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The greatest commandment has guided my politics

Former vice president and 2020 Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden at a ballot paperwork signing in Wilmington, Delaware, on August 14, 2020.
Former vice president and 2020 Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden at a ballot paperwork signing in Wilmington, Delaware, on August 14, 2020. | Photo by Biden for President/Adam Schultz

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’” he said. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These abiding principles – loving God and loving others – are at the very foundation of my faith. Throughout my career in public service, these values have kept me grounded in what matters most. As a husband, father, and grandfather, they are the cornerstone upon which our family is built. Through the pain of losing my wife, my daughter, and my son, they have sustained me with eternal hope. My faith has been a source of immeasurable solace in times of grief, and a daily inspiration to fight against the abuse of power in all its forms. 

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My Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God. We are all created “imago Dei” – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth. It is the same creed that is at the core of our American experiment and written into our founding documents – that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.

As a country, we have never been perfect nor free of prejudice. We’ve never fully lived up to those ideals, but we’ve never walked away from them. And, at our best, these are the values that have pushed us, time and again, as Dr. King said, to bend that great arc of the moral universe toward justice. As president, these are the principles that will shape all that I do, and my faith will continue to serve as my anchor, as it has my entire life.

Right now, as a country, we are facing numerous crises, including threats to the very idea of imago Dei. It’s what I call the battle for the soul of the nation. We saw it in Charlottesville in 2017, the hatred and boiling rage of those people coming out of the fields carrying tiki torches and chanting the same anti-Semitic bile we heard in the 1930s. We’ve seen it far too often since – attacks on immigrants, communities of color, people of different faiths – violence stemming from those who would stoke hate and division in our country. It has become too easy in recent years to define our neighbors as “others” rather than children of God and fellow Americans. It has to stop. We have to strive harder to come together, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is the work we are all called to by God.

This battle for the soul of our nation is why I’m running for president, and it’s why I’m asking for your vote. Who we are, what we stand for, and maybe most important, who we want to be as a nation are all at stake. Character is on the ballot. The character of our nation. The core values that define this nation are on the ballot. While I am running as a proud Democrat, I will serve as a president for all Americans.

To start, on the first day of my presidency, I will tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. We haven’t turned the corner, yet. In fact, infections are on the rise again – with daily infection rates topping 70,000 for the first time since July. More than 220,000 Americans have died from the virus, and tens of millions are out of work. Millions of individuals and families are still unemployed because of this virus, and they’re worried about how they’re going to put food on the table, pay their mortgage, or fill their prescriptions. They’re terrified of what will happen if they get infected, because they lost their health insurance. And far, far too many families are grappling with the daily pain of a newly empty chair at the kitchen table where a loved one should be sitting. It’s a pain I know all too well. I can’t imagine the pain of saying a final goodbye over a video chat, or not being able to gather and grieve with your community. Yet, eight months in, this administration has no plan and no intention of enacting a strategy to get ahead of this virus so we can safely get back to our lives.

I will choose a different way. My administration will lead a decisive public health response that ramps up free testing so we can trace this virus and curb its spread; eliminates all cost barriers to treatment for COVID-19; increases the manufacturing and distribution of the personal protective equipment that our front line workers need to keep themselves safe, so our health care workers no longer have to ration masks; and ensures the rapid and equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine when one is ready. We will also lead an economic response that begins with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis.

To beat COVID-19, we must all work together to pull our country out of this crisis. We must all wear masks. It’s not a political statement – it’s a manifestation of God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we can save lives. And as my administration mobilizes this public health and economic response, I will work closely with Governors — Democrat and Republican — to make sure every state has the resources, support, and guidance they need to implement an effective response in their state, and to institute mask mandates nationwide. If we all work together, we can save lives and get our economy back on track more quickly for everyone – not just those at the top.

We must also root out systemic racism, which is so antithetical to the idea of imago Dei, and which has long deprived too many of our sisters and brothers of color of the opportunities they deserve as equal children of God. These injustices have been part of our society for a long time, but this pandemic has laid them bare for all of us to face. We see so clearly how the burden of unemployment and exposure to this disease has fallen disproportionately on the backs of historically disadvantaged communities.

