Somebody Ought to Tell the Truth!

In a front page article written by  Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff which appeared in The New York Times on February 12, a gentleman was described as being

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Image via Wikipedia

anti big government. He printed tee shirts for his local Tea Party affiliate, and says he doesn’t need or want help from the government.

Yet, the article said, he gets a payment from the government every year, a subsidy for working families called the “earned income tax credit,”  “he has signed his three school age children up to receive free breakfasts,” paid for the by the federal government, and his mother, who had to have hip surgery twice, is on Medicare – again, a federal program.

This kind of situation is not the exception, but, rather, the rule, and I am finding it harder and harder to listen to GOP presidential contenders talk about how they will slash domestic spending because it represents big government. At the end of the day, politicians are not telling people the truth, but, rather, what they want to hear. The people are not clear on what “big government” is, and politicians are allowing their ignorance to remain, because their lack of knowledge is the pot in which raw emotions fester, and politicians know that many an election has been won by stirring the right pot with the right emotions.

Are people really thinking about what would happen if the host of government benefits we all take so for granted suddenly were not there? What WOULD happen to our elderly if Medicare were no more?  The Times article said that “dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in 2009, a 69 percent increase since 2000.” The article said that older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare. So, if we cut domestic spending, how would “the least of these,” in this case, the elderly, get by?

Rick Santorum said that while Jesus wanted people to help poor people, social justice creates lazy Christians. That statement was stunning in and of itself, but it is disturbing and misleading and leads Americans to visualize “the poor” as lazy and probably members of a minority group. Like it or not, there are certain buzz words that get self-righteous Americans stirred up about who “the American taxpayer” is helping…but what is not being discussed or highlighted is that, again according to the Times article  “the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits.” Now it seems that the doling out of government benefits has been more focused on saving the slowly dying middle class.

There is no doubt that the nation’s economy, in fact, the world’s economy, is in horrible shape.  GOP presidential hopefuls who want to beat President Obama cannot be pleased that the economy seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. That fact takes the wind out of their argument that the Obama administration is a “failed presidency,” but they still beat the drum that the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons the economy has pitted is because of big government and reckless government spending.

Somebody needs to be bold and tell the truth about what is going on. Rick Santorum looks like a clean-cut, all-American choir boy, and he stands on his Christianity, but Christianity  i.e., the following of the Christ – demands a social conscience and a heart for “the least of these.” Santorum has not voiced the truth that “the least of these” is a group growing larger and larger as the income disparity between rich and poor gets wider and wider.  William Sloan Coffin once said that what the “Christian community needs to do above all else is to raise up men and women of thought and of conscience…” Merely advocating for slashing of needed government programs, at the expense of people who have been the backbone of this country, providing the labor and services that made wealth possible for so many, would seem to be immoral, unethical …and un-Christian.

Santorum is talking a lot of religion lately, going so far as to say President Obama has a “phony theology.” I do not understand that phrase, but what I do know is that the Jesus in the scriptures I read would not condone the wealthy getting more wealthy while more and more people are falling deeper and deeper into financial ruin, with the threat of what little help they have hanging over their heads.

I cannot believe God is pleased with what is going on.

A candid observation.

 

 

What Is a Conservative?

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Image via Wikipedia

OK. I am confused.

What is a “real” Conservative? And when did the word “Liberal” become a virtual cuss word for those who are on the Right?

I was perplexed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said last week that he was “severely Conservative.”  I didn’t know what it meant; I am glad that David Frum, in an article posted on the CNN blog, said that what Romney meant to say was that he was, or is, “strongly” Conservative. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/13/opinion/frum-romney-moves)

Michelle Bachmann said she was the “perfect” Conservative, and this week, Sarah Palin intimated that Romney still has to prove he is Conservative enough to be a viable candidate to run against President Obama.

