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On Monday, October 24, I’ll be going to San Francisco to be part of the “Interfaith Clergy Action in Solidarity with Occupy Wall St. SF.”  I go because I believe that the values that undergird the Occupy movement are essentially Christian values.

UCC pastor Anthony Robinson recently wrote:

I was listening the other day to an Occupy Seattle protester make her case. Her argument ran like this: “When the banks were in trouble and might have failed, they were bailed out – bailed out by the government, the taxpayers, all of us. But then the banks turned around and kept on foreclosing on people, taking their homes. And the banks are sitting on money instead of investing it to create jobs. We helped them, but they aren’t helping us.”

I thought to myself, “Where have I heard that before?” I scrolled back over the gospel lessons for the last couple weeks and recalled this one, “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant,” a story told by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Grab your Bible and read Matthew 18:21-35.  You’ll read about a servant who is forgiven a humungous debt by the king.  Then this forgiven servant goes and has another servant thrown in jail for failing to repay a relatively speaking small debt.  When the king hears about who the first servant showed no mercy to the second servant, the king has the first servant thrown out into utter darkness.

Tony goes on, writing:

Not only is the point clear, but it’s precisely the same one that the Occupy Seattle protester was making.  The banks, owing a ton, got help.  But they haven’t passed it on.  Instead, they’ve foreclosed on homeowners, returned to the practice of paying themselves huge salaries and big bonuses, all the while hoarding their growing capital on the sidelines.  What gives?

What gives, indeed?!

As I pointed out in my sermon last Sunday, Christians are called to stand with “the least of these.”  We are called to side with the powerless and in our culture (as was the case in Jesus’ culture), possessing money means one possess power.  Luckily, in our culture the powerless can agitate without fear of crucifixion.  And so they are agitating.

In 2007, the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches adopted “A Social Creed for the 21st Century” that could read as a platform for Christian participation in the Occupy America movement.  It read, in part:

In the love incarnate in Jesus, despite the world’s sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of community, by working for:

  1. Abatement of hunger and poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.
  2. High quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare.
  3. An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.
  4. Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.
  5. Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers’ rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.
  6. Sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety.
  7. Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.

A month ago, I posted a quote from Elizabeth Warren, a former assistant to President Obama.  It’s worth repeating here:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for.…

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

I’m going to San Francisco to remember the social contract we should be living by.

I’m going to San Francisco to stand with those who are reminding us of the Christian values of compassion, justice, and love.

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I’ve decided to post my three favorite posts from my Facebook wall during the preceding week each Friday.  Here’s Last week on Facebook.

From Sunday, September 11, 2011:
Is it hypocritical of me to be thankful for all who put their lives on the line (including those in the military) to help secure the freedom I have to complain about the military-industrial complex?

From Wednesday, September 14:
“Many national leaders talk about cutting spending so as not to burden future generation with the [budget] deficits created by this generation. These same leaders seem to have no problem, however, burdening the next generation with an overheated Earth, nor do the mind letting the next generation be the one to invest in renewable and sustainable forms of energy.”
Editorial “Climate Report” (author not named) Christian Century, 5 April 2011, page 7.

From Thursday, September 15:
“Scott Russell Sanders asks you to imaging how you’d spend a billion dollars if you kept it under your mattress and didn’t earn any interest. If you lived 50 years, you could spend $1.7 million per month or $55,000 per day. If you invested that money instead in U.S. Treasury bond, at current rates you could spend $110,000 every day without touching the principal.  That daily amount is a little more than twice the median annual household income in the U.S. So why do some billionaires want even more? It isn’t the money, says Sanders, it’s the power they gain through the money (Orion, July/August).”
Quoted in “Century Marks,” Christian Century, 9 August 2011, page 8.

My Facebook friend Jonathan Dregni posted the following as a note on his Facebook page.  He said he stole it from Ben Hall, who stole it from Bobby Barnes (whoever they are).  I did a Google search for it and found it (or a version of it) posted all over the place, so I don’t know who deserves credit for the original, but I like it and so I’m going to post it here, too.  Enjoy.

———————-

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right, they didn’t have the green thing in her day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she’s right. They didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right; they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled pens with ink, instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But then … they didn’t have the green thing back then.

