As I continue to follow court cases addressing Gerrymandering at both the federal level (Gill v. Whitford) and in North Carolina (Common Cause v. Rucho), along with the latest move by the North Carolina General Assembly to make judicial elections more partisan, I despair for our democracy. I’ve spoken at press conferences, sat on panel discussions, done interviews, and lain awake at night thinking about the three legged stool that is our democracy and discussing the many ways it is wobbling in North Carolina. I’ve also lain awake thinking about a faith-filled response in times such as these…
For starters, it’s helpful to remember that our faith is in God; our faith is not in nations, government systems, elected officials, or economic structures. Those things are all tools we use in pursuit of God’s call for our lives, the call to love God and love neighbor. Clearly some systems enable us to do that better than others, but we must always start with God’s claim on our lives and evaluate the systems of governance and economics through that lens. When we start with God’s claim, we sometimes assume a different posture than the one thrust upon us by politics and economics. Starting from God’s directives also keeps us from making personal political strategy and economic policy, which can often cause knee-jerk reactions to the person rather than careful deliberation of the policy.
The Affordable Care Act is a great example of confusing the policy with the person. As we have learned, some of the people who voted for the person who succeeded President Obama in the White House did not know their health insurance is nicknamed, “Obamacare.” They did know that the Affordable Care Act allowed them to acquire insurance that had previously been unavailable because of pre-existing exclusions or because it was simply unaffordable at their salary level. Promising to “repeal Obamacare” created a personal reaction to a policy matter and occluded the reality of what is good about the Affordable Care Act and what needs to be remedied. In a losing game of “dismantling the master’s house with the master’s tools,” opponents to the replacement plan nicknamed it, “Trumpcare,” again confusing the policy with the person. Few of us covered by the Affordable Care Act (I am one) would claim “it’s just right,” but some parts of it are good and ought not to be repealed or sabotaged.
When we start with the need–access to affordable health care–and craft a policy to meet that need, we start with a different set of premises. For Christians, the premise is straightforward–Jesus was the original universal health care provider. A quick glance at the Gospels will provide a litany of healing narratives, including the story of the Canaanite Woman who pointed out to Jesus his own blind spot, thus opening his eyes to the rights of everyone to flourish (Matthew 15:21-28). Anyone working to insure that everyone has the ability to flourish into the fullness of their God-given gift of life is doing the Lord’s work, regardless of that one’s name.
There’s a little story found in both Mark (9:38ff) and Luke (9:49ff) where some disciples encounter a person doing the Lord’s work, though he is not known to them as a follower of Jesus. So they said, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” (emphasis added).
In other words, focus on the issue. People working on God’s issues are on God’s side. Of course, insurance, health care, and healthy environments are a complicated matter, but when we focus on the issue as refracted through the lens of faith, we start our discussion from a very different place and we might craft a policy that comes out with a very different ending. We praise those who work toward that ideal and we call out those who don’t–not from a political perspective, from a justice perspective. We may find the one with whom we disagree politically is the one moving toward God’s justice. In fact, Richard Nixon’s health care plan was much more comprehensive than the Affordable Care Act in promising insurance for all. Who knew?
By grounding our discussion in our faith claims, we’re not “preaching about politics,” we are proclaiming the Gospel, which is a highly charged activity. Jesus wasn’t crucified for praying too much. He was executed as a criminal of the state. It is not work for the faint of heart. But in this age of polarizing politics, we must refract the issues confronting us through the lens of faith. Only then do the political, economic, and sociological norms that define our lives fade into the background and make room for God’s truth. Scripture is ripe with prophecies, narratives, parables, and epistles that offer a lens for how we live and move and have our being in these days.