But I am still confused. What is a Conservative, really? What do Conservatives stand for? There seems to be a standard in order for one to call oneself “Conservative.” It’s like the elusive “standard” that exists for being “black.” President Obama has been chided by some for not being “black enough,” and by others for being “too black,” so much so that there is literally nothing else to call him but a Socialist.

In order to be a Conservative, what does one have to stand for? It’s can’t be small government and less government spending, because George W. Bush said he was a Conservative but made the government super huge and spent money like it was going to evaporate. He was “conservative” when it came to interfering with Terri Schiavo…meaning, he was on the bandwagon to make sure life-saving measures were not discontinued…but wait. That couldn’t have been Conservative, could it, when he invited the United States Supreme Court in to make a ruling on the case?

As I have always understood it, Conservatives stand for less government …but that’s not a constant standard, is it? I mean, some Conservatives are mad about “Obamacare,” because they say it’s government intrusion in health care, but isn’t the government already highly involved, so much so that we don’t have the freedom in some cases to choose our own doctors like we used to be able to, and we might be out of luck if we do not get certain medical procedures approved by our insurance companies first? Didn’t the government have something to do with where we are in health care today?

I am not being facetious. I am confused. What is the difference between a “real” Conservative and a Liberal? And what is it about liberalism that makes Conservatives so mad?  Is it because Conservatives think that a government ought not help the poor? Is it the Conservative viewpoint that people are down and out because they want to be and that they are where they are because they are just lazy? Is that what I am hearing underneath some of what Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said? And is the Conservative view that we should let the elderly of our population kind of wing it when it comes to health care? I know Medicare is expensive, but what I am not sure about is what Conservatives are saying.

I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I am genuinely confused. The Conservatives, many of them, say they are part of the evangelical population of this country. That is why they are against gay marriage, and want to overturn Roe vs. Wade…but if they are so attached to The Holy Bible, wouldn’t they have seen the literally hundreds of references about the poor and how God’s people are supposed to take care of them?  Liberals have been accused of being without religion, but what kind of religion is it that the Conservatives, a.k.a. the evangelicals, ascribe to?

I am genuinely confused. Is it just me, or is there a problem here? If Romney is “severely” or “strongly” a Conservative, what does that mean? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said he was a Progressive. So…what do we have here? A new strain of politician? Is Romney a Progressive Conservative? Or a Conservative Progressive? It’s all really hard to understand for a non-sophisticated citizen like myself.

A candid observation …

No Outrage Over Poverty

How come it seems like nobody gets outraged about poverty in the United States?

I ask the question on the heels of the outrage expressed by Catholic bishops over the Obama administration’s policy that would have required Catholic institutions (churches excepted) to cover birth control in the health insurance coverage for their employees. Catholic bishops and others protested, calling the requirement an assault on religious freedom.

The furor has somewhat died down, as President Obama has announced a compromise that will require insurance companies to require contraceptive coverage directly to women. While some are skeptical of the new policy, others say the compromise is on target.

But I found myself shaking in my boots as I wondered why there seems to be so little outrage about poverty in this country? In the United States, there are 46 million people who are officially “poor.”  Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote this week that the disparity between rich and poor is making hunger in America more and more real for more and more people; for as many as 14 million children, free food programs provide some with the only food they get. She reminded readers that hunger due to extreme poverty has been an American reality for a long time by recalling a visit Robert Kennedy made to the Mississippi Delta in the 60s where he saw for himself children who were literally starving. Ironically, today, while some children are becoming obese, many others are losing weight not because they want to, but because they do not have enough food to eat.

One thing is clear: we as humans tend not to empathize with the plights of people unless we see with our own eyes what people are going through. The stark pictures of people’s suffering after Hurricane  Katrina mobilized the nation and the world to do something; in the 60s, the nation and world, again, were both outraged and provided the impetus for Washington to do something. When I have visited tropical islands, West and South Africa, my privileges as a tourist seemed less palatable after I traveled into the territory beyond the posh hotels, including the shanty towns in Cape Town, South Africa, and saw how awful living conditions were for so many of the people.

