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The preamble of our Constitution starts with a plural subject: “We the people.” It goes on to specify the reasons for the document. Domestic tranquility. Justice. Defense. General welfare. The purpose is to move a group of individuals to covenant together for the greater good. While maintaining individual rights, there’s the understanding that there will be sacrifices by some for the welfare of all.

However, our nation may be moving away from the collective “We” to the individual “I.”

The latest mass shootings, in El Paso and Dayton, once again elicited a call for tighter gun control laws. And once again came the familiar response. “Guns don’t kill people; mentally ill people kill people.”

Such a response reflects the not so subtle shift from “We the people” to “I the individual.” My rights are more important than collective rights. Why should I sacrifice my individual freedom?

In actuality, our nation is mentally ill if it mistakes the right to bear arms with the right to bear weapons meant for the battlefield and not for a Walmart. We are mentally ill if we say that my right to shoot an assault rifle is more important than sacrificing that right if it keeps one more drop of innocent blood from staining the sidewalk in a future Dayton or El Paso.

As the early church was forming, it was vital to focus on the collective good. It was understood that people would give up some of their freedoms if it promoted the well-being of others. The early leader Paul counseled, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love” (Galatians 5:13). You have to give up the freedom to be selfish in order to be loving.

The same is true for our nation. It might be fun to shoot an AK-47. I’ll never touch one again, though, if that’s what it takes to keep it out of the hands of the disturbed. That is serving our fellow Americans.

Too many in our society dreamily believe that freedom means freedom from restraint. In reality, freedom means choosing restraint if it promotes the greater good. That greater good, in turn, can promote a wider freedom: the freedom to go into an Ohio restaurant without fear of being shot.

In another place (Ephesians 5), Paul said that it was time to “Wake up!” The early Christian leader instructed people in community to “live wisely.” That wise living meant embodying three essential values: “goodness, justice and truth.”

Living those values is essential for every American as well as Christian. They make the “I” recede into the “We.” They are the values we must regain if we are to be the country our ancestors imagined.

It is indeed time that “we the people” finally awake and form a more perfect union.

Greg Weeks is a retired pastor in the United Methodist Church. He is a regular Faith Perspectives contributor to STLtoday.com/religion. Read his blog at www.revgregweeks.com.