Posts Tagged ‘Healthcare’

Justice Has No Religion

October 7, 2017

This is the talk I gave at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. For those who read it, if you are familiar with my writings and/or sermons, some of it may sound familiar as I gleaned from previous writings from my blog, sermons that touched on the topic, as well as new writing to create this presentation. It was an honor to have shared this with those in attendance.

Justice Has No Religion.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. I suspect that is true for a lot of things, it certainly is for me. Though I did not recognize it at the time, my high school government teacher somehow planted a seed or a burning ember in my subconscious or my heart and soul around the notion of politics. Ironically, I only had one semester of Ms. Davis as the result of receiving an F from the other government teacher in our school which then required me to take two government classes at the same time so I could graduate, thus my joining her class. It’s a long story, you are free to ask me about it sometime but I suspect this talk is going to be long enough without that addition.

As I remember it was somewhere in my early to mid-twenties I began finding my way back to the library and my reading addiction really began and found itself focused on the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy. I do not know how many books I have read on his life and times, or the number of speeches I have read, I used to have a whole collection of VCR tapes of television programs and purchased documentaries about his life and death. In terms of our topic tonight I have long been drawn to his speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960 addressing their concerns, of all things, about his religion. In his encounter there he spoke, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should they be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell their parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no [one] is denied public office merely because [their] religion differs from the President who might appoint [them] or the people who might elect [them].”

As TruDee and I became more and more involved in our local church I started lay speaking, filling in for vacationing preachers. Everywhere I went I was invited to consider the ordained ministry. My answer was always an emphatic “Not Interested!” As my journey continued my own pastor would ask me about ministry and he would receive the same response.

At the encouragement of TruDee I decided to begin work on a college degree and started taking some night classes as we could afford them and as I had time. Word got back to my pastor who one day asked, “So, Kent, what are you going to do with your degree when you get it?” I replied, “Well, actually I have considered public service, perhaps even politics.” His response, “Oh, perfect, like I’ve been saying you need to go into the ministry, there is a lot of politics in the church!” Well, the call, college, seminary, ordination and the rest is history!

I have long been interested in, a student of, and an active voice for equality and social justice. I have preached sermons, led studies, counseled, and had perhaps hundreds of conversations on equality, inclusion, welcome, and justice. My position on various social justice and equality perspectives are well known among those who know me, or even know of me.

I have been a part of events that have, I believe, fanned that flame that was planted long ago in an eighteen-year-old. I was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample, a longtime friend and past seminary professor, who spoke of many of the liberal/progressive persuasion, me included, who “know all the positions and none of the moves.” we’ll leave it at that for now, let’s just say, based on my experience, we do not plan and organize well, I have some thoughts on that, but I’ll save that for another time.

Some years back I was invited to speak to a committee hearing on a bill in Topeka. I had never done that before and was terrified, but my interest and draw to the political caused me to say yes. The bill, in my opinion was an atrocious bill that was an affront to the concept of Thomas Jefferson’s comments on the First Amendment regarding separation of church and state, not to mention an offense to anyone who takes religious freedom seriously.

Jefferson wrote – “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

I sat in the chamber that day and listened to the explanation of the bill, I listened to those who supported it, and was able to listen to a few who opposed the bill. The Committee ran over time and it was postponed until the next morning before I could speak. I was disappointed.

What I walked away with that day as I listened to some who were speaking, they saw absolutely no issue with the crossing of a boundary of separation of church and state. I listened as some spoke on behalf of “the church” and “Christians,” and “religion” as if there is only one valid perspective and understanding of those terms. I found myself wanting to stand up and say, “No! You are not speaking for “all” of Christendom, you are only speaking for a “part!” Amid all of this I realized that I was weary. Weary of the powers that be who would claim to speak for all of us and I have long been frustrated by our media, government, and other venues that seem to only acknowledge and draw input from one particular view, religion, and theology as if that is the only one that matters.

Michael Austin, in his book, “That’s Not What They Meant!” writes – “The founders [of our nation] were secularists at best. Some Deists, some Christians, or Unitarians… and from all this religious diversity emerged a fairly coherent Founding compromise: America would be an officially secular nation that would vigorously protect everybody’s freedom of worship and belief. Unlike most European nations, which officially preferred their state churches and occasionally tolerated others. America would offer its citizens actual religious liberty, which meant those of any religion, or no religion at all, would be free to participate fully in the political community.” Unfortunately, I believe, many in our country have forgotten this… though there are still some of us who honor and hold to the ideals of our founders and beginnings.

