An Alabama congressman said Monday that President Bush’s veto last week of a children’s health insurance bill is a moral issue.
“Religion and faith teach us to leave the world changed by our presence,” Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., said at screening of a new DVD on faith and politics in Birmingham, Ala. “Religion teaches me to try to leave this world a better place than I found it.”
“If you believe that, you are challenged by the presence of 11 million children in the country who don’t have health insurance,” Davis said.
Davis made the comments during a panel discussion of “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics” sponsored by the minister’s caucus of Over the Mountain Democrats.
Davis also appears in the video, produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, which challenges a 25-year myth created by the Religious Right that GOP stands for “God’s Only Party.” The DVD profiles politicians who are both Democrats and people of faith and features religious leaders who maintain that neither political party is completely moral or immoral.
Last week the president vetoed legislation to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program from $35 billion to $60 billion over five years, expanding coverage from the current 6 million to 10 million children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford to buy private health insurance. This week attention turns to pressuring 17 House Republicans who voted against the measure to join Democrats in overriding the veto, just the fourth of the Bush administration.
Davis said his religious convictions are part of what prompts him to support “a more vigorous role” for government in the health care debate than some of his colleagues. He illustrated with a quote from the Italian poet Dante: “Governments do err; kings and leaders do make mistakes, but better the occasional errors of the government acting in the spirit of charity than the consistent omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
“God will never condemn us for too much compassion,” Davis said. “God will never slight us for wanting too much good for our neighbor.”
Davis said that conviction “does lead me, every time there is a choice, to try to be on the side of frankly doing too much to help people instead of too little.”
Davis said compassion also should be a consideration before entering into war. Despite the precision of modern weapons, he said, it must be recognized than in any war there are innocent victims.
“If we cannot find a way to solve our problems without risking innocent lives,” he said, “we have to extraordinarily cautious about when we use force.”
Another panelist, University of Alabama law professor Susan Pace Hamill, described her work for reform of Alabama’s regressive taxation system, which overburdens the poor and allows wealthier citizens to pay lower taxes than in other states.
“The rub is that fairness and justice as applied to taxation requires more from most of us, if your system is out of whack,” she said. “That message is about as well received as you need a root canal.”
Hamill contrasted “low-sacrifice” moral issues–like abortion and stem-cell research–with “high sacrifice” issues like taxation. Low-sacrifice issues cost most people little, so standing for them may be popular. High-sacrifice issues, meanwhile, those that carry a personal cost, don’t win popularity contests.
“We have to challenge all people of faith to remember that Christ preached a high-sacrifice gospel,” she said. “Yes, all theological issues are important in theology, but if you limit your issues to the ones that cost you a great deal, you really have turned into a Pharisee. Pastors, save us from our greed.”
Hamill, a Methodist with a master of divinity degree from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, said she has been challenged in churches by some who argue the church fulfills its obligation to the poor through charity, but she said charitable giving isn’t enough to offset an unjust tax system.
“We’ve made an A in charity, but we made an F in justice, and it doesn’t average out to a C,” she said.
Jim Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., and columnist in newspapers and EthicsDaily.com, described a “perfect storm” that created the current perception that the GOP is the only party for people of faith.
After being wrong on the civil rights movement, Evans said, southern evangelicals “needed to find something to be right about.” The Supreme Court gave them an opportunity, with rulings on issues like abortion and school prayer.
Over time, those issues, along with homosexuality, “were identified as the traditional Christian issues,” and since Christians were the only ones talking about them, it was easy for them to say they were standing up for family values.
It wasn’t long, Evans said, before Republicans “were God’s only party.”
Davis, a Lutheran, called for humility in addressing matters of faith in the political realm.
“No religion has a corner on truth,” Davis said. “That’s something we Christians struggle with, by the way. If you really burrow into the Bible, it tells us not to be so high minded.”
“I don’t like political arguments that begin with ‘Scripture dictates,'” he said. “I don’t like it when the right does it. I don’t like it when the left does it.”
Rather than pitting one faith against another, Davis said he seeks to frame issues so they appeal to common values held by all people of “good faith.”
“If your faith has you looking down at anybody, chances are you have found a false faith,” Davis said. Davis said his faith teaches him instead to “look up to God” for guidance and to recognize, quoting the Apostle Paul, that “we all see through a glass darkly.”
Over the Mountain Democrats is a grassroots political organization that promotes values of fairness, compassion and economic opportunity in the greater Birmingham area. The group’s president, John Crenshaw, said Monday’s screening and discussion was a success.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity for us to send the message that God transcends political parties,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw said it proves that “people of faith and people of conviction are motivated to come together for the greater good” and that party affiliation has little to do with it.
On Thursday BCE Executive Director Robert Parham will introduce the DVD in a screening at Athens State University. Future screenings are planned and others will be organized.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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