Category Archives: US Politics

Health Care Crisis in the US


Health Care Issues

The Unites States spends 17% of GDP on healthcare, or over $8,400 per capita, more than any other nation.  No other developed country spends more than 12% of GDP on medical care. And yet our people have some of the poorest healthcare outcomes in the developed world.  Some 46 million Americans are uninsured.  We rank 30th in infant mortality.  Our life expectancy is 50th in the world, behind all developed nations.  Medical expensed is a major factor in 62% of personal bankruptcies.

Spending so much to get so little.

CLICK ON GRAPH TO ENLARGE

Truly we are not getting the maximum value for our health care expenditures.

We need to have universal access to healthcare.  This does not need to be accomplished through a government bureaucracy, but it does need to be done.

Universal healthcare will provide for early diagnosis and intervention, saving billions of dollars in the long run.  As it is now, people without access to health care normally wait until their condition requires emergency room treatment at high cost.  They are forced to wait until their minor medical issues become crises before their conditions can be treated.

Under the current health care system medical care is delayed for those who can least afford it.  Imagine a small child with an earache.  The parent is forced to delay medicalcare due to the high cost of treatment, let’s say $200 for a doctor visit, lab tests, and prescriptions.  Without access to healthcare the child’s condition worsens until the child is taken to the emergency room with a high fever and unbearable pain.  Because of the delay a relatively minor malady that could be treated for a few hundred dollars may now cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  And on top of this, the child may have become deaf or suffered other permanent impairment requiring a lifetime of special care.

Single payer health care will end the costly paperwork and delays caused by our current multiple-payer system.  Health care professionals would be able to concentrate on providing health care as opposed to figuring out who is going to pay and how to prepare and submit the paperwork for reimbursement.

Pre-existing conditions will no longer be an issue as all will have insurance regardless of their condition.  Everyone can be covered if everyone pays.

Universal healthcare will focus on prevention and early intervention.  Vaccines, blood pressure monitoring, diabetes testing, cancer screening, health education, weight control, nutrition and exercise, stop smoking campaigns, and perinatal care will become essential programs for maintaining health and wellness, and for reducing healthcare costs in the long run. Under universal healthcare the focus will shift from disease care to wellness care.

We need a fundamental shift in priorities for healthcare.  Under our current system, approximately 75% of a person’s health care expense comes in the final year of life.  Instead of paying for heroic measures to extend life of the critically ill, we need to shift our resources and our focus towards maintaining health and wellness for all.  In the most extreme cases, our heroic measures do not extend life, but only prolong death at a horrific cost.  Those are healthcare dollars that could better be invested elsewhere.

Healthcare rationing will be required under any conceivable healthcare system.  The old indemnity insurance system failed because plan members could demand essentially unlimited medical coverage.  If the first doctor refused to do a requested procedure, the patient could seek out ten additional doctors, and undergo ten more sets of tests.  Eventually, a doctor would agree to do the procedure, even if it had limited or no justifiable medical value.  And the result was that the insurance company was expected to pay the full cost of the search for treatment as well as the actual treatment.

It is not financially possible to perform all of the medical procedures that we know how to do.  Nor is that always the wisest course of action.  The cost of heroic medical care is paid not only in scarce healthcare dollars, but in pain, incapacity and suffering of the patient as well.  The cost of intensive care is approximately $3,000 per day.

If the patient in such circumstances has a chance of recovery, then the expense as well as the pain and suffering may well be worth it.  But if the patient has no chance of recovery, then what is gained by the expense, pain and suffering? And in gauging the capacity for recovery we must use sober reasoning and not wishful thinking.

But we must also look at the negative quality of life for the patient.  If a patient has no chance of recovery, how long should they be maintained by such heroic means?  And furthermore, what is the quality of life for that patient?  This situation demonstrates the difference between extending life and merely delaying clinical death.  The irony is that under such extreme circumstances we treat our pets more humanely than we treat our parents.

Before making any major medical decisions we must also consider other factors such as the patient’s age, health, his or her capacity to endure the procedure, and the potential for improvement in quality of life that the procedure offers.  For example, an eighty-six year old with congestive heart failure ought not to be considered for a liver transplant.

