Yes Mr. Cooper, “It is a moral imperative.”

Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper wrote an editorial in the Tennessean newspaper the other day explaining why he feels compelled to vote a “Reluctant No” to the healthcare reform bill, H.R. 3200. While the overwhelming response to the congressman’s editorial are opposed to his position, and I agree with most of them, I would like to use this space to talk a bit about the five words in the editorial that I most agree with. “It is a moral imperative”

How immoral is it to say to 46 million people without any healthcare coverage at all, and another 50 million who are under covered (which means they have some type of health insurance but cannot afford to actually need to use it) ” I know you need help . . . just wait”. How immoral is it that this government, is willing to go into debt and move immediately to provide assistance to failing financial institutions, and automotive manufacturers, yet when it comes to helping almost 100 million citizens it wants to say, “we cannot afford it.”

The founding document of this nation, The Declaration of Independence, states that this government is founded on the principle “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The document goes on to say that, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men . . .” So there we have it! The very founding document of the United States says that the reason for the existence of the this government, the reason Jim Cooper’s job as U.S. Congressman was created is to secure men and women’s God given rights. The question then becomes, “is access to quality healthcare a right or not?” If it is not a right, then the ability to go to a doctor and receive the best available care when you are sick or injured is a privilege. If it is a privilege then it is reserved for the privileged. If it is reserved for the privileged then our current system of providing healthcare needs no reform. If, on the other hand, quality healthcare is a right then there is much to be done and government has a responsibility to do it.

I would argue that healthcare is a right. It is included in the Declaration when it talks about having a God given, unalienable right to life. Here is where I would expect to have the cooperation of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and even the newly formed, Faith and Freedom Network. If good health is a God given right then the purpose of government is not to debate its economic impact, but simply to “secure” it. When Thomas Jefferson wrote these words he intentionally used the word ‘secure’ and not ‘procure’. Jefferson was talking about God given rights; unalienable rights; rights that each person has at birth, by the very fact of their birth, rights that are unalienable; they cannot be denied or limited. In other words the right to life in its fullest is already given, each person already possess it. That right does not need to be procured. The responsibility of government is to “secure” it, to keep it safe.

Our current healthcare system is little more than Jim Crow. The difference is that people are denied services not based on color or race, but because of economic station and political privilege. Those who oppose healthcare reform now are not unlike those who opposed the dismantling of Jim Crow. The words are almost exactly the same. “We know the way it is isn’t right. We agree with you and really want change too. Just not right now.” To this we say like, Congressman John Lewis said over 40 years ago to those in Nashville who wanted to change Jim Crow “but just not now”. “If not now, when?” If history has taught us anything, it has taught us that,

“Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be coworkers with God . . . it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor . . . until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The reality of course is that the difference between what can and cannot be done is most often a matter of will more than any other single factor. When Congress (including Congressman Cooper) has the will to act morally, change will come. History has taught us that this will not happen until we, the people of the United States of America, make it happen. History has further taught us that it is those of us who have been touched by the teachings of Jesus, rather than just the teachings ‘about’ Jesus, who must take the lead, consider it, confer, and speak up!

When we do this, we fulfill our responsibility not just to be unspotted by the world but to leave our mark on it and . . .

Make A Difference . . . For Life!!

Write your Congressman here

A Brief Consideration of the Word: “From”

The English word, ‘from’, is a preposition. It denotes separation, as in “get away from me. Stay away from there. The word can also denote origin, as in “I am from Philadelphia” or, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Related to origin, the word from has also been used to indicate causation, as in, “that stain is from ketchup”, or “the fermentation comes from the leaven.” This being the case I wonder what Jesus’ little brother James meant when he wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27, NKJV)

I believe some see James’ words here as a warning to the church to be separate from the world. Some take this along with James’ later words that “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, NKJV) and use it to argue that Christians should have no part in the affairs of this world. This demonstrates, they believe, that Christians are to be separate from “secular” cares and issues of the world. This has resulted in a worldview that attempts to separate the spiritual realm from the physical realm. The silence of many of our churches on the pressing issues of the day would seem to suggest that this is indeed, how they feel. How often do we come across “blessed and highly favored” Christians who are non-committal when it comes to taking a stand against poverty and the oppressive systems that perpetuate it.

Many see this as a call to personal piety, a challenge to live a sinless life. They see James words here as calling Christians to stay away from the defiling practices of the world. We should be beyond reproach in our speech and action. Some would say that we are to be so pure as to be unassailable even by the very world we would not have as friends. We are to be beyond reproach! While I believe that these understandings of James’ words make it easy for Christians to live peacefully in an oppressive and unjust society, I have a different understanding of what the Lord’s brother is saying to the church.

