Posts Tagged ‘poverty’
Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough
By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.
Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.
We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)
Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.
The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.
Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.
I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.
As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:
Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.
We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.
We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.
Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.
Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!
Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124
Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353
Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643
Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521
Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774
Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623
Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154
Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353
Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.
April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.
Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.
Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”
What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”
Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?
Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.
Abortion is one of the most contentiously debated issues in the current American political climate, particularly as legislatures around the nation continue proposing restrictions on reproductive health access.
In Christ’s universal church, there is no shortage of debates, public forums, caucus groups, ecclesial statements, sermons, and religious literature pertaining to abortion, human sexuality, the beginning of human life, and reproductive justice. The United Methodist Church’s struggle to present a compassionate and grace filled approach to conversations about homosexuality and church polity is indicative of our inability to cultivate healthy, respectful, and theologically dense review of deeply held values. I believe we experience the same challenge with regard to sexual health and reproductive justice.
Recently, Bishop Kenneth Carter preached at the Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service calling for a deep inclusion in the church that extends inclusion to unborn children. He also suggests that there is theological chaos in our polarized church due to partisan politics. I, however, contend that there is theological clarity among ranks of clergy and laity across the church regarding cruciform ministry and pertinent social issues.
I yearn for a United Methodist Church that is deeply inclusive of persons whose lives are neglected, shamed, forgotten, at risk, and near the point of death. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, I believe that a cruciform ethic (imitating the spirit and model of the crucified Christ) is important in difficult considerations of human life and sexuality.
In my ministry, I counsel current and would-be mothers whose lives are at risk due to pregnancy complications, times when legal access to safe and compassionate abortion care is critically needed for their long term healing. Sadly, too, there are young women in our neighborhoods whose lives are traumatized everyday by rape, incest, and abuse. Theological clarity about the cruciform ministry of Jesus the Christ affords me and many others a model for contextual ministry that is full of grace, compassion, mercy, and justice. Cruciform posture extends to my public advocacy so that comprehensive sexual education and legal access to safe reproductive services and contraception are available in our communities.
Cruciform ministry has at its heart the pouring out of one’s self for the world. Cruciform posture recognizes that complications in a pregnancy can jeopardize a woman’s ability to continue to live as a mother and spouse. It seeks an ethic of life, healing, and wholeness where there are no clear answers and suffering already abounds. I yearn for a church where cruciform posture and inclusion abound. An ethic of hospitality, healing, life, and wholeness certainly does not end with sexuality and reproductive justice. It extends to any and all who occupy space on the edges: immigrants, prisoners of war, inmates, and day laborers.
A thoroughly consistent ethic of life, which Bishop Carter encourages, means the church can no longer abdicate its responsibility to advocate for the comprehensive health of all men and women, and the legal mechanisms through which to seek health and wholeness, no matter a person’s gender, economic status, or sexual orientation; cruciformity recognizes that inhumane work conditions that drive materialism and the cogs of consumerism in American industry and around the world compromise the vitality of human life; cruciformity leads us to care for the stranger who crosses the border in the desert heat; cruciformity calls for Christ’s church and its people to publicly repent of the sin of war couched in the fight against terrorism; lastly, it calls for an immediate end to the utilization of the death penalty as a tool of justice.
Rev. Adam Kelchner is the Pastor of Mission and Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN. He is a student of post-Holocaust theology, an avid cyclist, and engaged to be married in 2014.
It is no secret that I celebrated my 80th birthday on October 28th. It has been suggested that one has "arrived" when, rather than complaining about our age, we brag about it. I am "bragging.” I write and share this, not because I believe that I have a depth of insight, and capacity to communicate in some unique way. Rather the reverse is true. I have wondered for years, "Why in the name of heaven don't some of my friends who are scholars, thinkers, theologians, and writers in ways that I am not, write and share their writings with the rest of us?" I think they write only after in-depth research, because they want to be certain their writing is deeply grounded. Much to the dismay of some of you, I am not restricted by possessing that kind of scholarly and intellectual maturity.
These words of writer/teacher of writing, Pat Schneider continue to motivate & inspire my writings; "No one has seen the night sky exactly from your trajectory. No one has loved the people and places you have loved. Who will tell that part of the earth's story if you do not?"
We in New Jersey have responded to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy by allowing the words in quotes found in the title of this blog become a mantra for us. We give our Governor, Chris Christie, credit for those words. (It is possibly because of these words that retired basketball player Shaquille O'Neil has endorsed Christie).