It Is Time for Civil Discourse


Nothing can be accomplished in government today because of the polarization and dysfunction that has gripped our nation.  It seems like those who seek to steer the ship of state would rather sink it than give up their desired course and heading.  How did we get into this mess, and more importantly, how can we get out of it?

This year’s presidential election will be the most vicious that we have ever seen.  The Supreme Court has opened the door wide to unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires, and political action committees (PAC’s).  High priced television ads will assault logic, truth and the senses with their distorted messages hammered at us over and over ad nauseum.

We can no longer discuss issues, agendas, goals, directions, policies or principles.  The political circus has become a mud wrestling match in a hog manure pit. Instead of discussing the issues and policies, campaigning now is all about the politics of personal destruction.  Character assassination is the order of the day.

Instead of solving problems our main concern seems to be in blaming the other side.  This country is in a mess, and there is more than enough blame to go around.  But blaming will not fix the problem.  It will only prolong the conflict, delay the solutions and deny any hope of returning to normalcy.  There was an editorial cartoon after the earthquake that hit Washington in August of 2011.  The cartoon said, “Some Republicans believe that Obama caused it while other Republicans believe that Obama simply failed to prevent it.”

When Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House, he would tell everyone that, “We are all friends here after 5:00pm and on weekends.”  If only we could bring such civility back into our body politic.  O’Neill has a simple rule throughout his whole political life.  He would never finish work without taking someone out to dinner.  And, in his thirty-four years in the House, including ten plus years as Speaker of the House, there were a lot of dinners.

There is no better means of getting to know someone than breaking bread together.  Away from the office and its daily grind, O’Neill could get to know people, their families, their interests, their visions for the nation.  He ate with friends and political foes, the entrenched leadership and the rookies trying to learn the ropes.  He built relationships instead of just accumulating contacts. This is an art that is nearly forgotten.

If only we could return to the days of civil discourse based upon mutual respect and shared values.  We can all disagree about the solutions, but we all can agree that there are problems to be solved, and fighting, blaming, attacking will not help.

Let us talk about the economy, entitlements, social safety nets, education, immigration, tax reform, our military, big government vs. small, federal vs. state powers, guns, medical care, regulation, and personal freedom.  But let us have a civil discourse without the name calling and blame storming that has kept us mired in dysfunction.

Let us learn to listen to those with whom we disagree.  None of us has all the answers.  Let us learn anew the value of compromise.  In a time of unyielding radicalism compromise is the only way to come together.  No one will get everything that she or he wants.  But together we can work on solutions for us all.

Are there any patriots left in politics who will put aside their personal agendas to work for the common good?  Are there any brave women and men who will agree to put aside their mutual animosities to rebuild this great nation

 

 

Same Sex Marriage


Below is a comment that I posted to a Roman Catholic blogger and legislator, Rebecca Hamilton, who opposes same-sex marriage.  Her blog site can be found at PublicCatholic.com.

Rebecca,

There are a number of reasons that I will disagree with you profoundly.

1) My wife and I married when we were both in our late fifties. There is no chance of conception or child-birth, and yet we were granted an ecclesiastically and legally sanctioned marriage. Our desire is to spend the rest of our lives loving each other as intimate partners. My question is this: What would be so bad if we were two men or two women seeking the same relationship? Why should government and/or the church oppose such a union?

2) We need to separate church from state. One solution would be for the state to stop talking about marriage altogether. Perhaps the state should only recognize civil unions. If a couple wants to be “married” that could be an ecclesiastical union.

3) Why should the Roman Church be granted any authority over non-Catholics? While I am a Christian and a pastor, I certainly am not under the domination of the Pope or his bishops when it comes to my spiritual life or my personal freedoms.

4) The church should support loving, committed relationships, whether or not that these might be “traditional” marriages. When people talk about the “gay lifestyle,” they are talking about anarchic sexual practices, and not committed intimate relationships. The church should encourage all people to live in committed, loving relationships regardless of any other circumstances.

5) Gay marriage is no threat to anyone not involved. Gay is not a disease that can be caught, not a social trend. Rather, it stems from the profound self-awareness of certain people that they are simply and permanently attracted to members of their same-sex. It will not cause a breakdown of traditional marriage. It will not stop us from reproducing.

6) Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value. The only word for it is persecution. In the past our religious traditions have been used to persecute minorities, women, and the poor. Not too long ago laws against “miscegenation” prevented interracial marriages.  Colonialism was based upon the belief that the world of the white man had a religious obligation to “save” the savages. And so we enslaved them for our own economic gain and prided ourselves on our piety for so doing.

7) Our current marriage laws give a host of legal and financial advantages to couples, including everything from tax breaks, social security payments, tax-free employee benefits, immigration rights, and many more. We need to make sure that same-sex couples can enjoy the same legal and financial rights as opposite sex couples.

8) Jesus never mentioned sex in any of the gospels. Think about that. Just because we are obsessed with people’s private lives, there is no justification for such persecution of those who are simply born differently sexed. It is interesting to note that Jesus talked about eating at every opportunity. He talked about clean and unclean foods, clean and unclean people, because eating was considered to be the most intimate thing that people could do together. Jesus was constantly criticized for eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Perhaps this should tell us of how he would deal with Gays today.

The Inequity of Public Sector Pensions


This article is written about public pensions in California.  But many states face similar issues as well.  There is an outcry for reform of the public pension system. It is bankrupting our governments and creating the most egregious disparities between public and private sector workers.

Public employees are retiring in their fifties with fat pension checks, while private sector workers often must toil into their seventies out of financial necessity.  At present, public employees can “game” the system by inflating their final year earnings. This practice is called “pension spiking.”  Spiking is done by working lots of overtime in the final year.  And more disturbingly, public sector employees are able to cash in any unused sick leave accumulated over years of employment.  Private sector employees are generally not able to cash in unused sick leave at all.  But public sector employees not only get paid out on unused sick leave, but then use the proceeds of this payout to spike their pensions.  The pensions of public employees should not be calculated by their final year’s income, but by a lifetime of employer and employee retirement plan contributions and related investment earnings.

Recently a local police chief of a small town retired at age 53 at the very peak of her professional skills and abilities.  The loss of her professional skills and experience was to the city’s detriment.  But not only that, the police chief received an annual pension of $175,000 per year.  At that rate she will be paid over $2 million in pension benefits BEFORE she reaches age 66, the normal retirement age for private sector workers.

When a private sector employee retires, he or she must survive on a combination of Social Security plus their 401(k) retirement savings.  Their 401(k) account balance will depend upon three things:

  • Employee contributions
  • Employer matching contributions
  • The investment results on these accounts

When the market tanks, as it did in 2001 and 2008, no-one steps in to make the 401(k) plan investors whole.  But with public sector pensions, when the state pension funds lose money in the market, tax payers must cover the gap and make sure that the public sector employees receive the full value of their guaranteed pensions.

Public employee pensions should be designed to replicate Social Security plus the 401(k) plans upon which private sector employees must depend.  Workers and their employers would pay into retirement accounts. Employees would retire based on the value of funds accumulated in their retirement savings.

At the point of retirement, the accumulated funds would be annuitized over the expected life span of the retiree. Under such a system there would be equity between private and public sector workers, and no more unfunded public pension liabilities.

Greg

The American Heritage of Religious Dissent


Conservative Christians, especially those of the biblical fundamentalist variety, will tell us that America is a theocracy under their God’s rule.  They will tell us that America is a Christian nation, born of a divine covenant. They will attempt to use government and civil authority to compel us to live according to their God’s design. They will proclaim that if only we will follow their God, their God will bless us and our nation.  But if we should stray from their God’s ways we shall be destroyed.

There is also a Roman Catholic brand of fundamentalism that finds its foundation not in the scriptures, but in Roman Catholic doctrine on such issues as reproductive freedom.  Often biblical fundamentalists will unite with doctrinal fundamentalists to impose their social agendas upon society.

The conservative Christians will attack modern science, and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology.  They oppose the teachings of Darwin, even though Darwin’s work has prevailed against more than one hundred and fifty years of scientific challenge.  If these biblical literalists were consistent, instead of just opposing evolution and Charles Darwin, they would need to oppose Copernicus, Galileo and all that those who have followed for the last five hundred years.

The biblical world view consists of a flat earth covered by the firmament, which was an inverted dome,  and separating the waters from above the firmament from the waters below the firmament (Genesis 1:7-8). This view of the earth can be envisioned as a dinner plate covered by an inverted salad bowl.  Furthermore, the earth was created in 4004 BC according to Bishop Ussher’s literalist chronology.

