Churches are justifiably proud of their ministries of compassion to the homeless and the disenfranchised through food pantries, clothes closets, emergency assistance for utility bills and medicine, and shelter for the homeless. Such ministry, though, is vitiated by most congregations’ deep resistance to substantive change in state and national policy that might create a more just and equitable playing field, thus helping the poor escape their circumstances.
Legislative and bureaucratic decisions are as important to the religious community as filling book bags for school children. But congregations often decline to clearly and forcefully oppose current legislation and protest bureaucratic regulations making life more difficult for the poor.
The House of Representatives voted last week to gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion over the next five years, adding work requirements when it is well known that most recipients are women and children who cannot work and that most of the remaining recipients already have jobs. This mean-spirited decision will fill church soup kitchens and clothes closets well beyond capacity.
All have a stake in fiscal responsibility; our nation must pay its bills. But people of faith should ask why the budget must be balanced on the backs of the poor. Why not examine military procurement and unnecessary bridge and road construction and tax breaks for the middle class and wealthy?
On a related front, the state of Georgia is one of the most mean-spirited states in the nation when it comes to implementing the Affordable Health Care Act. We have one of the highest percentages of people without health insurance in the nation and yet we turned down ten years of federal help as if our poor and elderly will somehow go away. Our emergency rooms overflow with those who can’t afford a doctor and you and I pay for every visit. Yet our legislators and executive branch refuse to participate in healing our infirm.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens has proudly called himself an “obstructionist” who will do everything in his power to keep the poor from signing up for health care. You can watch (on the Internet) his in-your-face speech (including delighted applause) to the Floyd County Republican Party. He has created obstacles making it very difficult for the federal government to enroll the poor and couldn’t be prouder of it. He also boasted that our state legislators passed a ridiculous law signed by Governor Deal requiring insurance companies to tell us that insurance rate increases are due to nothing but Obamacare.
Hudgens says that health insurance rates are going up for every single citizen, blaming it on the new law. Even if his figures are correct, and I suspect he is using biased information, the religious community should ask, “If my neighbor can’t afford insurance any other way, what is my responsibility, even financial, to help make it happen?”
We can supply bandages and aspirin at our church clothes closet and that’s a good thing. But the church must also tout wider ministries of health and healing.
The Rev. Creede Hinshaw is a retired minister.