Relgion and Politics
Saint Andrew the Apostle
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)
EITHER the readings for Tuesday of 1 Advent, p. 936
Psalms 5, 6 (morning) 10, 11 (evening)
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
OR the readings for St. Andrew, p. 996
Morning Prayer: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Corinthians 4:1-16
Evening Prayer: Psalms 96, 100; Isaiah 55:1-5; John 1:35-42
I chose the readings for Tuesday of 1 Advent
One of the striking things about reading regularly through the scriptures, is how often the readings address issues of justice. A remarkable portion of holy writ concerns itself with things many people would label as political or economic issues. Because the columns I write in the newspaper are often a commentary on the intersection of religion & spiritual values with political & economic issues, I hear many objections from people who believe that religion is supposed to address individuals and their moral and spiritual life. They tell me that proper religion addresses the individual with the call to be upright and generous. Economic injustices are best addressed neighbor to neighbor or through charitable kindness from faithful congregations, not through governmental policies.
But that's not the approach of scripture. Over and over the prophets speak to the system -- especially to the rulers, the powerful and to the economic elite. Isaiah decries corruption and greed in today's reading. "Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow's cause does not come before them."
Isaiah could be talking about today's politics, so dominated by lobbyists and by the need for candidates to raise enormous sums to run for public office. "Money equals access" is the prevailing wisdom in Washington.
How different might public policy, the tax code, and financial oversight be if their primary focus were to "defend the orphan, and the widow"? I belong to an organization that tries to act as a lobbying agent for the needs of children and families -- the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. The group has made a name for itself by working both sides of the political aisle in a non-partisan way and by producing solid, research based information about policies that help, or hurt, families, especially the poor. The group has had many successes. During the Huckabee administration Arkansas passed an improved Medicaid program for children, ARKids First. Our state is among the leaders in offering pre-kindergarten education for at-risk children. Access to quality pre-K education is one of the key elements to bridging the performance gap between privileged and under-privileged children.
Every year Arkansas Advocates has a constructive agenda for our legislature and our national congress. One victory per year is considered a good year though. Progress is slow.
The limitations are usually about money. And money means taxes. Arkansas has one of the most regressive tax codes in the nation. The only tax we can pass with a majority vote is a sales tax. Sales taxes hit the poor disproportionately. Middle-income families (those with less than $40,000) pay 12 cents of every dollar they earn in state and local taxes (mostly sales taxes) compared with just 6 cents on every dollar paid by the richest 1 percent (income above $326,000). One of our policy goals is a state earned income tax credit (EITC) for low-income working families. That's unlikely to pass in a tight economy.
We don't even talk about raising income tax rates for people like me who can afford to pay them. It takes a 75% "yes" vote to pass any tax except sales in Arkansas. Recently we had a rare success when we passed a tobacco tax in order to fund health care needs. The bill had the double benefit of raising the price of an unhealthy and addictive drug while funding needed health care. Even at that, it took some incredible courage by one of our neighboring legislators to get the measure passed by the minimum vote.
Isaiah and the other prophets had a lot to say about government and about economic policy. They decried greed and the abuse of wealth and power. They told the leaders that they were responsible for the welfare of the poor and vulnerable -- the widow, orphan and alien. They spoke in the Name of the Lord. Justice, especially economic justice, is a God issue.
I remember as a child picking up the religious norms of my environment -- the buckle of the Bible Belt. Religion was supposed to stay out of politics, they said. Religion was about individuals' souls and their morality.
But then I started reading the Bible. The Bible is a very political document. The Bible has some strong economic opinions. Today Isaiah speaks God's word to power again: "Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness." "Defend the orphan, and the widow's cause."
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-- Morning Reflection Podcasts
About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html -- Click for Divine Hours
Discussion Blog: To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.
See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org
Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church