Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Majority Rule - Mixing Faith and Politics

[Apologies to my regular readers: There has been so much to blog about lately that I just gave up. That, plus a lot of travel and other writing projects.]

I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding the name of the football team in Washington, D.C. You can read a little about it here

The owner of the team wrote a letter explaining why the name would not be changed here.

Majority rule? Yes, because most fans aren’t bothered by the name. Neither are the majority of Native Americans who were polled. Polling evidence was used to shore up the decision to leave the name as is. That, and the long history and legacy of the team and its name are cited as vital to its identity.

Activists and even my church (the PCUSA) say using people as mascots, specifically Native American peoples, is dehumanizing and disrespectful. (The 1999 PCUSA policy statement on racism includes a request that the Stated Clerk write a letter to schools and professional teams urging them to change derogatory or stereotypical names/logos.) The reality of dehumanization may not mean much to people who think they don’t know Native Americans who are hurt by these team names/mascots, have never been portrayed as a mascot, or have an emotional attachment to a team and its name. Many of us do not exist in spaces where we need to think much about this dehumanization.

If you know me, you know I go by other rules than majority rule on issues impacting minorities. Had President Johnson waited to sign the Civil Rights Act based on polls, we might still be waiting. Why? Because the majority doesn’t always recognize dehumanization when it sees it, or doesn’t see a reason to care. Protecting the rights and dignity of the minority sometimes has to be done before it is popular.

There is a Biblical precedent for this. Sometimes it seems Jesus treated women and ethno-religious minorities with respect, at least when compared to the culture of the time. There are many verses in the Bible exhorting members of the community to care for widows, orphans, and immigrants. This is downright counter-cultural, when the entire social structure of the time ensured widows, orphans, and immigrants remained perpetually marginalized, without legal means of supporting themselves.

Another majority rule issue…

Just like most of you, I’m extremely irritated by what has happened thanks to the House of Representatives. I’m talking about the shutdown.

I think what has happened is that health insurance legislation passed. This was affirmed (or at least not condemned) when the incumbent candidate for president was re-elected. This was majority rule. And now a group of people from one party has engineered a shutdown of the government, having a huge impact on people. This is way more than ruining some middle class family’s vacation to national parks or to Washington, D.C. This is about the real people who make a living serving the government, or serving those who serve the government. This is about the kids who won’t get their cancer treatments, the staff of the Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco who are going without wages, the unpaid police keeping the capital safe during recent demonstrations, all of us who benefit from having inspectors on the job checking our food, and many others.

We could say this group (those who made the shutdown a reality) is the minority speaking up to protect its rights to be heard despite being in the minority. But who is the minority here, needing their rights protected? Perhaps the minority are those who have been without health insurance until now. Perhaps the minority are those who are now going without work, paychecks, treatments, and other needed services due to the shutdown.

I realized that I technically don’t have to care if other people have health insurance, because my plan is provided by my employer. I mean, I do, because I like the other aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), like how my insurance company can’t kick me off my plan for getting sick, or that my lady health visits are fully covered. People like me, who are eminently employable with the right jobs to get great health insurance, may not grasp how important the ACA is to people who don’t have health insurance. But I do know that we as a society benefit when the overall health of the country is better than it is. I know that we benefit in terms of development, financial health, and a whole host of other measures when more of us have access to affordable health care.

Why am I writing on such political issues?

It’s because I was raised this way. Some of this comes from my own cultural background and the convictions of my parents. Some of this comes from being so Presbyterian. Presbyterians, like many other Christian traditions, have a long history of political involvement. I think my faith leads me to really care what happens in politics at all levels of government, because my faith tells me I need to care. Politics has real impact on the lives of a whole bunch of people. I do not agree that people in ministry need to be themselves politically neutral (Jesus wasn’t neutral! Yeah, I know we’re not Jesus.), although I do think that we in ministry need to be faithful and loving in our ministry with people of diverse convictions.

I also struggle constantly with how to express my political convictions in a way that is faithful. How do you express your politics through faith?

Since this is a political post, here are some resources.

Curriculum:

The Church and Politics – Being Reformed curriculum series

Politics – Faith Questions (Youth) curriculum series

Book:

The Bible and Politics by Richard Bauckham

The Thoughtful Christian Downloadable Adult Studies:



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