The lack of a deafening outrage from religious and non-religious leaders makes me wonder if people really know how bad poverty is in America, and how many it is affecting. Sabrina Tavernise wrote in Friday’s The New York Times that poverty is affecting education as well. While the big gap in educational achievement used to be that between white and black children, Tavernise wrote that “the achievement gap between rich and poor children is double that between black and white children according to a study done by a Stanford University sociologist.”

We already know that poverty has resulted in people not being able to get health care, which was a major impetus for the push for health care reform. In this, the richest nation in the world, people are dying from illnesses that are treatable. Just last month, I learned of a woman who contracted a cold which didn’t get better, but the woman couldn’t go to a doctor because she had no health care, though she was a full time employee at a fast food restaurant. Her cold developed into something more serious, landing her in an emergency room, then in intensive care. She died after two weeks on a respirator.

How come there are no religious leaders, no political leaders – somebody – screaming about poverty in America?

A person attending my church one time took me to task for talking about poverty. Her statement still troubles me. “You are wrong to talk about poverty,” she said. “The Bible says that the poor will always be with us. There are supposed to be poor people.”

I was stunned at her comment.  It is true that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can always help them, but you will not always have me.”  The statement came after a woman came to anoint him with expensive oil from an alabaster box.  Those surrounding Jesus were angry at the apparent waste of the oil. Some in Jesus’ presence said that the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Apparently the oil the woman used was so precious that it could have been sold for 300 denarii! (One denarius is said to be worth about $20)

Were the oil that valuable, I rather doubt money garnered from its sale would have been given to the poor …but the point is, the woman who approached me had apparently read that scripture to mean that there are supposed to be poor people.

Interestingly, she didn’t mention Deuteronomy 15:11 where it says that there will be poor people and therefore “I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

There is nothing fun about being poor; it is far easier to avoid the poor sections of town, and to complain that the poor are poor because they want to be, that they are lazy and want to live off the wages of others. It is as easy to do that as it is to go to Cancun and stay protectively cooped up in the luxury hotel and banish the real world out of our minds.

But the luxury hotels are not the norm. The people who serve us in the luxury hotels and on the cruise ships, many of them, are horribly poor. While they serve us the best of foods, many have little to eat themselves.

Why isn’t there more outrage about poverty? It is OK for the Catholic bishops to be outraged about contraception and a perceived imposition of a federal policy on religious liberty, but where are their collective voices – in fact, where are the collective voices of religious leaders, period, on the subject of poverty?

It seems we have it confused; we honor and reach for prosperity. The poor, who should have a voice through us, are ignored largely because of us.

A candid observation …

 

 

Two Bibles, Two Gods, Two Constitutions?

It occurred to me that in this country, we probably live by a set of two of everything we hold dear.

I, as an African American, see the world, God, the Bible and the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence differently, it seems, than many of my white brothers and sisters.

It seems that we – black and white Americans – both live in make-believe worlds. In my world, I make-believe that the Constitution is a document that pushes egalitarianism, equality, justice for all. In my make-believe world, God is a God of justice, who is, as the Book of Galatians states, “no respecter of persons.” My God is one who would not and who has never sanctioned violence, discrimination, lynching, denial of rights and economic disparity. My God is the hero of the oppressed, the God who thundered “Let my people go!” The Bible I read supports the idea of God that I have as a loving God who loves all His/Her children equally.

In the make-believe world of my white brothers and sisters, racism is gone, a thing of the past. It seems that for many, not all, but for many of my white brothers and sisters, God was, at least, a God of division, a God who ordained slavery and allows injustice. For them, God does not insist on social justice ; or them, “the least of these” is a group narrowly defined, most often not citizens of America. For my friends, the United States Constitution does not guarantee that all people should have the same rights as others; all people are NOT created equal, they will say, and have always said. (Even our beloved President Abraham Lincoln, though he opposed slavery for some very pragmatic reasons, said that he in no way thought that white and black men were equal or deserving of equal rights.)  The Bible that my white friends read and interpret from seems to condone the superiority of one race over another, and includes passages, divine words, if you will, as justification not only for racism, but for sexism and homophobia…and perhaps militarism as well.