In the same manner as these fundamentalist attack science and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology, these fundamentalist endeavored to stifle our democracy and to replace it with a fundamentalist theocracy which they would control.  If any American really believes that they would like to live in a theocracy, they should live for a while in a country such as Iran or Israel just to see what that would be like.

The conservative Christians will tell you that America was founded by Christians for Christian purposes.  But the part that the conservative Christians will not tell you is that America was settled by religious dissidents who were seeking religious freedom.  The Reformation in Europe brought in its wake centuries of religious warfare and persecutions.

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

“America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition).” America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition). Web. 27 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html&gt;.

European Persecution

Many conservative Christians seem to have forgotten the lessons learned in this violent and painful era of European history and seek to impose a new era of religious subjugation, domination and persecution.  They have forgotten that religious warfare and persecutions in Europe were the result of heavy-handed governments trying to impose uniformity in religious faith and practices by force.

The freedom of religion is a core American value, born out of the lessons learned in centuries of religious conflict in Europe. Freedom of religion is essential to our democracy.  It is also freedom from religion.  Every American is endowed with the inalienable right to worship God in a way that they choose, and/or to avoid religion all together.

America, and its great democratic traditions, was, is and always must be, a land of religious freedom, free of religious oppression and tyranny.  It must also be free of any coercive religious doctrine imposed by the government upon its citizens.

The Declaration of Independence contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This great expression of human rights contains the mention of the Creator.  But what people often fail to realize is that this statement is Deist and not Christian in its tone and content.  Deism, as defined in Wikipedia, is,

”a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an intelligent creator.”

Note that this passage from the Declaration of Independence contains no appeals to religious affiliations, religious doctrines, or sacred scriptures of any type.  Rather, it is born out of the Deist notion that God can be perceived through logic and observation of the world.  The Deist God of American civil religion is much like the “higher power” in a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Deist God of American civil religion exists without sacred scriptures, creeds, sacred history, or religious affiliation.  The God of the Deists is abstract, formless and devoid of doctrine.  Therefore, no one may presume to speak for God, or to cite divine sanction for their own personal political agenda in the public life and governance of our nation.

We are a free people, free to worship God in our own way,  or not at all. We do not need “permission” from religious zealots or ecclesiastical authorities  to make our own religious or spiritual choices.  Our government must, under the constitution, be neutral on all religious questions, and must always defend our religious liberties against all oppression, either civil or ecclesiastical.

NOTE:  The recent political campaign by Rick Santorum, wherein he tried to deny reproductive services to workers at Roman Catholic related institutions was not an act of “religious freedom” for the Roman Catholic Church, but rather would be an act of religious oppression by the Roman Catholic Church against its non-sectarian workers.  The Roman Catholic Church has the right to create any rules it wants for those under religious orders. It also has the right to encourage various religious practices to its membership.

But it has no right to dictate the reproductive choices for a any workers not under religious orders.  For example, a Methodist or non church going accountant working at a Roman Catholic Church related hospital must not be denied the right to a vasectomy or an abortion because such practice might run counter to Roman Catholic doctrine.   And the Roman Catholic Church has no right to deny health insurance coverage to this hypothetical employee for these purpose.  If the hospital is hiring from the general public, then it is operating in the public domain, and therefore must follow all of the rules for all public employers.

Greg

Pentacost and The Global Village


United Church of Cloverdale

Sermon: Acts 2:1-21

05/23/2010

Greg Bentall

It was nightfall in the village but the temperature was still very hot.  My hosts asked me if I wanted hot water for my shower, but I declined.

Agua fria, por favor.  Hay mucho calor.

I explained in my very rudimentary Spanish.  The village of Tres Reyes (Three Kings) is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, deep in the heart of Mayan Country.  I had travelled into this region on many occasions to scuba dive and to explore Mayan ruins.  But to sample village life was a rare treat.  I was there with a group of college students and their leaders who were spending their Spring Break building an addition to a church in nearby Cozumel.  We arrived in the village on Saturday night after a day of hard labor building the church.  It was nice to take a break from our labors and to spend some time absorbing the culture.

There was a hymn sing at the church that night.  While the songs were unfamiliar, the spirit was easy to recognize.  The little church rocked with music and joyous laughter.