The United Methodist Church has been in a storm, or at least under storm clouds, since 1972 when General Conference passed language and legislation that many of us feel is anti-LGBTQ and insensitive to the fact that same-gender-loving persons fall in love with each other and want to acknowledge and celebrate that love in publicly-, legally- and church-supported ways, as those who are not same-gender-loving do.
Some thoughts about The United Methodist Church in these moments:
1. "Some of my best friends" in The United Methodist Church do not agree with my thoughts and actions regarding gay rights and the continuing struggle for equality and justice for African Americans. It has been interesting and informative that some who agree with me totally on one of these topics, disagree with me on the other. I see similarities between the two, not equivalences; they do not.
2. I believe now, more than ever, that the God of the Church has been, is, and will be, intertwined with both the Church and the state, particularly in the United States. The concept/belief in the "separation of church and state" does not preclude history as it unfolds through the actions of the state, being informed by the intent and intentions of God. I believe the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated racial segregation in public schools, had an imprint of my understandings of the intentions of God. And, I believe the state-sponsored movement toward equality for LGBTQ persons and marriage equality for same-gender-loving persons is also God related. The Methodist Church did not invalidate denominational racial segregation until the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, and the UMC is a "tail light" as marriage equality slowly, but surely, becomes the law of the land. As imperfect as complete human equality has been in the United States, it seems the Constitution has done and is doing for the nation what the Bible has been slow to do for The United Methodist Church.
3. I suggest that our denominational wrestling with the living legacies caused by sexism, racism, and now, heterosexism, has kept us (maybe deliberately?) from acknowledging, confronting and transforming what could be the most demonic of all of the isms; Classism, caused by economic and educational imbalance and inequality.
The economy and economic practices of the United States and indeed the world need to hear the Biblical message about human Greed, and yet we are wasting so much time, keeping sexism, racism and heterosexism alive while pretending to be about confronting them.
The movies this year that are slavery and race-centered; Lincoln, Django Unchained, 42, The Butler, and 12 Years A Slave reflect the tyranny that economic greed has played in colonialism, slavery and racial segregation.
I conclude by suggesting The United Methodist Church, more than any Church body, must cease minimizing its mission and ministry by relegating LGBTQ persons to "their place", as it once did to women and African Americans. Its major ministry in the 21st century, I believe, ought relate to why in a world that possesses "God's Plenty", there are so many of God's people, who have little or nothing.
"Who will tell that part of the earth's story if The United Methodist Church does not?"
Rev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be.
(part 3 of 4)
My parents were products of growing up during the depression. My mother was the only child of a school teacher and architect (on the side) and managed to go to a two year trade school beyond high school. My father was the youngest of four boys whose father was the poultry king of southern New Jersey until he lost everything during the depression. My father grew up as part of a tenement farming family and had several paper routes and odd jobs to help his family. His oldest brother had a mental breakdown as a result of the family's losses and struggles.
Somehow, my dad and his two other brothers managed to get through high school and, as a result of WWII, the Korean conflict, labor unions and the GI bill, managed to work themselves into the middle class. My childhood was marked by an ingrained understanding that poverty and hunger was not going to be an option and education combined with hard work was the key to opening the doors of opportunity and success. As my dad liked to say: "when I die, I'm leaving you the same thing my father left me… the whole wide world to work in." His greatest regret in life was "never having the chance to go to college." I was the youngest of four children and the first to graduate from a four year college. My children were never presented with an option that education ends after high school. Pursuing a higher education (post high school degree) was expected.
I look at what kind of opportunities and successes are waiting for those who are growing up today and I become angry! I'm angered by the road blocks that are placed in the way of our children. The road blocks of poverty, hunger, inadequate and unequal access to education and the growing self-centeredness of the "me and mine" culture that is eroding our sense of community. I don't have a problem with magnet and charter schools as long as they are a part of the public school system. School vouchers (however) are the height of immoral selfishness when they can be used by the privileged to help send their children to private schools at the cost of alleviating their responsibility to help make sure the children of their neighbors and community have access to a good education. The school privatization legislation being put forth by the for profit school industry through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in my estimation, is tantamount to corporate and politically sanctioned child abuse.
Children (at home and abroad) are being exposed to a greater risk of poverty, food insecurity, exploitation and an inadequate education as a result of recent US public policies and business practices. Here’s how:
- Child Poverty:
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (Columbia University) – More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children (1 in 5) – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families.