I am a political junky, perhaps not to the extent of many, such as my younger son who is much more engaged than I, but I have long loved to read about, see, study, and watch the political process unfold. It is an interesting place to be as a clergy person who is staunchly committed to the separation of church and state. I often find myself dancing with that line between my own opinion, political passion, and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader community and world. But, for the most part I think I do well the dance along that line staying true to our founders and their passion for a freedom of and from religious privilege in our government, while honoring the diverse expression of religious and non-religious belief and practice in our country.

As for the politics of our day, I have colleagues and friends who tell me the discussion of politics has no place in the church, or at the Thanksgiving table either. If by that they mean partisan, political party politics in the church, I wholeheartedly agree! Honoring Jefferson and our constitutional ideals, is to refrain from talking about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it should not happen!  But if by that we mean politics in any sense of the word, I disagree. Jesus was deeply political, a fierce critic of the oppressive political structures in his day in the church and in the government. I really struggle sometimes with what to say while dancing that line of separation of church and state.

But it’s important for all of us, to dance that line… because… this is not just about politics, it is about people’s lives and livelihoods.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and comments made, objectifying women, that have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them. We must speak!

When I listen with those who are lesbian, gay, trans-gender, and bi-sexual who fear for their livelihood and their marriage and family because their rights have been promised to be reversed.                                                                   We must speak!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who have to comfort their children the morning after an election because their children feared they would be sent away.     We must speak!

When I listen to a government that would rather guarantee the right to purchase and bear any kind of firearm and deny the right to healthcare for all.  We must speak.

When I listen as those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past.                                                                We must speak!

When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who want to peacefully kneel and exercise their right of freedom of speech in protest of the treatment of persons of color, and who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin. We must speak!

When I sit in the Mosque and pray with my Muslim friends, brothers, and sisters and listen to their stories. Stories of hate filled language, suspicious looks, vandalism against their place of worship, and fear of their neighbors.       We must speak!

I read the newspapers and listen to the news and read comments on social media… lord have mercy!  I hear those who do not want to rock the boat… that we need to give the current administration and legislature a chance… that we need unity not division and I say this…

We may need unity… But never unity at the expense of humanity.

We may need unity … But never unity with a system that governs by fear.

We may need unity… But never unity with rights for just a few.

We may need unity… But never unity with oppression and hate.

We may need unity… But never a unity with a politic of intimidation and privilege.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of compassion not bigotry.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

We should believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

We should believe in the politics that we are all of value regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

In the politics of the human race not racism.

In the politics of welcome not locked doors.

In the politics of justice for all not just the few.

A politics of kindness not threat.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of Love not fear!

Perhaps all this to say, there is definitely a connection for me between my faith and my work in the political realm. My understanding of the Christian Faith, my understanding of the teachings of Jesus compels me to speak to and work for social justice across the spectrum of the issues we encounter, and especially I think of the current environment and atmosphere in our country not only in the political world, but for me in the world of the church and in general. However, it is something totally different for me to stand on Sunday morning in the context of my faith community and frame my comments in a Christian way and make connections with social justice and the teachings of Jesus, THAT is different than my standing in a hearing room at the capital in Topeka to speak on a particular piece of legislation.

When I am in the halls of government, while my faith continues to inform what I believe and what I say, if my words and actions do not promote the common good for all, religious and non-religious alike, if my words and actions are grounded only in the belief of the Christian faith to the exclusion and limitation of others, I have crossed that line of Separation of Church and State and breached and offended our founding and constitutional ideals. This is the premise of my statement, “Justice has No Religion.” Justice is blind so to speak. If my work in the capital, at the county commission, or the city council is not equally beneficial for the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, Atheist, general population of our nation, I have breached and offended the principles of our nation’s constitution. Justice has No Religion!

So, I would say the line of separation of church and state is absolute, and should so remain! To speak of civil rights, social justice, equality for all in the eyes of the law, should always promote the common good of all our population. What has become known as the religious right, especially some particular strains of that religious, creates a blurring at best, and outright breach of the ideals held by Thomas Jefferson and decades of law and precedent protecting that separation.