It is easy to feel God’s grace in the Yucatan.  The land is hot and dry with scrub brush and bramble bushes that are almost impossible to conquer.  There is no surface water anywhere to drink.  Every village and town in the Yucatan is centered on a CEYNOTE, what we would generally call a sink hole.  At the bottom of the ceynotes are deep pools filled with water, drawn from the underground rivers of the Yucatan.  To find a ceynote in the dessert is to find a habitat where life is possible.  It is a gift from a gracious God than allows life and community.

We slept in simple hammocks tied from string.  The houses were simple stick structures built on concrete slabs.  The hammocks could be retied for day-time use as various forms of easy chairs.  The only alternative was hard, straight back chairs cut from logs.

On Sunday morning we joined together for the formal worship service.  We prayed and sang and broke bread together.

There was one young woman who insisted on conversing with me in Spanish.  It was a real struggle, but somehow I was able to put words together that she could understand.  We talked about a lot of things.  For example, in Tres Reyes she told me that girls often marry at age twelve or thirteen.  Then she asked me at what age girls marry in my country.

At the end of the weekend in Tres Reyes, I knew that something remarkable had happened.  Somehow we knew that this village with its faithful saints of the church was now a part of us.

+++

In College I spent a year in England, and worshipped at an Anglican Church.  On weekends I would tour the country.  Some of my favorite sites were the beautiful gothic cathedrals that fill the land.  I came to love the richness of Anglican worship, with its glorious liturgies, colorful vestments.  But the part I liked best was the wonderful pipe organs capable of shaking both the flesh and the spirit of all the worshipers within those stone cathedrals!  One did not so much HEAR the music, but rather FELT it, shaking the whole building and causing every living cell to vibrate.

But the most remarkable cathedral in England is not gothic at all.  Coventry Cathedral was gutted by German bombs in World War II.  All that remains is the exterior walls and the steeple.

But attached to the old ruin is a beautiful, modern, Anglican cathedral that was constructed after the war with massive help from Germany as a monument to world peace.

One of the interesting stories about Coventry is that Winston Churchill had intelligence to show that Coventry was about to be bombed.  Coventry was, and is, an important industrial city in the Midlands.  The problem for Churchill was that he knew of the German attack because of the ENIGMA machine.  This was a captured German cipher machine used by the Germans to transmit battlefield commands.  Capturing the Enigma machine was a development of monumental proportions for the Brits.  With the Enigma machine, English commanders sometimes even knew the German battle plans before they had even been sent to the German commanders.

The Brits could not let on that they had the Enigma machine.  It was just too valuable of a secret.  So, Churchill’s choice was to allow Coventry to be bombed, rather than to reveal the Enigma secret.

Such is the insanity of war.

In this violent and conflicted world, Coventry Cathedral is a holy shrine of world peace.

+++

Seminario Evangelico in San Juan, Puerto Rico was created by a broadly ecumenical group of churches in Puerto Rico so as to have a place to educate their own women and men for ministry.  There I was once able to study side by side with the local pastors.  Apart from our coursework we would discuss all sorts of issues, including Puerto Rico’s future.

The status of the future of Puerto Rico is a hot-button issue to be sure.  There are three basic choices:

  • Puerto Rico could continue in its present configuration as a commonwealth of the US.  But somehow this status will always feel like “unfinished business.”
  • Puerto Rico could become an independent nation.
  • Or, Puerto Rico could become the fifty-first state of the US.

In discussing these issues with the Puerto Rican pastors, I was amazed to find that they would all campaign for INDEPENDENCE.

I was truly shocked and stunned by this attitude.  I told them that I could not understand.  I asked them why they would not want to become an American state.  And what they told me were words that were hard to hear.

I was told that the US espouses wonderful values.  It promotes peace, freedom, human rights, economic development, and all of those wonderful values.  The problem, these pastors told me, is that the US refuses to actually LIVE by those values that it espouses.  They told me how they perceived the US as a world class tyrant who overthrows even duly elected governments.  They told me how the US will always act in its own political and economic interests regardless of the tyranny being imposed upon the hemisphere.