That’s why we must deliver real, immediate economic relief to those who need it the most in these challenging times – including rental, food, and unemployment assistance; student loan relief; support for small businesses struggling to keep their doors open; necessary aid to state and local governments so they can keep paying their brave front line workers and first responders; and support for our schools so they are able to open safely with all the right precautions and resources in place to keep both students and our educators safe.

As pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” As president, that will be my mission – to lead a national effort to halt the wheels of injustice in our country that are bearing down on so many communities, especially communities of color. Racial equity is a core principle that is integrated throughout my agenda. We will work to remove barriers that prevent full participation in our economy and ensure all families can more easily create and build wealth to pass down to their children, including by making it easier for people to buy their first home. And, I am deeply committed to building an education system that invests in our children starting at birth and ensures that no child’s educational opportunity is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.

We must also tackle the pervasive evil of poverty, which continues to burden too many families in the wealthiest nation on earth. Jesus tells us that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” As a country, we are blessed with the world’s highest GDP and incredible national resources – yet too many working families struggle to pay for basic necessities while the rewards of our economy are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.

My faith implores me to embrace a preferential option for the poor and, as president, I will do everything in my power to fight poverty and build a future that moves us closer to our highest ideals – not only that all women and men are created equal in the eyes of God, but that they are treated equally by their fellow man.

It means building an economy more reflective of the hope expressed in Isaiah 65 – a world where children are not born into misfortune, where workers fully share in the fruits of their labor, where the old live out their years. With more than one million of our veterans on food stamps and millions of children dependent on school lunches to avoid hunger, my administration will recognize that poverty and economic injustice hurts us all. They undermine the core values America was built upon. 

In both the Old and New Testament, we are taught to welcome the stranger – a direct extension of the Greatest Commandment. I will ensure America re-establishes itself as a place of compassion, grace, and love for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, because this is part of who we are as a country.

This is an area where the faith community has led, and as president, I will work closely with faith leaders and faith communities to reassert America’s commitment as a nation that welcomes refugees, rather than rejects them. We must again become a nation that defends the inherent dignity of every human, upholds the blessings of liberty, and provides a haven for those fleeing violence or persecution.

I am committed to building an immigration system that treats everyone with dignity while pursuing policies that safeguard our security, uphold both our laws and our values, and grow and enhance our economy.

As a senator, I co-sponsored the legislation creating our refugee program, which this Administration has systematically sought to decimate. As president, I am committed to restoring refugee admissions in line with our historic practice and our moral responsibility under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Throughout my career, my work has been shaped by – and often done side-by-side with – faith leaders, organizations, and communities devoted to being our brother’s and sister’s keepers and working to ensure opportunity for all. People of faith have been at the forefront of many of our country’s most important achievements for justice, equality, and peace. I remain committed to partnering with congregations, faith-based organizations, and faith leaders to strengthen and expand the important work they do to meet essential community needs made worse by this pandemic. We are called, as Christians, to serve rather than be served, and a Biden-Harris administration will embody that foundational value. We will be servants of the people and continue the important work we’ve started to build a robust, diverse, and inclusive coalition that deeply values the contributions of people of faith.

We don’t always have to agree on everything, but our country has to find a way to come together – to overcome the spirit of division and the hateful words that have defined too much of our public life for the last four years. 

We all matter in the eyes of God, and it will take all of us to achieve the healing America so desperately needs. To follow God’s Greatest Commandment, and to love each other fully. Together, we can win the battle for the soul of our nation; navigate the multiple crises we face – ending this pandemic, driving our economic recovery, confronting systemic racism; address the scourge of poverty; pursue immigration and refugee policies that uphold the dignity of all; and do everything in our power to ensure that all God’s children have the hope and future they so rightfully deserve.

As Christians, I know there is much more that unites us than divides us. And as Americans, I know that there is nothing our country cannot achieve when we stand together – united.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for President.

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