The Pastor and Politics: the Particularly Puzzling Puddle

The Pastor and Politics: the Particularly Puzzling Puddle October 18, 2013

The Election Conundrum

I could not vote for Barack Obama for President of the United States. I am a fiscal conservative. I want a more balanced budget. After listening carefully to President Obama’s State of the Union Message in 2012, I realized I was unable to support him, as much as I do respect him as a person.

I could not vote for Mitt Romney for President of the United States.  I am a person who feels strongly that the government needs to be working in awareness of the giant underclass that our economic policies have helped create.  To have the highest power in the land held in the hands of someone who expressed disdain over those in whose shoes he’s never even seen, much less walked in, so disturbed me that I ended up sensing that Romney was morally compromised by his unimaginable wealth and privilege.

Candidate Obama stood way, way too far on the left for me.  Candidate Romney stood way, way too far on the right for me.

The Centrist Pastor

I’m like most thinking voters in the US:  I’m a centrist. When I feel hijacked–or held hostage–by one extreme or another, I find myself tapping into deep wells of anger and frustration.

I’m a pastor.  I would never tell my people how to vote.  I will tell them to vote.  I will never publicly endorse a candidate.  I will express my opinions about political stances and those opinions will be colored by years of intense study in the Holy Scriptures, years of dealing with the down and dirty of human existence, and years of observing political processes.

What has happened recently by our congressional leaders is nothing short of a national travesty.  I’m seeing people saying that Senator Cruz “stood for principle.”  No, he stood as a bully who said, “I don’t care what happens to you or to anyone else or how many I hurt:  I want my way and I want it now.”

Even the youngest child knows such behavior is simply wrong.

So I have spoken out, and have been named a “political liberal.” And that’s just not true.

On Health Care Reform

I do think we need major health reform in the US, and have given general support to the Affordable Care Act because I know that the vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the US are caused by the inability of the uninsured to pay medical bills over which they have no control when illness strikes or accidents happens.

Right now, health insurance companies are getting rich on the backs of our medical system.  Physician burnout had seen an epidemic upswing as bureaucrats call the shots on who can be treated with what treatments. The art of healing has been lost.  This is wrong.

I am well-insured, and still am terrified of what an illness could to do my finances.  In 2012, even with that expensive health insurance (over $9000/year just for me alone), I personally paid over $7000 in medical bills.  And this is for a woman who has been life-long healthy, and takes no medications of any kind.

I did indeed toy with the idea of making headlines that would read something like, “Woman with watermelon-sized tumor still denies that anything is wrong”  but finally thought better of it.  So, between the stress of this rapidly growing, probably cancerous, uterine tumor adding to multiple other life pressures culminating not only in surgery but also multiple tests by an excellent cardiologist, I had a bundle of bills.  Had I not been a privileged one with a financial cushion as well as decent insurance, I could also have been one of those either saddled for the rest of my life paying off medical bills or just giving up and declaring bankruptcy.

A Person of Privilege

But I’m a person of privilege and I know it.

Having privilege and knowing others don’t, and using that privilege to help others with a hand up, is a sign of grace.

Having privilege and knowing others don’t, and using that privilege to stomp on the hands of others while they seek to survive, is a sign of wickedness.

Having privilege and not knowing others don’t is a sign of dangerous and destructive narcissism.

With many others, I’m concerned about the economic implications of the Affordable Care Act.  This is not neutral legislation:  it will be a major factor in US financial stability for years to come.  But a country where millions and millions of people have access to health care only through the desperation of the Emergency Room or the very few free clinics is also not on a solid financial footing.

When Medicare and Social Security legislations were first proposed and passed, many on the far political right had the same fears as they do about the ACA.  And there is good reason to be concerned.  The current demographic realities of this bulge of Baby Boomers entering the ranks of the retired is just plain scary.

I applied for Social Security this morning.  It won’t be very much–and if that is all I had to live on for the rest of my life, I would be near desperate.  Even so, the amount I will receive would technically mean that as a single woman, I would be just above the Federal Poverty line ($11,490/year or less).

I have no idea how someone would survive on so little.  I know for sure that one health crisis would tumble such a one into the abyss of permanent financial ruin. And the more people in financial ruin, the worse our overall economy is. We sink together on this one.

As A Pastor . . .

As a nation, we face mountains of problems.