They spoke of the time when President Eisenhower invaded Nicaragua in an effort to keep the workers of the United Fruit Company from striking.  The US supports organized labor at home, but will deny it when it foreign workers seek better wages and work conditions when working for US companies abroad.  After all, a strike in Nicaragua against the United Fruit Company might raise the price of bananas stateside, a situation that Eisenhower simply could not tolerate.  And that American intervention into Nicaragua destabilized that country for the next fifty years.

They told me that they would be ashamed to call themselves Americans until such time as the US decides to live up to it’s most noble values.

One of the pastors then invited me to worship at his church on the north coast of the Island, a short distance west of San Juan.  When I got there I found the liveliest music imaginable.  And the surprise was that there was a group of four or five women who were dancing themselves into a total frenzy during the music.  They were all dressed in vivid flowered dresses and made for an amazing worship experience.

+++

The METROPOLITAN of Kiev was visiting Washington DC as a part of a Soviet entourage.  The Metropolitan was what we would call an ARCHBISHOP in the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Metropolitan had asked to meet with religious leaders.  And so, his Soviet handlers tried to set up a meeting between him and various astrologers, spiritualists, tarot card readers and psychics.  But the Metropolitan rebelled.  He said that he was interested not in spiritualism, but in the HOLY SPIRIT.

He finally got his way and was able to hold a meeting of church leaders.  I received an invitation from my role as a Conference staff member in Baltimore.

The Metropolitan told us of the urgent need to rebuild the church in the Soviet Union.  This was a time when the restrictions on religious life in the USSR was beginning to ease.   He told us of how the Christian message had nearly been extinguished by decades of Communist rule.  Most of the church buildings had been either taken over or destroyed.  A great many Orthodox priest had been put to death.  The only remaining Russian Orthodox priests were a few very old men, who had been ordained before the Bolshevik revolution.

The Metropolitan told us about how the new birth of faith had become a challenge to the state.  And indeed, the Soviet empire fell a few years later, due largely to a resurgence of both the Christian and Islamic religions.  Women and men at prayer can bring the most powerful empires to their knees.

The Metropolitan then passed out his bag of gifts to all of the participants.  He gave us a picture book of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Unfortunately, this was written in Russian.  He also gave our commemorative plaques, that were again, written in Russian.  And so I am not sure what the plaques commemorated.

But the best gift of all was cans of CAVIAR.  The aides to the Metropolitan told us that this was the GOOD STUFF, genuine sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea.  Now I love fish roe, but have never experienced the “GOOD STUFF.”  Never having experienced a life of opulence, I was at a loss at how to make use of this precious gift.  I let the caviar sit around for several years, waiting for the “RIGHT MOMENT” to indulge in this opulent treat, but somehow, the RIGHT MOMENT never came along.   But one ordinary day, several years later, I decided that it was time to try the exquisite caviar.  When I opened the can it was rotten, and the opportunity was wasted.  This is what happens when we fail to use our gifts.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  At that time the Church was endowed with every good and perfect gift.  It was a time when all divisions were overcome, and the church emerged as a global fellowship without barriers or boarders.

+++

My Friends, the Church is much bigger than all of us.  It is much bigger than we can possibly understand.  We are two billion people around the globe, speaking every language and tongue, living on every continent, with diverse nationalities, theologies and styles of worshiping God.  And yet we are of one Spirit, one Lord and Savior of us all.  We share one bread and drink one cup.

In earlier weeks we studied the end of the division between Jews and Greeks.  Today we celebrate the end to the divisions between all peoples and nations.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made into one holy and global fellowship.  There are no differences that divide us, or ever COULD divide us, so long as we faithfully worship and serve our God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

WE ARE THE CHURCH, and that is a very big roll to fill.  There is no room for petty jealousies to keep us from fulfilling our mission as SAINTS OF THE CHURCH.

Our congregation has been taking a TIME OUT, to sort out our differences, and to find a way to go forward.  Now, with the DISCERNMENT process nearly completed, we have elected a new slate of officers and are now ready to move forward in our mission.

Let us not waste the precious gifts that we have been given.  Let us join with women and men throughout the whole EUCUMENE, in serving Christ and worshiping him.

Greg

John Calvin and the American Experiment in Democracy


United Church of Cloverdale

Sermon: The Theology of Liberation

Amos 2: 6-8

07/04/10

Greg Bentall

Before there was a Thomas Jefferson, before there was a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, before there was a John Locke, there was John Calvin.  John Calvin, the progenitor of the Reformed Tradition, of which we are a part, first propounded the modern notion of freedom and democracy that has been an ever growing force in western culture since the Sixteenth Century.  Although Calvin was a pastor and theologian, his writings did much to shape the modern world, and by the term “Modern World,” I mean everything since the year 1500.

