What are the three most important issues a voter should consider this year in choosing a candidate to vote for at the federal level (President, Senate, House of Representatives)? Why are these issues critical?
Question 2 in the Energion Political Debate/Conversation with Elgin Hushbeck is difficult to answer because there are a bewildering number of important issues standing before us. Conversations within my own congregation and among congregations affiliated with the Metro Coalition of Congregations (a community organizing effort to address community issues informed by faith values), the primary issues seem to be economic in nature – they address housing, jobs, and health care. Interestingly, in my own congregation a lot of frustration was voiced about the increasing partisanship of our political system. Now the respondents weren’t of one mind as to who is responsible, but there is growing concern that our system isn’t working and that the people we elect don’t have a broad enough vision or the courage to address the kinds of issues that affect daily life.
If I have to narrow it down, the issues that concern me most are: 1) the growing income disparity in our country; 2) the need for comprehensive immigration reform; 3) addressing the increasingly important issue of health care delivery in our country.
I’ll begin with income disparity. Although I have nothing against people earning a fair living and enjoying the fruits of their labor, I’m also aware that in the biblical story God sides with the poor and the marginalized. Mary sings the praises of the God who scatters the proud and brings down the powerful from their thrones, while lifting up the lowly (Luke 1:46-56). Jesus, draws upon Isaiah, and defines in his call to ministry in terms of bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). Texts like these help frame my vision of what a just nation looks like. While some speak of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, they rarely define what they mean by equal opportunity. It’s important to note that the income disparity between rich and poor is greater than ever before, and the middle class is being squeezed ever downward. So, when it comes to equal opportunity, I think it’s important to remember that a person living in a low income area, whether rural or urban, doesn’t start with the same advantages or opportunities as does the very wealthy. Although no candidates have perfect answers to my questions, I’m listening for the ways in which they will invest in the nation’s future by providing good educational opportunities for all Americans and will invest resources that will provide a foundation for good paying jobs and the opportunity to achieve a good outcome – not just for the few, but the many. This growing income disparity allows the wealthy to control the messaging and enhance their own well-being at the expense of the rest of the nation. As I consider the issue from a faith perspective, I believe that justice requires that we stand on the side of the poor and the marginalized.
The second issue is immigration reform. The demographic makeup of the nation is changing. Within a few years we will be a majority-minority country, with no one ethnicity having a majority. Already this is true of births. For some this is a rather scary reality, leading some to call for “taking back the nation.” There’s concern that the Euro-American (white) cultural hegemony will be lost. But the die is cast, and a nation of immigrants (some whose ancestors came here in shackles while others came seeking asylum) is broadening its ethnic identity. What we have failed to do is establish a way for immigrants to join the American community through pathways to citizenship. A first step toward this goal of expanding the American reality is to adopt the Dream Act, an effort that would make it possible for young people who have lived most if not all their lives in this country. They are Americans in every way except in terms of their immigration status. They attended our schools and worked hard to get a good education, they may have served in the military, and they seek to be citizens of this nation. President Obama provided a temporary measure that would take away the threat of deportation for a short period of time. My hope is that following this election we can take this first step toward full reform. I think our nation would be better for it, and I also think that it resonates with my own faith perspective. There is a strong message throughout the biblical story that calls for welcoming the stranger, for making a place for the alien in our midst. I think that this faith perspective should guide us toward creating just and compassionate policies regarding immigration.
Finally, there’s the health care issue. The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but it provides a starting point for expanding coverage to all Americans. But by itself, it’s enough to fix a broken system that serves well the wealthy but squeezes the middle class and if Medicaid is cut as the Ryan budget proposes, then millions of Americans, many of whom are elderly will be cast adrift. For some health care is a luxury, but I believe it’s a right. Every American should have the opportunity to get good, affordable health care and not worry that if sickness or injury occurs that they could go into bankruptcy. Again, my perspective on this issue is governed by a faith perspective that calls for caring for the least of these, and while private charity can assist, it can’t carry the entire burden, and thus we must turn to government and hold it accountable to its responsibilities for the general welfare of the nation's people.
Ultimately, I believe we must look at these issues through the lens of the Second Commandment – to lover our neighbor as ourselves.