Well,it’s no wonder the country is in such a mess!  We do not intersect, we blacks and whites, in the very areas where we should,tied together by one God, one Bible and one Constitution. The problem is that God, in Her wisdom, created us with minds that interpret what seem to be pretty clear-cut and dry messages in all kinds of different ways. The Founding Fathers never intended any of us to include black people or women, for that matter,  in their lofty statement that “all men are created equal.”  The late Strom Thurmond said that yes, the Bible said that we should love our neighbor, but that, by golly, we as individuals have the right to choose who our neighbors are.

I wonder if God is wringing His hands? I rather doubt that the Founding Fathers are sorry for what they wrote; they wrote what they meant, and they thought everyone – including black people and other people of color and women – would be bright enough to understand. But God…I wonder about God, and about what God thinks. Is God pleased not only with this country, which seems to have a dual belief system for whites and blacks, but for other countries which practice oppression, discrimination and cruelty on the basis of another’s race or gender?

I sometimes wonder if God is sighing and thinking that we people still have problems “returning to God,” as did the ancient Israelites. When God’s people back then continued to live in ways that were in contradiction to God’s will, God got angry.

I wonder if God is angry now.

A candid observation…

Will The Real Church Please Stand Up?

In this new year, I wonder how many religious people, or “the Church” will have the nerve to be brave?

I have long been saddened at the Church’s silence on issues like racism, antisemitism, militarism,homophobia and materialism. In fact, the Church has been complicit in many of these “isms,” something which is troubling because the silence and complicity seems so out of alignment with what holy documents would want its followers to do.

How is it that the world is in such disarray, with “believers” going at each other in the name of God, or oppressing other people, in the presence of a loving God who would demand justice?

It takes guts to speak up and speak out against oppression. I remember in seminary a friend of mine saying that his father, a pastor, was afraid to speak against racism because people would leave his church. Or I think of how pastors advised Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to not be so eager to change a racist system; they were “in bed” with an oppressive government and could not, in spite of their belief in God, condone a fellow Christian minister to right some amazing and long-standing wrongs in our society.

I wonder if they were trying to appease their congregations?

OK, I am making some very broad generalizations. There were and have been representatives of  “the church” who stood up for civil rights, for the rights of  Native Americans, for women, for gay people … But it seems that the broader picture of “the church” is that it has been largely silent as social viruses have ravaged our society and our world.

What brings me to this is my personal belief that “the church” has been afraid and unwilling to speak up and speak against what might be going on Israel. It seems that the Palestinians may not have been treated too well, but everyone is afraid to speak up, including the church. Why is it impossible to speak up for the Palestinians, and still be supportive of Israel? Why is it that “the church” cannot seem to support a people, the Palestinians, who seemingly have few people to speak up for them, and still support Israel?

Is the religion of our God that impotent? Doesn’t the Christian God demand that followers speak up on behalf of the oppressed? Does it make us “less Christian” if we speak up on behalf of a people who have nobody to speak for them?

The silence of the church today as regards Palestinians reminds me of the silence of the church during slavery, during the persecution of Native Americans, during the horrible mass extermination of the Jews under Hitler. Not only was the church silent during some of these events, but in some cases, it was complicit.

What is “the church,” anyway? Is it a mouthpiece and representation of and for God, or is it a network of social clubs?

I would hope that more churches will speak up against oppression of any kind in 2012. It seems that it is time for a new paradigm, a new demand that “believers” stop being so comfortable and be encouraged to lean on the God they believe in in order to bring about change in this world.

Surely, a change is needed. There is just way too much chaos – in spite of God.

A candid observation …