time, maybe in 2010 or 2012, such a mission statement could be incorporated in some way alongside the essential documents of our nation.
It’s wonderful to have a history to give us a sense of heritage. It’s essential to have laws and institutions to give us stability. But sometimes I think that our nation, like any adolescent, now needs something more: a sense of mission that is clearly and consciously considered, articulated, debated, affirmed, and celebrated – to give us a noble future. Perhaps, in terms of Native American culture, it is time for our national vision quest, or in Christian or Jewish terms, it is time for our confirmation or bar or bat mitzvah – time for our spiritual coming of age.
Perhaps our current national struggles will, like the struggle of South Africa, bring us to a moment of new possibility and new beginning in the not-too-distant future. That is my hope, even if it sounds naive.

Brian McLaren ( is an author, speaker and board member of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.