Pastoral Care for Obamacare

Now that the Affordable Care Act has provoked the unavoidable controversies, I find myself missing true religious leadership during this process.

You might be liberal or conservative, in either your theology or your politics, but as a clergy-person, you are taught to stand with your people during times of change, and reassure them that, “Yes, change is hard. Yes, change is scary. When familiar things get rearranged, it feels like you’re under attack.”

Depending on your theology, you then say, “You’ve been through stuff like this before. You know people who have been through stuff like this before. Change is hard. Change is scary. You feel like you’re being attacked. Let’s see if you are really being attacked, or whether God is working in your life to make things better.”

This is where some facts come in. Not big picture government facts, but personal information: “Do you have health insurance right now? What is the best part of it? What is the worst part of it? Think about your own family. What do you know from coworkers and neighbors with the same coverage?”

Then you stay personal, not political. The religious path is to stay away from the blame game. “How did you feel when that happened? What were people telling you? Did anyone step up to help you with the other stuff at that time? Who was that ? What did they do for you?”

Depending on your theology, this is a chance to call on God, with a prayer of thanksgiving for everything that worked. The family members that loaned money. The neighbor who cut your lawn without being asked (this really happened to me). The coworker who kept your desk up-to-date while you were out. The Meal Train that brought food while your family lacked a cook. Community. Connections. The things health insurance never offered, and never will.

And then, back to health care. Not the law, your life.

“How much of what worked for you in that situation is affected by the Affordable Health Care Act, either for good or ill? Do you even know?”

“So if you don’t know the answer to this, can we just say a prayer for courage and God’s love while you work to figure this out?”

If liberal religious groups really want to make this law happen, their first step is to quit talking about policy and start setting up small groups to work together on the scariness of this adjustment.  To set up prayers for everyone making this adjustment, even just as part of worship. Name it as a stress sweeping through our nation, just as much as immigration injustice (however you define THAT!) or an unexpected wave of water.

Politicians are going to be reworking this thing for a long time. Meanwhile, we, in religion, we’ve got people we ought to be caring for. And the more strength we can bring to their souls in this stage, the more strength they will bring to the stages of correction and adjustment that come next.

Here’s Where the Legislative Coup Took Place

Hello, moderates, liberals, and ticked-off tax-paying non-voters.

Today Politywonk reaches into a former part of her life to take a close look at how the 113th Congress changed the rules of procedure to prevent anyone except Eric Canton, the Tea Party based Majority Leader, from bringing forward a bill to reopen the government or change the debt limit. This was shown to us in a now-viral video, linked here.

Who did this? Well, that would be The House Committee on Rules. They are, literally, the people who make the rules. And as they got organized in 2010, you will notice, they commented among themselves about changes in personnel, both of membership and staff.

So who did we wind up with, when the reorganization was done? You will note, perhaps, that there are more than two Republicans for every Democrat, and the only states they represent are Tea Party states.

And who voted for this new rule? Look and see if your member of Congress took part in this. In particular, if your member of Congress claims that they are a “moderate” Democrat or Republican, you can use this vote for a litmus test. There are substantially more votes in favor than there are Tea Party Republicans, so some folks are telling you today that they were moderates, when, in fact, they are secret enablers of Ted Cruz.

Back when Politywonk was a dedicated young antiwar protester, she was taught by her elders that by the time a bill gets to the floor of the Congress, you have won or lost your issue in committee. Clearly, that still applies.

So perhaps the first step in creating a more balanced House of Representatives begins not with watching C-Span (the most popular channel in my house), but in reading those dull transcripts issued from the House Committee on Rules.

And if your member of Congress voted for this rules change, let them know you’ll be watching to be sure they don’t do so again.


How do you keep them from doing it again in January?


1) Notice that this will be happening right while you’re dealing with Christmas and your end-of-year reports at work. So you won’t be watching the news that much, and not with that much attention.

2) They will have to have a new House Resolution on the budget. Possibly two, depending on how they do the debt limit. That’s what you’re looking at.

3) IN THE RESOLUTION ON FUNDING THE GOVERNMENT AND SETTING THE DEBT, pay attention to the procedures clause. Who can move the measure to full vote? And if it has to come in from the Senate again, who has the power to move THAT to full vote?

