By Vincent Lachina
Trying to predict the future is a lot like writing for the Farmer’s Almanac. It’s anyone’s guess what will lie beyond the present. Weather forecasters cannot tell us what the weather will be weeks from now, even with modern technology. And certainly you and I cannot know what lies ahead in the New Year 2015. At the same time, there are some near certainties that can be noted in the world in which I am called to ministry, that of reproductive justice work.
A new congress has taken oaths of office in our nation’s capitol, and a new era is just beginning. Perhaps the most surprising reality for me is that 92 percent of our new congress identifies as “Christian.” In some ways, that should give us citizens a feeling of comfort, but in truth, it can be a cause for anxiety in itself. That large percentage of one faith tradition is out of proportion with the American population, and thus does not reflect the pluralist nature of our country’s faith communities.
In my ministry, I am privileged to cross the spectrum of faiths and in doing so, I have gained a deep appreciation for the diversity of religious teachings and practices that form this country. Though I come from a Christian tradition myself as an ordained Baptist minister of more than 50 years, I pull away from the concept that the United States is a ‘Christian Nation.’ I believe we are, instead, a wonderful mixture of ethnicities, beliefs and traditions.
With this new ‘Christian Congress,’ I have some personal anxieties about what I see on the horizon for me and for many others. The three issues that I believe will be at the forefront of my awareness and concern during 2015 are: religious freedom; wealth inequality; and for my work specifically, more severe restrictions on access to women’s reproductive health care. If I were a betting man (and I am not), I would wager that these three issues will emerge in Washington, DC with some level of haste.
From many areas of society we hear people complain that their ‘freedom of religion’ is being restricted. It has risen to the level of being a common chorus for those who seek to circumvent any law or restriction they do not like. For example, asked to issue a same-sex marriage license if you are opposed to same-sex marriage and the refusal to do so will almost without exception be couched in the phrase, “My freedom of religion is being abused.” It is so common to hear that type of rationale that we have come to expect it.
The reality is that “freedom of religion” must also be coupled with “freedom from religion.” If we have the right to practice our own faith traditions, do we not also have the right not to be forced to be obligated to anyone else’s beliefs? In those instances of conflict, whose religion is more important, yours or mine? It will likely not be a surprise to anyone when Congress will introduce new laws aimed at solidifying new levels of ‘religious freedom.’
The second concern that looms large on the horizon is certainly the deepening of the gap between the have’s and the have not’s. Pope Francis has wisely raised this issue in his messages to his own flock and to the world. People of faith cannot justify a world in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is even more difficult for those professing to follow the teachings of Christ to believe this to be the right path. How do we justify giving tax advantages to large corporations and at the same time reduce the food stamp program designed to help the unemployed or needy? Scriptural teachings do not seem to support that kind of action.
My own personal investment of ministry is currently reproductive justice and women’s health care. This surely colors my views of what will certainly be a more divisive and harmful issue in the very near future. A more conservative and right leaning Congress is very likely to introduce several pieces of legislation restricting access to women’s reproductive health care and will attempt to deny any funding from Medicaid or Medicare that goes to Planned Parenthood (though these funds specifically forbid any funding of abortion). Both of these efforts will continue the trend of restricting women’s access to legal abortions. This trend is reflected in the 341 laws introduced in state legislatures during 2014 alone which would limit access to care for women.
How then does one face the New Year of 2015 without anxiety about any one of these issues? That is a question whose answer will be sought throughout the coming days. But these are my anxieties, not yours. They are at the heart of my prayer life daily as I seek to honor my calling to a world in need of hope and healing. It is, for me, the only way I can face the future while working in the present. So, 2015? Bring it on.