As a pastor, I cannot escape the fact that national politics affects the local church.

We as a church have agreed that we need to so something to address those who are trapped in the life-sucking pond of chronic poverty.  Those who grow up surrounded by generational patterns of poverty have almost no tools to address it on their own.  There are no bootstraps available in their worlds.  So we are doing one-on-one tutoring, figuring if we can help a group of school children to learn to read, we will have changed their lives forever–and given them the first bootstrap they need to pull out of the quagmire.

As a pastor, I must also speak out against injustice. Our baptismal vows make that clear:  we will stand against oppression and injustice.  People in genuine disagreement are not necessarily acting unjust.  People in genuine disagreement who say, “I will have my way and you will not.  Period.” are a whole other breed.

None of us has the full picture on anything.  Not theology, not politics, not economics, not poverty, not health care.  No one can see the full picture. We’re all colored by both our limitations and whatever bubble we ourselves live in.

There are always going to be wild fights over these deeply held viewpoints.  Let’s have them.  But let us not sacrifice integrity in the process.  And that is what has just happened:  this fight was led by those who were willing to sacrifice integrity in order to get their way.  And that is simply wrong.

This pastor, in her own puzzling, political puddle, will continue to speak out against injustice.  But don’t label me a “liberal” or a “conservative” and think you have me pegged.  There’s a lot more here than that.

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  • Lee Yeager

    Well put Christy. When someone tells me they are against the ACA, I simply ask them, “how then should people who cannot afford health care/insurance get it?”

  • John Callarman

    “Liberal” is not a pejorative. Neither is “conservative.” But politicians have so-badly distorted the values either political philosophy represents, we have, to borrow a pejorative from the Tea Party, we are overrun by LINOs and CINOs. I call myself a pragmatist slightly left of center. Thank you for your enlightened comments.

  • John H

    I come from a bit different perspective. I would argue that both sides int he latest Washington budget dispute came from the “my way or the highway” point of view.

    As you point out, there is a definite need for health care reform. I believe that the view of insurance companies profiteering is simplistic and incorrect. For various reasons, the administration of Medicare and Medicaid among them, we have removed the market mechanisms that control cost form healthcare delivery. In particular, the person choosing treatment has little information about the costs and quality of the various providers who can provide that treatment. With co-pays that are often independent of the cost of treatment we have little reason to seek out the lowest cost provider. My experience with statements from hospitals and providers is that billed costs have little relationship to true costs or actual charges. They appear to be set to ensure that the doctors and hospitals recover their costs when arcane Medicare / Medicaid reimbursement formula are applied. We have so many people auditing medical providers that administrative costs, rather than insurance profiteering are driving up everyone’s expenses. I an old guy and I remember, back before Medicare, Medicaid, and compressive insurance, when I went to a general practitioner (whom I actually paid) who had a nurse assisting him who took care of billing in her spare time. Now I go to a doctor who needs four administrators to handle billing, claim forms, and audits. Are we surprised that things are significantly more expensive and that, as someone with good insurance, I am in for a 10 to 15 minute consultation 4 or 5 times per year. We know with the ACA and more government bureaucrats that costs will only rise. I don’t believe that there is anyone who thinks the ACA will reduce costs. I find that irritating. I am also irritated by the injustice of the ACA. It shifts healthcare costs away from the relatively wealthy older citizens to young people who are already burdened by student debt (yes college costs have actually risen faster than health care costs [easy to get government guaranteed loans have reduced competition there too]), trying to start families, and get established. Between our government’s job killing regulatory initiatives and the ACA, I cannot remember a time when we have so oppressed the young (and the poor obviously). But people who are trying to stop the ACA inefficiency and injustice are slandered as heartless bullies.

    “It is often declared that certain societies like Canada and Sweden, because they have more generous welfare states than the United States, are more caring and compassionate societies. … I would argue that large welfare states are not a reflection of the compassion of a society, but a provision for the lack of compassion of a society. …It is a bit idealistic to think that private charity can meet all the welfare needs in most societies, but it should at least flourish alongside its public counterpart. Because it is usually religious, it is bound to have different assumptions, and may well be more effective on some fronts, such as ‘rehab’ in particular.” Howard Ahmanson.

    We as the church need to repent of our tendency to “outsource” care for the needy to an inefficient government that has no compassion or ability to meet the spiritual needs that often contribute to poverty.