What James is really calling the church to do is not be separate but different. James is saying in essence, “Don’t let the world put its mark on you”. Pleasing God is not about the tongues you speak in, it is not about the buildings you build, it is not about, “enlarging my territory”, or just being concerned about my own small little world. Pleasing God is about living in this world like those who know and follow the one who “resists the proud”. The religion that pleases God, that form of worship is not about three services on Sunday, or waiting for your “breakthrough”. James’ admonition is not to let this world’s materialism, and classism creep into your churches and your theology. Do not let the world put its mark on you!

James actually challenges us to put our mark on the world. James calls us to action, to look after, to be proactive in helping the poor, the disadvantaged, and the disenfranchised. James challenges Christians to see these people not as “them” but as “us”. The challenge for those who really want to please God is to do more than just sing Zion’s songs, and shout, and be “slain in the spirit”. Our challenge is to act, our challenge is not only to be unspotted by the world, but to leave our mark on it. It is no wonder then why James makes his great argument about faith without works being dead.

No the word “from” is not about separation here. It is about action, it is about standing up to the status quo and being willing to reach out and

Make A Difference . . . . For Life.

W.W.J.D.? Ask The Good Samaritan!

I took some time out of my day today to attend a rally for Healthcare Reform in Nashville at the offices of Tennessee’s two U.S. senators. Among the many posters and hand bills there was one that had the now familiar letters WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do?” Well for those of us who claim to carry the name of Christ that is a pertinent question. If we are to truly follow in the footsteps of the master, it behooves us to know, “What Would Jesus Do”. For the answer, we can look to Jesus’ own words in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

No doubt you know the story, but let me summarize. A man is on a trip and gets robbed and injured in the robbery. A preacher and a deacon each pass him by without offering to help at all. A third person, totally unrelated to the injured man, comes by and immediately offers assistance, takes the man to get medical attention, and assumes financial responsibility for his care. When it comes to the battle over healthcare reform Christians can draw much from this parable.

First, we cannot ignore the issue. We can not simply go on with our everyday lives, seeing what is going on and doing nothing. The two in this parable do just that. They walked past the injured man. Jesus challenges all of us who say that we belong to him, that we follow him, not to turn a blind eye. We can not just go on with our daily routines as if there are not issues that need our attention. Few of us today hear this story without shaking our heads at this preacher and asking, “How could he just walk right past the man and not do anything?” Yet how many of us are just too busy, have something else to do, or are just really not all that concerned about 46 million people who can’t go see a doctor for regular checkups, have no primary care physician, and are at the bottom of the healthcare service ladder. How easy is it for us to go to church on Sunday for a few hours and then spend the rest of our week focused solely on our own little world? Do we allow ourselves to get so caught up in praise, that we forget to serve?

Second, we cannot avoid the issue. If we shake our head at the preacher who walks by the man, we are down right indignant at the deacon who sees the man and crosses to the other side of the road, attempting to create some space between himself and the man’s need. Do we do that? Do we create space between ourselves and the needs of our fellow human beings by attempting to separate the spiritual and the secular? When we suggest that “as Christians” we should not be involved in “secular” matters we say to our fellow humans, “Our God cares about your soul, but your body belongs to the government, or your boss, or the insurance companies, or whoever.” We cannot separate ourselves from the great issues of justice, equality, and civility that face us as a nation during these historic times. We cannot cross to the other side of the road and create a divide between ourselves and the needs of society. If we are Christ’s then we are the conscience of our community, our city, our state, and our nation. There is simply no avoiding it! 50 million people in this country work and pay for healthcare and yet still cannot afford to get sick!

Finally, we must be proactive, the parable does not say that the Samaritan responded to a plea for help. Rather it says that he saw the man and went to him, he was proactive, he saw the need and was moved by the spirit of compassion within him to act. It is that same initiative, motivated by Christian compassion that should move us to reach to our fellows, put our shoulders to the yoke, and work together to the bringing down of strongholds.

As we follow to the example of the Good Samaritan when looking for the answer to the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” we evangelize in ways words alone could not fully do. We demonstrate, in a tangible way, that we serve a God that is loving, caring, and actively involved in the affairs of humankind on the side of justice, equality, and peace.

That is how we Make A Difference . . . For Life!!!

