Posts Tagged ‘reproductive justice’

Being the Good Samaritan Isn’t Enough

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

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.

Press Release: Reproductive Health & Justice Faith Action Network

Thursday, September 29th, 2016
MFSA Board of Directors announces new Faith Action Network focusing on reproductive health, justice and choice. 

September 29, 2016
Contact: Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck, Interim Executive Director; Irene DeMaris, Chair, Reproductive Health & Justice Faith Action Network

Washington, DC – The Board of Directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) announced this week they have approved the formation of the first Reproductive Health & Justice Faith Action Network (FAN). This Faith Action Network is a way for United Methodist advocates for reproductive health, choice and justice to connect, stay informed and organize for change within our denomination and at local, state and national levels. 

This new Faith Action Network will be led by Irene DeMaris, MDIV who is a long time advocate for gender justice through a faith lens and previously served with MFSA as a seminary intern focusing on reproductive justice. DeMaris shares: “It’s more important than ever to begin this work for women and girls from a faith perspective. Our Wesleyan Heritage of social justice and our historic leadership of the Social Gospel Movement require us to take action, to stand with those who are oppressed. Having no United Methodist voice at the table for all parts of women's health, choice, and justice is dangerous.The MFSA has been walking with women from our founding and today, we further affirm that commitment through the creation of our Reproductive Health & Justice FAN!”

The 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, instructed official United Methodist agencies including the General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women to withdraw immediately from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). This ended the denomination’s over 40-year relationship with the coalition, of which The United Methodist Church (UMC) was a founding member. As the remaining United Methodist voice, theMethodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) must further our commitment to reproductive health, choice, and justice both within our denomination and at local, state, and national levels. For the first time since the 1970s, the MFSA voice is positioned to be the strongest United Methodist voice at the table for a women’s right to choose and the time is now for the MFSA and its supporters to be prophetic for women’s reproductive health. After General Conference 2016, many women and those who advocate for women’s health were utterly dismayed. This Faith Action Network will empower United Methodist advocates to be a collective voice for change. 

Ways to get involved:

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The Day the Protesters Showed Up at Church

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

At Arch Street UMC, located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, there's no such thing as a “typical” Sunday. Even so, from time to time there are days that stand out. This past Sunday, July 19th, was one such occasion. From 9:30am to 11:30am, Arch Street was the target of an anti-abortion protest by a group of about a dozen or so people from the Abolitionist Society of Philadelphia (not to be confused with the Pennsylvania Abolition Society). Stated intentions and horrifying photo-shopped posters not withstanding, the true nature of the group seemed to be one of generalized Christian extremism. During the days leading up to the protest, many of us had wondered why they chose to bestow this perverse honor on us, but in the end it appears that there was little reason. One woman I spoke with didn't know anything at all about Arch Street's history or recent activism. They were just targeting the United Methodist Church generally and we happened to be the most convenient local congregation.

It's difficult to make much sense of what happened here.  For one thing, Arch Street doesn't give any sort of reproductive rights litmus test to its members, so I can't authoritatively say where the congregation “stands.” However, it does seem to be the case that many of us acknowledge both the grim solemnity of abortion and its absolutely critical role in safeguarding health and justice. But the protesters didn't know or care about any of this. We were just a pretty backdrop for their Instagram photos.

So what other takeaways could there be? I have a few personal thoughts:

1. Threats, intimidation, violence, and fearmongering don't have a place in God's kin-dom. Does this really need elaboration? Let's be honest—each one of us has a God-given talent at smelling plain-old hate from a mile a way. It doesn't matter if somebody's foaming at the mouth about Jesus or the return policy at Macy's, we can all tell what's going on. If you need or want people to feel scared or disgusted, then you're the one in the wrong.

2. What you do find in God's kin-dom is community and diversity. It was really inspiring to see the many ways that Arch Streeters and our guests approached the situation. Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe were our guests for the morning, on their way to a rally in Washington, DC to defend their sacred lands from copper mining. They shared some interesting observations about the protester's offensive tactics, their ignorance of history—rejecting the protester’s comparison of abortion to genocide as disrespectful to the 100 million native people in the Americas killed by European violence and disease—and the intersectionality of race and power structures. We also had members and friends draw parallels with our denomination's exclusion of LGBTQ people. Others were moved to share thoughts about our society's relationship with healthcare and science. It was inspiring to see our community doing what it does best: being a diverse and thriving body caring for each other.

3. Righteous anger can be toxic when ingested in large quantities. Just like life-saving medicines, it's crucial to get the dosage right. When we see injustice in our society and in our own church, it is appropriate to feel and express righteous anger. We are called to put the last first and to lift up the downtrodden, and anger is an important tool in that process. But righteous anger can also clearly be misguided. It must always be accompanied by humility and self-examination, and it must not be taken on for longer than necessary. These protesters were so consumed by anger, presumably for so long, that they came to a point of rationalizing indiscriminate harassment.  Any attempts at conversation with them were quickly met with bizarre, unwarranted personal attacks. We who call ourselves progressive Christians must learn from their mistakes and always guard ourselves against the pressures to generalize and dehumanize, to be rigid and inflexible.

In the end, I think my wife, Jennifer, put it best when she said we should just think of the day's events in much the same way that we think of natural disasters: sometimes unfortunate things like this just happen. This group was so small and extreme that there's little that can be done about it. My hope is merely that on this and all other occasions, joyful or sad, we may come to see ourselves more clearly through others and move a little further in the right direction.


Phillip Gressman is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.

Cruciformity: Searching for a Consistent Ethic of Life

Monday, January 27th, 2014

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.

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