When I opened my mailbox last night, I found an envelope with a card in it from the Friends Meeting of Washington (FMW). It was a thank you card signed by several meeting members for my getting arrested on July 13 at an interfaith civil disobedience action with Reverend William Barber in defense of universal healthcare. As a new sojourner at FMW, I was deeply touched by the meeting’s support for this action.
On the morning of July 13, over 50 people, mostly Jews and Christian of various denominations, marched the few blocks from the offices of the Friends Committee on National Legislation to Mitch McConnell’s office in the U.S. Senate building on Capitol Hill. Once there, we sang, chanted, and listened to powerful preaching by Rev. Barber, Rev. Tracy Blackmon, and Rev. Jennifer Butler opposing the “death bill.” After four warnings by Capital Police, 11 faith leaders, including myself and another attender at the FMW, were handcuffed, put in police vans, taken to the police station, searched, put in holding cells, interviewed in interrogation rooms, and then photographed and finger printed for engaging in an act of peaceable assembly and free speech.
This, of course, was just one of the many healthcare actions undertaken by folks from FMW--and by hundreds of thousands of people across the country who have lobbied elected officials, demonstrated at town hall meetings, and committed civil disobedience at the U.S. Capitol for weeks to block efforts to make US healthcare worse.
Why did I join in? That is answered, I think, by my remarks at an Interfaith Vigil for Healthcare at the U.S. Capitol organized by the Friends Committee on National Legislation about a week before I got arrested with ten other faith leaders. Here is the ministry I shared that night.
Let Us All Be Used by God
I bring all of you greetings from Putney Friends Meeting, a small but vital Quaker congregation in rural Vermont. Like all of you, my spiritual community is appalled by the cruelty of the Senate wealthcare bill that will take away health insurance from 22 million Americans in order to give billions in tax breaks to large corporations and the wealthy.
Why do we oppose this bill? One reason is that the quality of life for many of our members will be made worse if this bill becomes law. We have unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid members who will lose health insurance if the Republican Senate “healthcare” bill passes. We also have members who rely on Medicaid who will be hurt by the cuts to Medicaid in this bill. We have members who will lose insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Premium costs will also skyrocket for many of our older members if this bill becomes law.
Yet, even if all of us were affluent enough to afford good health insurance with no government support, we would oppose this bill. The most important reason is that as a spiritual community we seek to be faithful followers of a just and compassionate God, a God that calls us to heal and repair the world with love. At Putney Friends Meeting, we try to love God and love what God loves.
What does God love? According to our spiritual experience and what we read in scripture, God loves the poor, the sick, the oppressed. God loves justice, healing, and care for “the least of these.” And, what breaks God’s heart? Hard heartedness, greed, injustice, and exploiting or mistreating the poor.
How then can so many of the Senators who support this cruel legislation call themselves Christians? I am reminded of a comment by Gandhi. An American journalist was interviewing him and said, “I know you are a Hindu. How do your beliefs differ from most Christians in the United States?” Gandhi wryly answered, “Well, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I think he meant it.” The disciple Matthew said much the same thing. In Matthew’s gospel, he quotes Jesus as saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of God.”
But let’s also admit that it can be hard to know the will of God. Jesus even struggled with this. God had to use a poor Canaanite woman with a sick daughter to melt Jesus’ hardened heart and increase his compassion for the poor regardless of their ethnic background. As Matthew tells the story, a Canaanite woman with a very sick daughter sought out Jesus because of his renown as a healer. She saw him across a village square and shouted out to him asking for his help to heal her daughter. She even started to run towards him.
What happened next? Jesus ignored her. He wouldn’t even acknowledge her existence. His disciples also privately mocked her as loud and hysterical. As the woman was running towards them, they urged Jesus to send her away. He agreed and said he had no reason to care for a person of a different religious or ethnic group. When the woman fell to her knees before him and begged for his help, he told the woman to go away and even called her a “dog.” This woman, so desperate to save her daughter’s life, said to him, “But, Lord, don’t dogs deserve to eat the scraps from the master’s table?”
This shocked Jesus. He looked at her and really saw her for the first time, as she knelt on her knees before him, crying, and looking directly into his eyes. In that moment of divine opportunity, his heart melted. His compassion grew. His circle of moral concern expanded and he realized that God wants all of us to love our neighbors without exceptions. He leaned down, took her hand, and lifted her up, saying “your faith is great." In that very moment, her daughter was healed.
May our faith be great. May we all let ourselves be used by God to melt the hard hearts of the Senators who support this cruel Senate bill that refuses to help 22 million Americans in order to give giant tax cuts to the wealthy few.
In this effort, we must use all the normal channels of political advocacy we have to support universal and affordable health care. We should also be ready to engage in civil disobedience in the halls of Congress or elsewhere. The stakes are that high and as Diane Randall of the Friends Committee on National Legislation wisely tells us, “God does not call us to be ineffective.” It no longer makes sense to say that God doesn’t call us to be effective, only faithful. It is just not faithful to willfully allow millions of our neighbors to suffer at the hands of greedy power elite when we could stop their abuse by getting active and getting smart about how to resist injustice effectively.
I just want to add that we need to learn to not be afraid of our social justice movements becoming powerful and making real change. We should embrace that. As Martin Luther King said in his last address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “Power without love is reckless and abusive.” That is exactly what we are facing in this bill. Yet, as King also reminded us, “love without power is sentimental and anemic.” We need to remember that, and that King also said, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Let us all be well used by God!
We won many victories for health care during this last week, but we'll need to keep the pressure on to stop some form of the Republican “wealthcare” bill becoming law. Then, after taking a few breaths, we will need to urge the Senate to improve Obamacare, lower costs, and expand coverage through some form of a Medicare for All bill.
All hands on deck!
Use this AFSC action alert to call you Senator and let them know what you think about the healthcare bill.