I would say, religious or not, we have a mandate to speak up for those who are targeted in our country, anyone who is belittled or diminished, to stand up to and against any policy and legislation that is privileged over and against others. These are not religious issues, these are human rights and social justice issues… and even more… these are not issues at all… these are people’s lives and livelihoods that are at risk. This organization, Americans United, the ACLU, NAACP, and others who day in and day out work to ensure and hold accountable our nation are crucial to its survival in the form intended by our founders. Do not be silent… the country… all of us… need you.  Thank you.

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Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

I have been pondering this morning’s message for some time now. I wondered, considered, even asked, what Jesus might say about the notion of American Exceptionalism, especially Exceptionalism in terms of superiority. I think there is a positive sense of understanding the country one lives in as being the best, or at least the hope that it is true. Not unlike a sports team chanting “We’re Number 1” even when it might be quite obvious to other teams that literally in the standings they are not #1. There is that healthy notion of pride in one’s country, a patriotism that loves country and works for, hopes for the best of it. An understanding of pride, patriotism, and hope while acknowledging its place in the world.
The best of this “pride” so to speak is not an arrogance or exceptionalism that states we are better than every other country in the world, but that we are proud of who we are in the midst of the other countries in the world.
So, to some degree, when I asked Jesus what he thought of the idea of American Exceptionalism, his answer was, “Meh, it can be a good thing, it can be a terrible thing.” and then he said, “You might want to unpack that a little.” It is important as part of the global community to consider how and where we fit in the grand scheme of the world.
You know, while the world has ever expanded, it is also shrinking exponentially even as we speak. We read the history books, that were written by the “winners” for the most part, that is important to point out, but we study history and realize how the world expanded from those early tribal understandings of a limited world, and suddenly the great expanse of what was out there was almost more than some could take. That lasted a long time, it is still true for some.
The great expanse of the world around us can be overwhelming. You know I think just for myself, I have lived in Kansas all my life. I have never lived outside its borders. While I have visited from coast to coast a couple of different times, and while TruDee and I hope to be able to go to Ireland sometime before we are 90, the furthest I have traveled outside the USA is Tijuana, Mexico.. Woohoo!
It is still a big world to me, and it is important for me to consider how my country and how I fit into this world in which I live. And at the same time, with the marvels of technology, I can talk with a friend in Australia, Canada, Britain, and Japan all at the same time and in real-time and even see their face while we are talking if I choose. And while these are reminders of how expansive our world is, it is also a reminder of how the world is shrinking around us. In 2001, a Boeing 787 flew around the world in under 43 hours. That sounds like a lot of hours, but think how long it takes you just to drive across Wichita! The world is shrinking and we have instant access to worldwide information that is delivered to us in a heartbeat.
One would think it would draw us together as a world, as a country, and yet, with the advent of technology, internet, computers, laptops, and smart phones, we have returned to a very isolated existence. We can, if we choose, almost never leave our houses. And it has affected, I believe, not only our individual lives but our life as a world, our life as a nation. Nationalism is on the rise once again. Isolationist policies are being debated and legislated in our governing politics. This kind of isolationism infects a more positive understanding of American Exceptionalism, and is dangerous.
It is an exceptionalism that touts – We Are Self-Sufficient… We are Great, and everyone else is the lesser. If you don’t like it here, if you criticize our nation, you can leave. It is an arrogance that says, “America – (as if we are all of America…which diminishes Canada, Mexico, Central, and South…. America) – the kind of arrogance that says “America” as in the US of A is the greatest nation on earth, and mean it in a supremacist way that belittles and diminishes every other country of the globe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus… all this American Exceptionalism talk?
And Jesus said… “Let me tell you a story…”
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
It was common knowledge in Jesus day the road to Jericho was dangerous, rife with thieves and robbers. And here we have, we might suppose, a good upstanding citizen of the country, traveling the way. He finds himself accosted, beaten, robbed, and left for dead lying in the ditch.
Along come two religious leaders who do not stop and help. Now, before we are too hard on these two, we really don’t know why they didn’t stop. Perhaps they had good reason. Perhaps it was their religious tradition that prevented the chance the man was dead and they did not want to be made unclean? Perhaps it was because they were afraid, they didn’t want to be robbed, beaten, and thrown in the ditch alongside this poor fellow. Or perhaps they are thinking what was that fella doing in this part of town anyway? Or maybe they assumed he lived in these parts and so got what he deserved? There are a variety of possible reasons, and however well-intentioned or not, these two opted for safety rather than compassion.
And then the third one comes along. This Samaritan, is outside the bounds of the Jesus faith, they don’t practice, worship, follow God “right” … this Samaritan, is a heretic. Kind of the bottom of the barrel if you will. Think of who might fit that for us if we found ourselves lying in the ditch; A Muslim? An undocumented worker? A Politician? One who we might look up after the two religious leaders have passed us by and our first thought is, “Crap, now I am really done for!”
But here in this telling, Jesus says in this story, what this has to do with exceptionalism is about the other. And, an unexpected other. How do we see, how do we treat, how do we care for, how do we understand, how do we encounter, the other? How do we view the other when we are lifting up the notion of American Exceptionalism?
You know I have watched church advertisements via social media, read articles, looked at blogs of churches who are celebrating this day, this Sunday, in preparation for the 4th of July. There are red, white, and blue decorations, we even have them here this morning at CHUM. There are flags, and Uncle Sam’s, and talk of patriotism, and national pride, and independence day, and I confess, every year, while this Sunday is always special for me here at CHUM. This Sunday is one of my favorites, because eight years ago, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, it was my first Sunday here in your midst… this Sunday holds deep meaning for me, but I confess, even though I love this country deeply, and I am as patriotic as the next person, and I love the church, the whole church, and this one in particular, I confess when I see all the flag waving and patriotic fervor in the church on this Sunday closest to the 4th, I always get a case of the hebee jebees… I am uncomfortable because I am, as I believe the founders of our country were, a firm advocate of separation of church and state. It doesn’t belong in the church any more than the church belongs in our politics.
That being said, let me ponder this for a moment as I continue to hear and listen to the voices who still say we are supposed to be a Christian Nation. So, I pondered with Jesus, what if? What if we really were a Christian Nation? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we really were a theocracy founded and grounded on the Christian faith? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we were a nation committed to, and passionate about following the Way, teachings, mission and ministry of Jesus? What if….