Spending data released by the Administration for Children and Families shows that state spending of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and related state maintenance of effort (MOE) funds declined again in federal fiscal year 2012. States reported spending or transferring to related programs a total of $31.36 billion, down nearly $2 billion from fiscal year 2011.
- Food Insecurity:
With the separating out of Article IV funding for feeding programs from farm subsidies in the Farm Bill, programs supporting prenatal and childhood food security through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are now at risk (like the WIC – Women and Infant Care Program, School Breakfast Program, Fresh Fruits Lunch Program, Special Milk Program, Summer food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and National School Lunch Program). Beyond children this also effects programs that support Food Pantries, Seniors, Native Americans and other hunger fighting agencies and efforts.
- Exporting Child Exploitation to Import Cheap Goods:
Last year it was Nestle and their cocoa suppliers in Côte d'Ivoire. This year it’s Walmart and their supposed “labor rights certified” shrimp suppliers in Thailand. The reality is that corporate America has to do a better job of policing their suppliers and the labor practices they engage in. According to the Stop Child Labor Coalition, “An annual study (2012) by risk analysis firm Maplecroft has revealed that 76 countries now pose ‘extreme’ child labor complicity risks for companies operating worldwide, due to worsening global security and the economic downturn. This constitutes an increase of more than 10% from last year’s total of 68 ‘extreme risk’ countries.”
- Inadequate Education for our Children:
After a 5.27 percent reduction in the $8 billion budget for Head start and Early Head Start programs because of the actions of Congress this March by enacting the sequester, 57,000 children will be cut from Head Start programs.
Now that colleges are finally required to report graduation rates and States are using more accurate measures for reporting high school graduation rates, we are staring to understand some of the good and bad trends that have developed. In terms of High School Graduation rates, the past decade has seen us grow to a better than 80% graduation rate over all. That’s almost twice what it was 40 to 50 years ago. However, statistics reveal a less promising picture based on racial disparities in graduation rates. If you combine that with the impact of growing up in low income neighborhoods, than it’s no wonder that college graduation rates based on race, gender and economic history produce results that point out our nation's glaring inequalities in education.
States complain about the increasing costs of education. However the data doesn’t support their claims. The American Council on Education tells us; “Based on the trends since 1980, average state fiscal support for higher education will reach zero by 2059.” Here’s another statistic to consider: “It costs $34,135 per year to house an average prisoner” according to The Real Cost of Prisons Project, yet according to the National Census Bureau the national average per pupil expenditure (PPE) amounts for public elementary-secondary school systems for fiscal year 2011 was $10,560 (down $40/student from the previous year). This is either a penny-wise, pound foolish approach to building a better society, or there's just more money in it for those who run private prisons than those who are dedicated to teaching our children well.
I haven’t even gone into depth about studies about funding inequity that show that more affluent communities and public school systems get better access to equipment and funding than do schools in poorer communities and districts.
I’m not trying to paint an impossibly bleak picture for us, but help us to realize how far we are sinking into the depths of greed and selfishness at the expense of our children, tomorrow’s workers, voters and caretakers of society.
The great news is that we are not sunk yet! High school graduation rates are at a 30 year high, even though our teachers and their unions are under constant criticism and attack. Now we just need to get behind our educators and make sure that they have the resources and community support to do their job effectively and with our heartfelt gratitude.
I was inspired last week at the commemoration events for the March on Washington on Saturday, August 24th. A young (9 year old) activist for education, Asean Johnson spoke about his hopes and dreams for what public education can and should be for all students, regardless of race, gender and economic means. Asean has fought against school closings and overcrowded classrooms and when he discovered that his own school didn’t have the same access to technology and resources that more affluent schools had, he had the courage to publically ask why. Students and children are mobilizing and trying to wake the rest of us up to what is going on in at risk neighborhoods and communities across this country. They get it, why can’t we adults? Have we become that callous and selfish? Can we possibly turn things around so that the whole wide world we leave to our children to work in is one filled with possibilities and hope? I think we can. I think it’s not too late, yet, but we have to get it together soon or it just may become an almost impossible task. I hope Asean and others will help to show us the way, but more importantly, I hope we will listen as they try!
I want to end with this quote: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. …When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 4/4/1967
Next and finally, I want to focus on Labor: Organized and Mobilized for a Better Tomorrow.
Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.