Tag: Poverty

Properly Defining “Pro-Life”

life-lessons

The Declaration of Independence makes a bold and complicated value statement – “… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 Life then becomes a matter of quality of living and not only the presence of a beating heart. Take a moment and Google the phrase “Pro-Life.” As you scroll through the images you will discover the images are almost entirely a “womb” issue and never a “world” issue. In other words, an entire segment of our society has been convinced that life only matters if I am a fetus in a womb and not a person in the world. Both define us as “Pro-Life.”

 I am a 10-point Pro-Life Progressive. I wish there were more of us. Most Pro-Life people are actually only 1-point Pro-Life Conservatives. I don’t think that warrants you enough points to pass the Pro-Life test. I have yet to come across a classroom in America where students with a 1 in 10 score (10%) ever received a passing grade.

 Unfortunately the vocabulary of morality and ethics can be taken hostage by a denomination, race, political party, or ideology and only released when the terms of a single issue are satisfied. In our day, “Pro-Life” is that single issue.  The problem is that single issue comprises far more than the hostage takers have been honest about.  At a minimum, life should be inclusive and not exclusive.  I find it hard to believe any of us would think that God is more or less concerned about one life over another.  Yet, there seems to be a sentiment in our nation that some lives matter while others do not.  Pro-Life is at a minimum a ten-point issue. Before you put the label on, let’s assess whether the label is indeed true.  Here is the list:

  1.  Pro-Life people support a livable wage.  Wages received should enable the employee to meet their needs and the employer to make respectful profit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10 million people classified as the working poor.  These are men and women unable to meet basic human needs while working a minimum of 27 hours per week. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class as 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth. No wonder over 15 million children live in poverty in our nation. In recent years in North Carolina, all income growth accrued to the top 1% of wage earners.
  2. Pro-Life people support policies that are not oppressive to any people group. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs on average $31,000 per year to house an inmate within our Justice System. Many programs have been proven to lower recidivism, yet our State Legislatures consistently fail to fund programs aimed at expungement and fresh start opportunities for those who have criminal records. These programs cost on average $12-$13,000 annually.  In North Carolina, there are 37,000 people in prison and 87,000 on probation.  By funding programs to prevent prison re-entry, taxpayers would save nearly $2 million annually for every 100 participants.  It hardly seems “fiscally conservative” to spend an extra $18,000 per year to incarcerate someone when funding programs aimed at re-entry prevention would prevent them from returning to prison.
  3.  Pro-Life people support gender equality.  Women still earned considerably less than men for performance of the same job with the same education, background, and training.  Most estimates suggest that it will take at minimum until 2059 for this to change.  Really?  Another forty years? Considering that 40% of all homes with children under 18 years of age are headed by women as the primary breadwinner, it is not hard to see why this is a “Life issue.”  If you take issue with this, then consider how well you would be able to provide for your family with only 56-70% of your current income.
  4.  Pro-Life people support immigration reform.  Almost every major economic study suggests that the U.S. economy grows faster as a result of immigration and whether we want to admit it or not, even undocumented immigrants improve our economy.  But beyond the numbers, is it not against good sense to prohibit a pathway to citizenship?  Allow me to remind my fellow Christians that we worship a Jesus that was an undocumented immigrant whose family fled to Egypt seeking asylum from the mass genocide of male children.  When people of the world are fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression or just seeking a better life, it is anti-American and anti-Bible to deny them opportunity.  Fortunately for us, we serve a God who was pro immigration and allowed Jesus to escape King Herod so that one day he might die on a cross and be raised with all power to justify us.
  5. Pro-Life people support universal access to healthcare.  This is a complicated issue.  But it is simply un-American to have life expectancy dictated by zip code and not genetic code.  At the very least, there must be access and affordability for all people. 
  6. Pro-Life people can say, “Black Lives Matter.”  Why?  Well, because they do.  I find myself perplexed that anyone has made this statement into meaning that other lives don’t matter.  Not even the lack of organization of the movement and the delayed timing of its inception warrants ignoring the message. When Evangelical churches sponsor “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Senior Citizens.  It simply means there are those that are hurting, victimized, and voiceless that deserve protecting. If any other group of people had the skewed statistics regarding police brutality and violence, I would be advocating for that group of people also. May we never forget the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller – “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
  7. Pro-Life people support increased funding to public and higher education. Studies have consistently shown a direct link between poverty and education. There is no more effective method of social and economic mobility and advancement than education.  In my opinion, there may be no greater long term investment in the lives of our children than a comprehensive Pre-School system to ensure every child be given a fair start.
  8. Pro-Life people are Anti-Abortion.  I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who claimed to be “Pro-Abortion.”  I am unapologetically, Anti-Abortion. Every year in America, nearly 1 million babies are reported aborted.  The issue becomes how we do a better job at prevention.  I do not think the answer lies in overturning Roe vs. Wade.  The precedent standard in Constitutional Law makes this unlikely.  The “Pro-Choice” side of the argument is equally disingenuous.  Life begins at conception.  A fetus is a life.  You make your position weaker when you aren’t honest about this.  If the law saved, there would be no murder.  Theologically and doctrinally, we know the law cannot save us. God has always been and will always be a God of choice. He doesn’t make us do anything.  He has a preferred will and a permitted will. Yes, the preference is for life but he permits us to make our own choices. Deuteronomy 30:19 places “life” and “choice” in the same verse – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life”.  The answer lies in the promotion of marriage, adoption services, the reduction in teenage pregnancy and greater education regarding abstinence, and the link between poverty and single parenting. While we may disagree on the legality of abortion, it is likely we agree that abortion is not something any of us would like to see.  Perhaps we should all work together to reduce it.
  9. Pro-Life people aren’t scared of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The presence of military grade weapons and assault rifles in our communities is criminal. This was never the intent of the 2nd Amendment. Our unwillingness as a nation to challenge the lobbyists and activists on this issue shows a fundamental cowardice, lack of integrity, and no regard for life.  It is a fear tactic to suggest there is a movement to take gun ownership from the hands of law-abiding people.  There is not.  However, owning them with no oversight and accountability is equally irresponsible.  Any weapon, in any home, should be licensed, registered, and titled.  This simple step would help track the movement of weapons in our country.
  10. Pro-Life people have problems with capital punishment.  Admittedly, I struggle with knowing that violent, heinous, and ruthless predators get to live while family and friends mourn their victims for a lifetime.  But any district attorney, defense attorney, or prosecuting attorney would be forced to confess that our capital punishment system lacks any consistency regarding how this highest penalty is metered out.  Statistics prove the death penalty is clearly biased against poor people and people of color.  The last time I checked, being poor or of color was not a crime in our nation.  May we never forget that not everyone who dies by execution was guilty – Jesus is proof.