            It’s clear we have a problem, and I think the problem mostly a health insurance problem.  45 million Americans have no health insurance.  Our current system wastes $450 billion each year on redundant administrative costs.[i]  The current system excludes people with pre-existing medical conditions and limited economic resources.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            A college friend, Lois Quam, used to work in the health insurance industry.  She was an executive at UnitedHealth, leaving the industry two years ago; she’s no longer required to spouting the company line, but she is an expert in the field and knows how the current (broken) system works.

            In a recent interview,[ii] she noted that as recently as a few decades ago, tying health insurance to employment made some sense.  People worked with one employer for their careers.  That’s not true anymore.  Now people change employers often and have several different careers in a lifetime.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            As health insurance premiums skyrocket, employers offer less and less coverage.  Too often, employees end up under insured and the unemployed end up uninsured.  The current health insurance system is broken.

            Yet, isn’t access to basic health care a fundamental human right that should be available to everyone regardless of their economic resources?  Shouldn’t everyone have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay?  Our current broken system has created an underclass, relegating the poor and underemployed to a second-class status that receives second-class care.

            “When wealthy and middle-class people have to rely on the same health system as the poor, as they do throughout Europe,” writes Gary Dorrien, “they use their political power to make sure[iii] it’s a decent system.”

            The best way to make the wealthy and the poor part of the same health care system is to give everyone the same health insurance.  In other words, the best way to insure equality in health care is with a single-payer health insurance system.

            But a nation-wide single-payer program is not going to be part of what comes out of the current efforts to reform our health insurance system.  The insurance companies are too powerful and politically aggressive to allow themselves to lose their market share and their profit margins.

            The best we can hope for this year is a public Medicare-like option that competes with private plans.  According to Dorrien, “this reform would save only 15 percent of the $350 billion insurance overhead costs that converting to single-payer would achieve.”[iv]  But already the insurance industry has geared up to prevent a public option because they don’t want to compete with one.

            Even Lois Quam, the former insurance executive, recognized the need for a public option:  “I was with a woman in Becker County last week who talked about how important MinnesotaCare has been to her family.  And I hear from people, age 61, 62, 63, who really wish they were 65 and they could get into Medicare.  The very reason Medicare was created in the ’60s, of course, was that the private health insurance market wasn’t offering affordable coverage to seniors.  So I think a public plan makes a lot of sense, and I would like to see that as a part of eventual health-care reform.”[v]

            “There is not a religiously mandated or God-ordained system of health care or insurance,” writes Jim Wallis.  “Luke might have been a physician, but he never commented on whether computerizing medical records should be a national priority.  You won’t find in the Bible policy conclusions about health-care savings accounts, personal versus employer-provided insurance, single payer public systems, or private insurance plans.”[vi]

            However, Wallis[vii] points out, as we debate a reform to our health insurance and health care system, we need to keep three things in mind: 

            (1) We must speak the truth.  “What we need is an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform by half-truths and misinformation.”

            (2) We must make sure everyone has access to health insurance.  “Seeing your child sick is a horrible feeling; seeing your child sick and not having the resources to do something about it is a societal sin.”

            And (3) we must control costs, making health insurance and health care affordable.  “An estimated 60 percent of bankruptcies this year will be due to medical bills.  Of those declaring bankruptcy as a result of medical bills, 75 percent have health insurance.  The extreme cost of medical care stems from varied sources.  Some comes from malpractice lawsuits, some from insurance companies with high overhead and entire divisions of employees hired to find ways to deny benefits.  Some people who thought they were insured have found out that their benefits were terminated retroactively because the insurer decided there was a pre-existing condition.  In the end, some are paying too much for care and others are making too much in the current system.”

            People of faith must engage the debate – civilly, respectfully, thoughtfully.  We must engage the system and speak up for our values – the values of humanity, of life, and of justice.  Please join me.

Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey S. Spencer


[i] Gary Dorrien, “Health care fix,” The Christian Century, July 14, 2009, page 12.

[ii] Casey Selix, Former UnitedHealth exec Lois Quam supports public option (dated August 13, 2009) http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/08/13/10847/former_unitedhealth_exec_lois_quam_supports_public_option (15 August 2009).

[iii] Dorrien, op cit.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Selix, op cit.

[vi] Jim Wallis, Hearts & Minds: Three Moral Issues of Health Care, http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0909&article=three-moral-issues-of-health-care (15 August 2009).

[vii] Ibid.

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