So that’s what you’re doing, folks:

You’re watching your rep to see how they vote on this detail, and you’re watching for the new money bills, and you’re looking at the Rules Committee to see who they allow to have the power to bring them to the floor.

Pastoral Activism

Having grown up in a marriage (still strong) of two people who did not hesitate to fight in front of their children, I am as deeply distressed by the acrimonious bullying as I am by the content of what is being said.

But as a German-heritage American, I also know that Nazism got its foothold from people like me, who felt that the best way to take care of their own highest needs was to accommodate Hitler and his bullying leadership. They had been elected, had they not, so it must be a legitimate partner for conversation. (Here is where it helps to remember Goebels’s strategy for getting elected: “Tell big lies, not little ones. The big ones they’ll believe, the little ones, they can figure out.” So stepping back is not a live option for any of us.

So what to do?

First, I must hate the sin and love the sinner. That means that I must as thoroughly condemn the bullies and big liars on the left, as on the right. Up here on New England’s Left Coast (Burlington, Vermont), we recently had the shameful sight of anti-war activists calling on Senator Bernie Sanders (who did come out when they knocked) and shouting interruptions into his statement that he planned to wait and hear from all sides before coming to a decision on his vote. “Commit to voting no,” the insisted. When Bernie said he would leave if they did not let him finish, they apologized and settled down. To their credit, they tried to do as well when meeting staffmembers for our other senator and our one member of the House of Representatives. 

But I’ve seen them in other meetings, along with the folks who oppose our airport stationing the new F-35s, if and when they ever get delivered. Some of them are well-behaved, but there is not much commitment to listening. And they are quick to dismiss the views of the other side, wrapping them in belittling language about motives that the left considers immoral.

In this era of shouting and bullying, those of us in the center must struggle not to reclaim, but to rebuilt, the ground in which we wish to plant our civic and personal dreams. To do that, we must give up the religious exuberance of testifying, and take up the religious duty to listen.

To listen is not just to hear. It is not to gather ammunition for the next round. It is to open oneself to these two painful outcomes:


We must venture forth believing that we are going to meet good people, God’s people. As God’s people, they have good in them, good ideas, good motives. As God’s child, our job is to believe in that goodness enough to find it.


In accepting relationship, we are acknowledging that our ideas, our lives, our dreams are going to be changed. The motives and needs of our sisters and brothers are going to seep into our own view of what is good, what is right, what is justice.

Do you think this is too hard? It has been done before. The best example, by far, is the Freedom Summer portion of the Civil Rights Movement. Young white women and men of all faiths trained themselves to knock on the doors, eat the food, sleep in the churches, of the poorest African Americans in the most hidden corners of the South. This would inevitably subject them to ridicule, hatred, even attack, from white Southerners whose way of life was coming under attack.

And the activists would not fight back. They would stay on their pre-set course, no matter what.

It would be hard: they had training sessions before setting out.

Our error was in not coming back, a generation later. We let ourselves be imprinted with the message of the moment: that racism was the whole problem. We didn’t recognize that racism had white victims as well, poor whites, uneducated folks, whose fragile lives gained their only dignity from the power to victimize African Americans. Anyone could do it, anywhere. Dominate a sidewalk, stand in front of a water fountain, set fire to a cross on someone’s lawn.

What white liberal activists didn’t realize was that the loss of these violent outlets put these white folk into a position of powerlessness. So a new generation came for every party. Those of us who grew up among Freedom Summer activists adopted their message about racism, rather than their process, of going forth to meet and listen. If we had repeated their process instead of their message, we would have learned firsthand, that poor White southerners now faced the terrifying prospect of entering a class war with new Black allies, against the symbolic (or real) White kin from whose success they previously had derived vicarious stature.

We couldn’t do it. We had our unions. Why didn’t they just form unions? We had our schools. Why didn’t they just improve their educations? We had our social institutions. Why didn’t they just move away from glitzy consumerism into genuine theater, art, music, which at once represents and questions the fundamentals of the human condition?

Is it too late for folks to listen to each other? With the national media enthralled by the shouting match, how do we set up a shelter for reasoning? Where would it even be?