March 30, 2012
By Sister Karen D.
This challenging question from the Prophet Isaiah provided the backdrop for Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2012, held in Washington,D.C., March 23-26, 2012. More than seven hundred people representing mostly Christian denominations gathered to reflect on our current political reality and commit to action.
At a time when appeals to religion are playing a huge roll in our political process, speaker after speaker called us to examine closely what is understood by religion in these contexts. They reminded us that the scriptural call is clear: We must break unjust fetters, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, share our bread with the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless poor. (Isaiah 58: 6-7)
Just days before the conference opened, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) introduced a draconian budget proposal that would gut programs serving basic human needs. The proposal also includes increases in military spending and lower taxes for the country’s wealthiest households. This budget flies in the face of all that we profess to believe as followers of Jesus.
On Monday, March 26, we traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with our senators and representatives. Our message was simple:
As people of faith we urge you to defend people struggling to live in dignity by funding programs that protect vulnerable populations here and abroad. Enact a faithful federal budget that serves the common good, provides robust funding for people struggling to overcome poverty, and exercises proper care of Earth.
At each office, we left a copy of Principles of a Faithful Federal Budget, which was prepared by the Faithful Budget Campaign. Our Institute Leadership Team has endorsed these principles.
Monday, March 26, also happened to be the first day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to the Affordable Care Act. This high profile case attracted hundreds to the area in front of the Supreme Court building across the street from the Capitol. We were able to participate in a prayer service at noon and interact with the many media outlets present on the court steps.
The Affordable Care Act represents an attempt to assure that adequate health care is available to all. Health care is a basic human right, not a commodity, access to which is dependent on one’s ability to pay. A commitment to the common good demands that we all participate. Nobody can guarantee that they will never need health care.
These opportunities to advocate on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable in our midst highlighted the need to be active citizens. We must speak out, loudly and clearly, on these issues. In some of the breakout sessions over the weekend, presenters noted that many times lawmakers do not hear that there is strong support for programs such as the Affordable Care Act and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), or strong opposition to increased military spending or an attack on Iran.
The polarization and gridlock, which seems to be endemic in politics at all levels today, can be a source of discouragement and even apathy. Why should I contact my legislator? It won’t make any difference.
However, this is where faith comes in. Having faith keeps us in the struggle. The example of Jesus impels us to keep in the struggle, no matter what the outcome. We have to be people of the big picture, which is the Kingdom of God. Ecumenical Advocacy Days provided a wonderful opportunity to join with others, including a large number of young people, and be people of the big picture.