Get In The Game

Another news article came to my attention today. This one is from The Tennessean, Nashville’s local daily newspaper. “New gay rights push targets Metro Nashville policies” is the article and link if you are interested. The article is about an “ordinance being discussed [that] would be limited to protecting Metro employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” After reading the article I went through the comments. Several people identifying themselves as Christian voiced their opposition to the measure based on the moral authority of the Bible. It truly pains me to see the name of Christ, and the Bible used in this way. My comment was this:

“The issue here is that people who are in same sex relationships should not be discriminated against for that reason. We must be very careful when we call ourselves Christian in one breathe, and argue against fair treatment for all in the next. When we call ourselves Christian then we place ourselves on the side of the Christ. From that perspective, the perspective of Christ, we are challenged to view the world and the people in it, the way God sees them. The very words and actions of the Christ we follow encourage us to a more tolerant, loving and inclusive path. The Jesus of the gospels did not and would not diminish anyone’s humanity, even pointing out that God makes the sun shine on both the just and the unjust. From the parable of the Good Samaritan, to healing lepers by actually touching them, a close reading of the Gospels will reveal a Jesus whose condemnatory remarks were for the religious conservatives of his day, who had turned God’s spiritual honey into religious vinegar.”

At issue in this debate is not the morality of homosexuality, simply the rights of these individuals as citizens, equal citizens, of the city of Nashville. That is not to say that Christians should be uninvolved. We are not suggesting that because this is not a debate about personal morality and practice we as Christians should not engage the debate. On the contrary Christians should be very much engaged in the debate! The debate, while not one of personal morality, is a moral debate none-the-less.

The debate is about the morality of the government, and by broader implication, of the society, and culture by which that government is made up. Will the government be inclusive, or selective? Will it live up to it’s stated, and implied responsibility to protect and serve all of it’s citizens or only some. Will it turn a blind eye toward alienation, and disenfranchisement? Or, will it turn a deaf ear to calls for treatment based on judgementalism, prejudice, and misguided religious fervor? In this debate Christians must not only be involved but must take the lead!

It is our duty to follow in the footsteps of the Master, to speak truth to power, even if that truth is an uncomfortable one. We cannot sit by quietly, or even worse yet take sides with the very same “powers and principalities” that the Master decried in days when he walked this earth in bodily form. We, who believe in a risen, living Jesus, must be willing to be yoked up with Him in the battle for justice and equality for all.

Our position and responsibility as Christians is clear, we cannot sit on the sidelines, we cannot support the status quo, we have to stand up for what is right from the viewpoint of the Christ we serve and in so doing . . .

Make A Difference . . . For Life!

What God Is He Talkin’ ’bout?

I was checking my email the other day and I noticed an email in my inbox with the subject “DON’T BUY PEPSI IN THE NEW CAN!!” I was immediately concerned as I have noticed the new styling of the Pepsi logo and personally I think the change is refreshing. While I don’t drink Pepsi often, I must confess that every now and then I do partake. That being the case, being one of the 46 million or so people in this country without any health insurance at all, I was naturally concerned that there was some new health scare surrounding the ‘new can’.

Imagine my shock (and relief) to learn that the reason for the urgent alert not buy Pepsi in the new can was because the producers of Pepsi, to quote the email, “has a new ‘patriotic’ can coming out with pictures of the Empire State Building , and the Pledge of Allegiance on them. However, Pepsi left out two little words on the pledge, ‘Under God.’ Pepsi said they didn’t want to offend anyone. The email goes on to say, “So if we don’t buy any Pepsi products, they will not be offended when they don’t receive our money that has the words ‘In God We Trust’ on it.” It is amazing to me how righteously indignant “patriotic” people become over words on a can, or printed on a piece of paper.

The question comes to mind, “What God?” What God is this person espousing who is more concerned with what is written on a piece of paper, or stamped(or not) on a metal can, than what is actually happening in the lives of people. Certainly not the God of the Bible. Not the God who judges the rich and powerful even of the very nation He called peculiarly His own. Hear the words of the prophet Micah. “Doomed! You’re doomed! At night you lie in bed, making evil plans. And when morning comes, you do what you’ve planned because you have the power. You grab any field or house that you want; you cheat families out of homes and land. (Micah 2:1-2, CEV) ” This is the response of the God of the biblical tradition. The God and father of the Christ we profess is not at all concerned with words on a can. Rather He is intimately concerned, and involved in how we live out His principles in our everyday lives.

The God of the Biblical tradition would have us not buy products of any business that pays it’s CEO millions of dollars every year, yet lobby’s against a living wage for the workers who actually produce the goods and provide the services. Don’t buy? Not because the words “under God” are missing. Don’t buy because the glass ceiling still exists for women and minorities. Don’t buy because working conditions in third world sweatshops are not addressed and improved. Don’t buy because prices are unnecessarily inflated producing record profits in a time of global economic crisis.

The question for those of us who profess to love the Lord is, “What God are we serving?” Are we serving a God who is simply content with lip service, words on a can, or printed on paper? Or are we serving a God who will stand against injustice, abuse of power, unethical business practices, and corporate immorality?

Take counsel, consider, and . . .

Make A Difference . . . For Life!!!