One of my favorite poems is Mary Oliver’s “The Journey,” which begins:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting
their bad advice.
The poem concludes by noting that your inner voice prevails over the external voices of the crowd as you accept the fact that you have to swim upstream and take an unpopular stand.
Jesus Christ challenges us to speak to the systematic roots of poverty and injustice. We are called to love everyone and minister to the least of these.
Growing up in the deep South, I witnessed the church remaining on the sidelines regarding segregation and equality. Unfortunately, I observed some church members supporting this injustice.
In his book, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” Jonathan Bass writes about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” in which King challenges eight white religious leaders to respond and end injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King asserted.
Regrettably, most churches were silent and some ministers who supported King’s message experienced adverse consequences with their congregations.
Our faith journey provides us the opportunity to respond to life’s experiences in a profound way as we discern the divine inner voice.
For many years, I have acutely observed the growing inequities in our healthcare system. My inner voice has encouraged me to become more vocal about the disparity in the medical delivery system.
Recently, I witnessed a dedicated and loving family struggle emotionally and financially with the enormous costs to treat their disabled child who ultimately died.
Currently, I am aware of a recent seminary graduate who was diagnosed with cancer and has encountered tremendous medical bills without medical insurance.
These cases are just two examples of many similar situations that I have witnessed.
For more than 30 years, I have been responsible for employer medical benefits and I have observed alarming medical insurance cost increases for more than a decade.
It has become unacceptable to me to hear healthcare executives bemoan their institutions’ financial woes while they continue to receive excessive salaries and benefits.
I am aware of hospital executives at a nonprofit specialty hospital in my state receiving in excess of $1 million per year. Closer to home, nonprofit hospital executives have been paid in the range of $900,000 annually, which, in some years, included bonuses.
Interestingly, it was reported that country club memberships were provided for executives in this industry. One may assume that people at this income level could personally afford a country club membership.
Unfortunately, there are many entities with their hands in the medical “cookie jar” generating personal wealth for their organizations without adding value to medical care. These salaries are not unique to my region.
“One percent” salaries are represented in the medical arena throughout the United States, including hospital administration, managed care network administration, advertising, insurance and medical equipment suppliers, just to name a few.
I live in a region where 50 percent of the public school students receive free or reduced lunch prices due to their family incomes. Some medical executives are paid more in one month than most families earn in one year.
Approximately 20 percent of the population has no medical insurance, and many have inadequate medical coverage. The American healthcare system has evolved into one giant “shell game.”
I have had the pleasure to become a charter member with a new church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches – USA in the Rochester-Genesee Region of New York. It is our desire to be the church and share Jesus’ inclusive and compassionate message.
In a society where it has become politically correct to proclaim survival of the fittest, my inner voice compels me to listen to Luke 12:48 more responsively.
As we continue to witness the inequities in our society, I ask the same question we were asked in the 1960s. “Where is the church?”
Mitch Williams is a corporate director of human resources and a lifelong Baptist (SBC, CBF and the American Baptist Churches, USA). He is a member of Common Ground Fellowship, Bristol, Va.