Jesus was in the wall tearing down business not the wall building business.

Jesus was in the woman empowering business not the woman controlling business.

Jesus was in the universal health care business not the shift the money to the rich immoral health care business.

Jesus was in the taking care of the most vulnerable business not the shaming the poor business.

Jesus was in the welcoming the stranger and alien into our midst business not the banning business.

Jesus was in the lifting people up business not the tearing down business.

Jesus was in the resisting the powers that be both political and religious oppressor business not the colluding and greed business.

Jesus was in the open hand open arms business not the closed fists business.

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

Jesus was in the diversity business not the white supremacist business.

Jesus was not in the hate and bigotry business… Jesus was in the business of love.

That is what a nation grounded in the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus would look like! Not some twisted and warped sense of American Exceptionalism and Christian Exceptionalism that is far too rampant today!

Thank God, we have a nation founded on separation of church and state.

Thank God, we have a nation founded on freedom of religion!

Thank God, we have a nation should not give preference to Christianity or any other religion.

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

You are the Christian Church, grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus! And it is this kind of love that is the resistance to the kind of exceptionalism that promotes and breeds oppression, supremacy, bigotry, hatred, exclusion, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, sexism, …

You are the church! The resistance to the powers that be both politic and religious in a world that excludes the other.

You are Church! You are the Christian Church… grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus!

And I think it is time for the church… not just the church… but all religious communities who long for justice, inclusion, compassion, grace, and love to … well… to start acting like it.

We must work together… live together… and so in this context we should not just be acknowledging our country’s independence

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

We need one another… the church of Jesus Christ is not isolationist… we know we need one another… EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. To make a difference in this world!
We know…. MLKJr said it well… we… the church… should be the conscience of the world politic… but never its tool… it is time to act like it… otherwise as he also said… if we do not learn to live together as sisters and brothers… we will perish together as fools.

We are not the tool….
But we have the tool…
And it is love.
Keep On Church… Keep On!
It will be so… It will. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little