Since 1996, low-income Missourians with a past drug-related felony conviction have been barred for life from eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a crucial lifeline that helps struggling families put food on the table.
While most states have modified or removed their lifetime SNAP bans in recent years, Missouri has kept theirs in place—until now.
After faith groups like Metropolitan Congregations United and Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (affiliate organizations of Gamaliel) engaged the faith community to end this cruel policy, the Missouri legislature recently passed a bill by overwhelming margins that would make people who have served their time eligible for nutrition assistance again if they have completed a substance abuse program or been ruled to not need such treatment.
Rolling back wrongheaded “tough on crime” policies that grew out of the war on drugs isn’t just smart criminal-justice policy, it’s critical to ensuring that former offenders have a chance to rebuild their lives and support their families.
The bill is now on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk, and he is expected to sign it in the coming weeks, giving at-risk individuals and their families the food they deserve.
Last year, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina boldly confronted the extremist agenda set forth by the state’s governor and legislature and completely transformed the political conversation in the Tar Heel state and across the country.
This week, they got back to work.
On Monday morning, clergy and laypeople led by Rev. William Barber II returned to the state capitol in Raleigh to resume the campaign to defeat policies that restrict voting rights and devastate struggling families. Hundreds marched quietly with their mouths taped shut to protest the legislature’s use of obscure rules to clamp down on protesters’ ability assemble at the statehouse. This kind of political maneuvering shows just how scared these politicians are – for good reason.
As the 2014 elections approach, the force of the Moral Mondays movement only promises to grow. At the Moral March that brought 80,000 to Raleigh earlier this year, Rev. Barber brought the crowd to a peak when he said “we will pray, we will get off of our knees and work, we will speak truth to power…and we will voter like never before!”
This fall, the eyes of the nation will be on a handful of US Senate and gubernatorial races where issues like Medicaid expansion will weigh heavily on voters’ consciences. No political ad or stump speech can shape the debate and speak truth to our better angels like a faith-led mass movement.
Many faith leaders have stronglycondemned the Religious Right’s recent efforts to give businesses the right to deny services and accommodations to LGBT people.
But this week in Houston, where the City Council is debating an ordinance that would ban such discrimination in housing and employment, a pastor made a deeply troubling case in favor of discrimination.
At a Houston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Pastor Becky Riggle of Grace Community Church was asked by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen if a business could deny service based not only on a customers’ sexual identity, but also on their religion.
Here’s how it played out:
“But what if someone doesn’t believe in my faith?” Cohen, who is Jewish, asked Riggle.
“I’m saying they have the right, if they want to, to be able to refuse service if it goes against their religious beliefs,” Riggle responded.
“If I’m asking for service and my faith is something that troubles them, they have a right to refuse me service? So you’re saying yes, they do have a right to refuse me service as someone of the Jewish faith?” Cohen asked.
Riggle said, “Yes, I am saying that. But that is not the issue that we’re talking about today.”
While this admission might sound shocking, it’s a clear logical extension of the thrust of the Religious Right’s pro-discrimination arguments.
According to the Houston Chronicle, faith leaders across the city support the nondiscrimination ordinance:
The Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange, co-pastor of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church Edmiston-Lange said her church “historically has thought of God as a God of love, and that all human beings are God’s children. God doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the law.”
The Rev. Lisa Hunt, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the first Episcopal congregation in Texas to bless same-sex covenants, said passage of the ordinance is “very important for the life of the city.”
“Moral fabric is shaped not only by personal religious belief, but by the public values that get articulated into law,” she said. “So, I think a fundamental religious value to me is to respect the dignity of every human being. One of the ways we do that is to ensure that every individual is treated fairly, equally and with respect.”
The Rev. Harvey Clemons, of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said the proposed ordinance “reflects our faith traditions as ambassadors of Christ.
Missouri is in the midst of a legislative fight to expand Medicaid in the state. On Tuesday, hundreds of activists, including clergy, packed the Missouri State Senate, demanding health care for all Missourians.
Now, Missouri’s faith leaders are calling on one specific member of that assembly in a new radio ad. State Senator Kurt Schaefer has been vocal in his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would bring health coverage to more than 300,000 Missourians. People of faith believe that Medicaid expansion is a moral issue, and know that thousands are living without access to life-saving treatment for preventable, chronic conditions. 700 people will die in the state this year without Medicaid expansion.
The radio ad, which began airing Monday, features Rev. Jim Bryan of Missouri Faith Voices. Rev. Bryan is a retired pastor with the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. You can listen to the ad here.
Faith in Public Life is proud to partner with PICO National Network and Communities Creating Opportunities on this life and death issue.
In Missouri, a hardworking single mother of three is diagnosed with breast cancer.
She can’t afford health insurance, but because of the size of her family and her income, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. Each day she prays to God that she won’t get sick.
I’m Reverend Jim Bryan, retired pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. Heartbreaking stories like this are sadly all too common – because Missouri makes it harder than almost any other state to qualify for Medicaid.
Have the politicians forgotten Jesus’s admonition that: “Whatever you did to the least of your sisters and brothers, you did to me”?
Call State Senator Kurt Schaefer at (573) 751-3931 and tell him to stop blocking Medicaid Expansion which could save 700 lives per year.
Tell him all God’s children should get the health care they so desperately need.
A message from the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella group representing 80 percent of U.S. nuns, has faced scrutiny from the Vatican for years. In 2012, the Vatican’s doctrine office accused the conference of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The assessment also criticized sisters for not doing enough to oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to oversee the conference as LCWR officials continued to dialogue with the Vatican.
The hot seat just got a little hotter.
As first reported by the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, pulled no punches in an April 30 address to the leadership of LCWR. As Dennis Coday of NCR reports:
Using the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious two years ago, Müller told leaders of the conference that starting in August, they must have their annual conference programs approved by a Vatican-appointed overseer before the conference agendas and speakers are finalized.
Müller specifically challenged the LCWR leaders for deciding to bestow its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” Although he does not name her, Müller is referencing St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University.
This is a painful turn of events that sours some of the refreshing new spirit Pope Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. Most Catholics and plenty of Americans with no connection to Catholic institutions have a deep appreciation for the way sisters minister to those on the margins. At a time when Pope Francis is calling for “a church for the poor,” there are few people who live that mission better than women religious.
When the Vatican signals it will micromanage LCWR operations by forcing the nuns to submit conference agendas and speakers for screening, the dynamics of power, gender and hypocrisy smack you in the face. Catholics have every reason to wonder why the Vatican is turning up the heat on nuns who serve the poor and fight for social justice at the same time a convicted criminal presides as bishop of a U.S. diocese.
Catholic sisters find themselves in good company. Doctrinal watchdogs have long scrutinized and censured those who became some of the most influential figures in the Catholic tradition. John Courtney Murray, S.J., the Dominican Yves Congar and the Trappist monk Thomas Merton all clashed with church authorities in their day. All of them left towering legacies that enriched the Catholic Church and the world.
LCWR should take at least some comfort in knowing that a prominent church official, Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a favorite of Pope Francis, told an audience at Fordham University in New York last night that “the church is not a monolithic unity. We should be in dialogue with each other.” His answer came in response to a question about LCWR, according to Rev. James Martin, S.J. of America magazine, who tweeted from the event. Speaking about Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, the Fordham theologian that LCWR will honor and the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee has flagged for theological errors, the cardinal noted that “St. Thomas Aquinas was once suspect too. She is in good company.”