In my lifetime, I’ve watched two seemingly unrelated but curiously coincidental trajectories. The chasm between wealth and poverty has widened and the middle class has essentially evaporated. The numbers released from the most recent census were chilling, pointing out that the disparity is the greatest it’s been since we started keeping track. To keep the numbers looking more palatable, we’ve not adjusted the poverty line with inflation, but even so more working families find themselves without adequate food, without healthcare, and without housing. Reaganomics didn’t fix, neither did the bull market during Clinton’s presidency at the close of the last century. Here we sit with yesterday’s bills, both in our families and as a nation, and we have little hope of making ends meet – unless we are the .01% of Americans (14,000) that have 22% of all the income (Wall Street Journal 2008). Clearly it’s time for a bit of economic fairness, clearly the playing field is tilted. Fair is fair, and this is not. Where, I wonder again and again, is the revolution?
Which brings me to notice the other chasm. While the economics should be driving us together both to the ballot boxes and to the streets, our feet are tangled in a web of isms that have sucked the life out of our communal revolt. Simply put, our outrage has been redirected and we’ve turned on one another. We’ve discovered more comfort in listening to pundits trash talk than ask meaty questions; we’ve tuned into our fears rather than our dreams. We work for either the rights of the unborn or a woman’s right to choice, both keeping us from facing our unbalance-able cyber checkbook. We defend our local public school boundary lines and commit all kinds of racist sins in the name of civic pride, fiercely protecting the scarce educational dollars that come into our community. With 14,000 Americans losing healthcare every day (American Progressive Action 2009), we are devouring one another about the perceived efficacy (or not) of the very modest health reform that was finally passed last spring. By all rights, the 90% of us left to divide 29% of the wealth in this nation should be crying foul, challenging the inherent injustice of our so-called free market system and demanding an economic policy in which the good are more fairly shared. The bitter irony is that though we have so very much in common, we are more politically divided than in any time save that of the Civil War.
As a lesbian pastor, I am stymied by the ways in which both my orientation and my faith are used as fodder to feed the culture wars. Quite frankly, my gayness is not a threat to anyone’s family save my own; and a threat to my own only inasmuch as I build and hide in closets. The tragedy is that whether or not you like me or appreciate the fact that the hand I hold is a woman’s, focusing on the gender of my partner precludes our working together in pursuit of economic justice. Protecting marriage from the likes of me will not enhance heterosexual marriage but it handily protects the status quo of economic disparity.
The more that I read in my own religion, which follows the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I am surprised to discover that what is at the heart of Jesus’ message is synonymous with the heart of every other major religious tradition. It’s what my mother called the ‘golden rule’, the simple timeless call to compassion. Without it, we devour one another. Without it, we swat at fleas and ignore the swarm of locusts. Without it, we cease to be the people we are created and called to be.
Although in the face of the recent census data I am tempted to call for revolution, perhaps we ought begin with a visit to the charter of compassion. (http://charterforcompassion.org/) It’s a modest start, but revolutions always start modestly.