How Can Policy Help Us Create a Society that Reflects God’s Heart?

How Can Policy Help Us Create a Society that Reflects God’s Heart?

How can policy help us create a society that reflects God’s heart? This is a critical question that Christians from all backgrounds and denominations should be asking ourselves today. To begin answering this question, I’d like to first take a look at a passage from the book of Matthew 25: 34-40. Here Jesus, as usual, says something profound and which applies to our society today. He says this, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” In this passage, Jesus sets the framework for the justice work that needs to be done within our society. In meeting the needs of “the least of these” we are serving God and people by committing true acts of justice.

To state a hard and unfortunate truth, we live in a society that has done much to marginalize and disadvantage many of God’s children. Over the course of American history, we have seen the U.S. government deliberately take legislative and administrative action to oppress entire groups of people in a response to certain cultural attitudes and misguided beliefs. Policies throughout our history have been used to remove Indigenous people from their homes. Jim Crow policies have caused much damage, distress and trauma to the black community and communities of color. I pose the following question to you. If policy can be used to harm, then why can’t it be used to heal? As Christians, we should be pushing our government to enact policies that help “the least of these”.

When Jesus says in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you fed me” it should make us think about nutrition policy and how we can eradicate food deserts within our communities. Through policies and programs that will encourage agricultural growth and ensure that disadvantaged communities receive fresh foods, we could feed entire neighborhoods of children and families. We should seek funding and partners in building grocery stores that stock fresh produce in the heart of urban areas. When Jesus says “I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.” It should jolt our minds towards equitable housing policy and how we can provide stable housing for those who are battling homelessness. When Jesus says “I was sick, and you cared for me.” It makes me think of how we can expand access to affordable healthcare to more individuals and families. When He says “I was in prison, and you visited me” it brings to mind potential second-chance policies and programs which can be utilized to rehabilitate and integrate prisoners back into society in a productive way.

Let’s take a further look at our Justice System. Over the past few decades policies enacted at multiple levels of government have created systemic injustices such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Mass Incarceration, just to name two. The War on Drugs in the 1980’s followed by the “tough on crime” policies and rhetoric from politicians on both sides of the political aisle resulted in a disproportionate amount of black and brown people populating our prison systems. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of July 2021, 38.2% of inmates today are Black. Why is that number disproportionate? Because the latest Census data place the total number of African Americans in the United States at just over 13%. These statistics should alarm anyone who wishes to see the fair and equal treatment of people in our society. The Crack Epidemic devastated Urban America. Instead of providing rehabilitation, mental health and addiction services the government decided to lock people up and give them a mandatory minimum sentence. In most cases if not all, individuals of color would receive harsher penalties than their white counterparts for the same offense. This was a clear sign of institutionalized racism and implicit bias running rampant within our justice system.

There are myriad of systemic issues we could expound upon in much detail. However, the previous brief example of our justice system should reveal that institutionalized and systemic injustice exists within our society. The good news is that since institutionalized injustice was something that was constructed, it can now be deconstructed. That does not mean we throw away every law and system we have. That would not be prudent nor realistic. Rather, we should combat the policies that went into effect to cause the injustices we see within our systems. We need to work towards making our systems work for everyone and not only work for certain groups based upon race, gender or socio-economic status. We must combat homelessness and the opioid crisis we are facing today but do so in a way that’s rehabilitative instead of punishment focused, which, was the mistake made in the 1980s and 90s. We must strive to give our children more opportunity to attend the school that would best meet their needs and propel them into their future. We should put first the needs of those who are less fortunate instead of catering to the extremely wealthy. We must keep pushing for everyone to have access to quality and affordable healthcare, as healthcare is a human right and not a privilege to be earned. We need to push for laws that will protect the right to vote instead of effectively disenfranchising people and pushing them out of the electoral process.

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In American society, each of us have a role to play in creating a more perfect union. Our churches play a significant a role. In my opinion, the church should be leading the charge in advocating for policies that reflect God’s heart on every critical issue of our day; not only a select one or two. Our government and institutions react to what “We the People” demand. Clergy and Civil Rights leaders of the mid-20th century such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others demanded change and were able to accomplish it. As Reverend Dr. King once stated “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Through enacting policies that address the critical needs of everyday people and “the least of these” we can create a more equitable and just society. We can create a society which I strongly believe reflects God’s Heart.

 

Sources:

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219

 

https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_race.jsp

 

 

The American Rescue Plan is welcome relief for faith communities

The American Rescue Plan is welcome relief for faith communities

Members and leaders of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., worship in a mostly empty sanctuary Sunday, March 15, 2020, after church leadership encouraged people to worship from home via video livestream in response to the coronavirus. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News

(RNS) — For communities of faith, COVID-19 has introduced new stress to the already demanding pastoral work of comforting the families and friends of those who have died and ministering from afar to those who are sick. While virtual worship turns out to be possible, it is a less than ideal way to make vital community connections.

But there is another immediate and concrete way that faith communities have been called to action during the pandemic: in feeding the hungry, supporting those who have lost their jobs, income or housing and offering emotional support to families who have increasing requirements as caregivers.

While faith communities often serve as first responders to the needs of people in their communities, it is simply impossible for houses of worship or social service agencies to shore up and sustain everyone in our communities. Our faith convinces us that we have a moral imperative to care for all of those left behind in this crisis. We need the support of our government, a government that works for all the people.

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in March, it dramatically shifted how the United States addresses the ravages of the pandemic and the ravages of poverty. Not only was there funding to support vaccine distribution, the legislation provided structural support for people who struggle to pay their monthly bills.

Two popular tax credit programs — the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit — were expanded, allowing child poverty to be cut in half this year. Imagine what it means to moms and dads who can now afford food, diapers, clothing and utility bills and know they are no longer living on the edge of the chaos that comes from never having enough money.

Recently, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio joined the Rev. Eugene Cho, president and CEO of Bread for the World, and me to discuss the dramatic impact of the American Rescue Plan in helping families who struggle to pay the rent and keep their families from the edge of destitution. As Brown said of his vote on the American Rescue Plan: “The best day of my career. Look what we did. Shots in people’s arms and money in people’s pockets. Kids back in school and people back in jobs.”

The job of addressing the pandemic and poverty is far from over. These effective tax credit programs will need to be made permanent in legislation that Congress will consider later this year. It’s a step that the interreligious faith community will be there to raise its voice for.

Churches will also continue to build trust with their members to become vaccinated. The president has encouraged faith leaders to help build confidence for everyone to get vaccinated, saying, “They’re going to listen to your words, more than they are me, as president of the United States. We need you to spread the word, let people in our communities and your community know how important (it) is to get everyone vaccinated when it’s their turn. … I think this is the godly thing to do. Protect your brother and sister.”

Just as communities of faith have been called on the last 13 months to respond to serve others — with emotional, material and advocacy support — we continue to be called on to support the common good to defeat the pandemic and to defeat poverty.

( Diane Randallis the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a national, nonpartisan Quaker lobby for peace, justice and the environment. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or UrbanFaith.)