- Jack H. Bender
Vote for "The Least of These"
Last time, I encouraged you to become a one-issue voter. You may recall that the list of single issues was not the usual hot buttons like gun control or judges. Expansive issues of truth, justice, the planet and democracy deserved our support. In keeping with the theme of poverty, I’m adding another issue worthy of our vote—“the least of these.”
Sometimes, our voting can be self-serving. A common example would be voting for the person we believe will keep our taxes low. Taxes have gotten such a bad reputation, it’s now difficult to imagine that tax dollars can do a great deal of good—fix roads, fund education, protect clean air and water, create jobs, provide health care, do research, etc. What is especially nice, however, is if our self-interest matches the welfare of everyone else. “Saving the planet” is good for us, but it’s also good for everyone. Of course, we can be selfless and vote for an issue that appears to be exclusively good for someone else.
I believe that government and its citizens should favor the vulnerable. Or, said another way, citizens should demand that their government provide a comprehensive safety net for the vulnerable as well as create viable opportunities for people to thrive.
Right now, the gap between rich and poor is huge. We’re being told that the wealth of three American billionaires equals the wealth of half the nation (164,000,000). Had the federal minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $22 and not the current $7.25. Bernie Sanders has introduced $15 and hour into American consciousness, but the A.L.I.C.E. report suggests that that amount is half of what is needed for a family of four. On the positive side, two people working at $15 an hour can create a reasonable life for their family. Unfortunately, a single parent (36,000,000 homes) is severely limited in his/her ability to create a reasonable life while earning poverty wages. The wealth and wage gap are a source of motivation for us to transform America.
If you are religious, there is a moral imperative to be in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. The Old Testament records the lamentations of prophets for the poor, sick, those in prison and the stranger. Their frustrations with the tone deaf rich and powerful are obvious. They understand God’s deep concern for the vulnerable but observe people around them having hearts of stone. Jesus affirms that same OT bias in his blueprint for a better society—"blessed are the poor…” While the separation of church and state was established by the founding fathers to block governmental control of religion, citizens practicing the world’s great religions can use their faith in politics. The test, however, is that the expression of their faith be less concerned about their own wealth and power and more about the common good, especially “the least of these.”
Christians (and practitioners of other faiths) can thoughtfully express their faith through politics. From a Christian perspective, Muriel Schmid, PhD, thinks so:
Was Jesus political? Can his life serve as an example for us today? If we understand politics as mere partisanship, we can probably assume that Jesus was not political. But the political system of first-century Palestine was of course very different from what we experience in our context, and it didn’t offer many opportunities for an active participation in the political life of the State at that time, certainly not for the people subjugated to the Roman military occupation.
Most of what we know about Jesus’ life would nonetheless indicate that he was deeply concerned by the politics of his time. He strongly critiqued tax collectors who were crushing the poor; he harangued the rich, asking them to share their wealth; he opposed all ruling classes, be it religious or military; he advocated for laws that protected the vulnerable; he called for a society who cared for the underprivileged and welcomed the stranger… How can we be a follower of Jesus without following his commitment for a just society? And he clearly tells us what it should look like! In light of Jesus’ message, faith is deeply political!
Excerpt from “I Believe in Politics!” by Muriel Schmid, PhD, justfaith.org