Calvin opposed tyranny in all of its forms, whether it was the ecclesiastical tyranny of the popes and bishops, or the civil tyranny of the kings and feudal lords.  The Reformed Tradition, true to its Calvinist roots, has always been a political institution.  We are concerned with social justice, the ordering of society, the restraint upon tyranny, the recognition of divine dignity which is the birthright of every human being regardless of her or his worldly condition.

The birth of our nation was deeply and profoundly rooted in Calvinism.  Calvinism was brought to our shores by:

  • English Puritans
  • Scottish Presbyterians
  • Dutch and German Reformed
  • French Huguenots.

The Declaration of Independence was the annunciation that the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA could no longer live under British tyranny.  This document was a bold expression of pure Calvinism, and a guiding force to shape the great American experiment is democracy for centuries to come, both at home and throughout the world.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But the democracy being created was not for all.  At least not back in the Eighteenth Century when these glorious words were written.  These “self-evident” truths applied only to land-owning, white males.  The sexism in this glorious document was quite intentional.  “All MEN are created equal.”   Women were excluded from the political process.  Also excluded were slaves and Native Americans.  These were considered to be less than human, and therefore were not considered to be endowed with “inalienable rights.”  In the counting of population, for example, a slave was counted as three-fifths of a man.

But these high and noble words have grown beyond their original meaning.  Having once articulated these lofty sentiments our nation has been propelled to extend their meaning.

  • The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment broadened the understanding of citizenship, to include freed saves, Native Americans, and people of foreign birth.  It also established the doctrine of Equal Protection Under Law, a principle that we continue to struggle to implement.
  • The Fifteenth Amendment gave the right to vote to all males, regardless of race or color.  It specifically extended the right to vote to former slaves.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment gave WOMEN the right to vote.
  • The Twenty-Fourth Amendment ended the poll taxes that had previously prevented many poor, especially minorities, from voting.
  • The Twenty-Sixth Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.  [Eve of Destruction:  “You are old enough to kill, but not for voting.  You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’.” 
  • The proposed Twenty-Eighth Amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment, has only been ratified by 35 states, and it requires ratification by 38 states to become part of the constitution.  Congress passed the ERA in 1972.  Because of the time delay the ratification process may be voided, even it this amendment were to be approved by three more states.  There are many who believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is actually unnecessary, as the issues addressed in it were already settled by the Fourteenth Amendment under the “Equal protection” clause.

One of the great realities of life is that we EVOLVE towards what we ENVISION.  Even if our view of democracy in the Eighteenth Century was less than adequate, the mere fact that we embraced democracy in PRINCIPLE has meant that we have been driven to an ever deepening understanding.  Where we focus is where we end up going.

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The forces of democratization, launched by John Calvin centuries ago, continue to impact the world and its people.  Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest has been instrumental in developing Liberation Theology.  Although Gutierrez is a Catholic, his theology includes much of Calvin’s teachings, particularly about the dignity of all people.

Liberation Theology aims to lify the poor and downtrodden out of their lives of poverty, misery and oppression.  It teaches that each person has value as a child of God, regardless of her or his worldly condition.  It teaches that all people should have access to the necessities of life, and to participation in the political process.  It tries to form community among all peoples and nations, all races and tribes, and all economic strata of every society.  It speaks to the yearnings of the poor and oppressed wherever they might find themselves.

Living in this country makes it hard to understand the poverty that passes for normal in much of the world.  I had some interesting discussions with the poor of many lands during my travels.  I was once asked by some church people in Mexico if poor people in the United States had cars and owned refrigerators.  I told them that this was mostly true.  They were shocked and amazed, for to them, owning a car and a refrigerator would make them wealthy.

Once I toured the garbage dump in Mexico City.  Many families and their children, literally hundreds of people, lived in the dump, and survived by scavenging materials to be sold for recycling.  The parents and children would walk barefoot on mountains of broken glass and rusted cans to find salvageable materials for sale.  Shelters consisted of tin and cardboard shacks, or even lean-tos, erected on top of the garbage heaps.  There were no schools, no sanitation, no clean water, and no medical care available.  And the worst part of this deplorable situation was that there was a long waiting list of families who were waiting to GET IN to the dump, because it offered them the prospect of a BETTER life.

