As a pastor, my calling is not to use the pulpit, nor the church website, to tell people how to vote, nor what the politics of God’s kingdom would look like in legislation in Washington, D.C. or the state capitol. The kingdom of God is political, but in a way that transcends and surpasses the power contests of political parties and office-seekers. God’s kingdom also unites people of different parties and political persuasion in the commonality of sin and redemption. We are all “the chief of sinners (I Timothy 1: 15),” and “to grace how great a debtor,” regardless of how right we may believe our positions to be. To believe that our positions are morally right does not permit us to believe that we are morally superior. We all live in a world that bedevils our best efforts to do good with dilemmas, mixed motives, character flaws, and unintended consequences.
That is why I neither preached nor blogged on the recent federal insurance reform legislation while it was the hottest topic in the land. My faith makes me care very much about the un-insured and the under-insured, and it moved me in one direction on the legislation more than the other. But I could see how reasonable people might disagree with me, based on the faith and values we share in common.
But some things happened in the course of recent protests in Washington, D.C. against health insurance reform in Washington, D.C., that revealed an ungodly and anti-Christ tendency, or temptation, that cuts across all political lines and unites us all, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. To that, I as a pastor must speak.
It is visible in several Youtube videos, such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ik4f1dRbP8&feature=channel. It is the response of some protesters to a man who showed up with a sign saying he has Parkinson’s Disease. At the very least, he was engaging the Tea Party activists with an important question, namely, What is someone like him to do if a private insurance company drops him, or denies him coverage, and he can’t get it anywhere else?
Maybe some of the protesters had some good ideas for him. Maybe some of them engaged him in a respectful and reasonable discussion on that. Maybe they would even have been right, even more right than the legislation being passed. But the cameras caught several protesters who treated him to hostile, threatening contempt, with people stereotyping him as a lazy bum just looking for a handout. That you get on the other [presumably black and poor] side of town, one person shouted. Its evident on the video that the hecklers were much more healthy than the Parkinson’s sufferer, at least physically. Compassion at that part of the protest rally was replaced by a culture of contempt for the weak and the needy, at least on the part of those caught heckling and ridiculing the man with Parkinson’s disease.
How do they respond to someone with cystic fibrosis, or Downs’ syndrome, or an elderly person bent over with advanced arthritis and osteoporosis? I wondered. If they feel a twinge of judgment, fear and a desire that such persons disappear from their sight, I would have to confess that they are not alone. Sometimes the same ugly thoughts and desires run through my head at the sight of human suffering. Fear and contempt can run a mile down the road while compassion is still tying its shoes. But hopefully that gut-level reaction of hostility and contempt is recognized for what it is: fear of our own vulnerability and mortality. Hopefully it is restrained and overcome by an awareness that “there, but by the grace of God go I.” That’s what being spiritual is about, at least for Christians. And if my prayers for a long life and a chance to see my children’s grandchildren are answered, the odds go up astronomically that “there will go I.” In which case I don’t want someone yelling in my face telling me to disappear, contemptuously throwing me a dollar bill to expedite my exit.
This culture of contempt for human weakness is not the exclusive property of either donkeys or elephants. Its not a conservative or liberal thing. I’ve seen and heard much judgmentalism and contempt on both sides of America’s culture wars. The earliest, oldest wisdom from ancient prophets and psalmists tell us that we are indeed “our brother’s keeper” and that the true measure of spirituality is not whether we can project our spirits out of our bodies or do other feats of martyrdom and meditation, but if we “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).” We can’t get any more “conservative” than that. At their best, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats are simply arguing over how best to flesh out a culture of compassion for the weak and needy (all of us, eventually). Hopefully they’re listening to each other compassionately and respectfully (What planet am I on? you ask). To live out a culture of compassion in a world of changing technology, we always need new ideas for implementing ancient values. No party and no politician have the last word or the complete picture on that.
But to display contempt, especially for the weak, needy and vulnerable, is to short-circuit the search for truth and effective policy. Because they are no longer the issue. Power is. We’ve been down this road before, like when Nazi Germany was disposing of its “useless eaters,” including the disabled, the infirm and the elderly. Contempt of the weak and the sufferers becomes contempt of oneself, because weakness and need are inescapable to the human condition. I can only hope that when those particular protesters are in wheel chairs, hospital beds or nursing homes, which I can guarantee that they will be, if they live long and rewarding lives, they will have a change of heart toward human suffering and the weak. I also hope they will be surrounded by people who will not mock or turn away from their weakness and need, but who will embrace and support them.
And that their health care needs will be met, one way or another.
Pastor Mathew Swora