Are you Pro-Life or do you just wear the label?

 

A Pastor’s perspective on Ferguson, Missouri

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Heartbroken and hopeless characterizes the emotions I have sat with these past few weeks as once again I am called to witness along with the entire world yet another example of apparent injustice and systemic racism. The real issue before us is really not Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager nor is it Darren Wilson, a white police officer who did the shooting. Just as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were not the real issue. You see, in both situations we were forced to confront symptoms and not disease.

The issues that are most critical to us as a nation are not individual situations but rather institutional systems.

In our nation we have systematically determined some lives to be less valuable than others. This week we were faced with the image of James Foley, an American photojournalist being beheaded by the militant Al Qaeda splinter group, ISIS yet media outlets and commentators seem more compassionate and sensitive in their reporting over the death of James Foley then that of Michael Brown. As a bi-racial man leading a predominantly African-American congregation I find myself talking to myself incessantly over the issues of race, poverty and injustice. These themes are emotional for each of us but for different reasons. But, as a pastor where my calling is to carefully yet courageously lead the sheep I am mindful that perhaps my two most powerful tools are love and truth. Both love and truth are potentially problematic commitments.

Love becomes powerful and transformational when we choose to love all and to love unconditionally. As Christians are we not called to love each other equally? We simply cannot love a white life more than a black life. For some reason we seem to love the life of an unborn child more than the life of a born teenager. Life must be equally valuable. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Testament of Hope said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Truth in my opinion is even more elusive which is why we have a tendency to argue it away rather than to embrace it. Do you remember the days when t-shirt manufacturers had actual labels in the backs of their product? Today those labels have been replaced with what are called “tag less” labels. I for one am grateful because before I could comfortably where my t-shirts I would have to rip the labels out. This is exactly how truth works. In order to wear it you must take the labels off. As a pastor I am called to proclaim the truth of the Holy Bible. In order for our members to embrace the truths I share they must remove their labels first. Truth does not originate from our political parties, our educational systems, our not for profits, races or balance sheets. Truth originates from God. Not enough of us are willing to take off our labels of Black, White, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Educated, Uneducated, Poor, Wealthy, Suburban, Urban, Public, Private, Male and Female. Perhaps my favorite children’s author, Shel Silverstein in his book, Falling Up said, “Tell me I’m clever, 
Tell me I’m kind, 
Tell me I’m talented, 
Tell me I’m cute, 
Tell me I’m sensitive, 
Graceful and Wise, Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” We simply cannot approach our systemic issues from our labels. We must approach them truthfully and allow that truth to then govern our perspective. This one change would begin an instant reversal of much of what is plaguing our nation and our communities.

There are over 2 million people incarcerated. One of three black men between the ages of 18-30 are in jail, parole, in prison, or probation. In larger cities and urban communities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago that number increases to over one half. Our “system” has been distorted around race and around poverty. In our country we treat people that are guilty but wealthy better than those that are innocent and poor.

For those of you who are love and truth resistant perhaps common sense would be a more effective strategy to reach you. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. We have life imprisonment for children in our country because our “system” provides judges the ability to place them on trial as an adult. But they aren’t adults. In other words our “system” allow us to make the child into an adult. What wealthy person who could afford the best legal counsel would want to be tried as a poor person with a public defender? What if the Judge just made them into a poor person for the sake of trial or what if we just made a white person into a black person for the sake of trial? Currently one in nine people on death row are found to be innocent and eventually exonerated of their crimes. In other words we know that for every nine times we do something one time it is wrong. That’s a pretty high error rate. Would you get on a plane if you knew for certain one out of nine was going to crash? Would you send your child to a school where every day one out of nine kids were gunned down? Would you buy a car if you were certain one in nine would catch fire and kill the driver? Of course not! You would change the system first. We have a systemic problem and we, as Christians must model a behavior of love and truth. We cannot insulate ourselves from the problems of people that don’t look like us. In my estimation the life of a white photojournalist is just as valuable as a black teenager. The life of the death row inmate is as valuable as the unborn fetus in a womb. The pastor in me just won’t allow me to love bi-racial people more than I love anyone else. Actually that’s not even the pastor in me I think that’s the Jesus in me. In the final analysis we will be judged not based on innovation or technology but loving our neighbor as ourselves. Only by love and truth can we model reconciliation as the body of Christ. This is perhaps our greatest mandate in this hour of turmoil and division. Paul writes in Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What are your thoughts?