I have worshiped with members of Christian Base Communities.  Such groups often meet in people’s houses to study the scriptures and pray.  In  Christian Base Communities it is required that each meeting end in some action item that will improve the lives of the people attending.  This might be planning a community garden, or finding a way to tutor the children, or providing for one of their members who are even more destitute than the rest.

These people learn from the scriptures, and from their prayers and meditations, that they are Children of God, and worthy of respect.

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When I was in college, preparing to enroll in seminary, I studied German and Greek.  German has long been the language of choice for all budding theological students.  German has been the language of theology for the past five hundred years.  Or, perhaps a better way to say this is that German has been the language of EUROCENTRIC theology for the past five hundred years.  But the Eurocentric model has become old and stale.  New voices from the Third World are now changing the axis and focus of Christianity.  If I were preparing for the ministry today I would study SPANISH instead of German.  This would be to read the emerging works of people like Gutierrez, who have brought freshness and urgency to theological studies that has been lacking in the old Eurocentric model.

The old, Eurocentric establishment, and especially the Catholic Church, is deeply fearful of the new liberation.  In 1984 and 1986 the Vatican issued edicts condemning the Liberation Theology movement as being Marxist in orientation, and therefore dangerous to the established order.  We need to remember that the previous pope, John Paul II, was a person who fought communism in his homeland of Poland.

But the Liberation Theology movement is anything but Marxist.  It is religious and not atheistic.  It stands for human dignity and freedom, and not political subjugation.  And when the movement advocates for such economic necessities as land reform and workers rights, it is grounded in prophetic Christianity and not Marxist ideology.

The irony for the Roman Catholic Church is that there are vastly more Catholics in Latin America as there are in Europe.  The three largest Catholic nations on Earth are:

  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Philippines

But is will be a long time before we find a Latin American pope, or any significant Catholic leadership from Latin America.  The old order will be slow to change, and resistant to the end of Eurocentrism.

But the winds of freedom and democracy are still blowing.  And this spirit cannot be held back.  In Christian Base Communities I found people who had discovered their worth as Children of God, and who had come to understand that they were worthy of full participation in the human community.  And once this message got loose, there was no way to stop its spread.

Greg

It’s time to …


Make voting count.

It’s time to dump the Electoral College (January 2011)

The 2012 presidential campaign will soon be underway, if it is not already.  No one wants to see another Electoral College tragedy like the one that occurred in 2000.  George W.  Bush was elected by a handful of votes in Florida that overrode the choice of millions of voters across the country.  In truth, the election was decided by one vote when the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave Florida and the election to Bush.

The Electoral College is full of mathematical aberrations which make for unfair elections.  Wyoming has a population of 563,626 and 3 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 187,875 people.  California has a population of 37,253,956 and 55 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 677,345 people.  Thus the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.6 times as much as the vote of a California resident.

The Electoral College system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing parties in each state.  If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas you need not even bother to vote for president in 2012.  Your vote for president will not even be counted in this winner-take-all system.  The only way to make your vote count is to move your voter registration to a swing state, like Florida, where it just might make a difference.  But such shenanigans are shameful and ought not to be necessary.

The Electoral College made sense in Eighteenth Century America.  Back then America was much like Europe is today.  The European Community is still a collection of nations, even though there is the beginning of a European government. In the Eighteenth Century colonial America was also a collection of nations.  People were Virginians or Georgians or New Yorkers.  No one thought of us as a federation.  In the Eighteenth Century it made sense to vote for the president by states.

The name “The United States of America” comes from the Declaration of Independence.  But what the Declaration of Independence really says is, “… the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA.”  The emphasis was on the individual states and not on a union.

It was the Civil War that finally fused this collection of states into a nation.  The Spanish American War in 1898 marked the birth of the American superpower, capable of influencing events beyond our borders.

Now in the Twenty-First Century the Electoral College is a dangerous and destructive historical anachronism.  We are one nation and we need to vote as one nation.  The elected president should be the person who commands the most votes regardless of the states in which those votes were cast.

Greg