It is easy enough to understand how some pastors tend to ignore issues of poverty, health care and peace in their preaching if they do not follow the common lectionary but, instead, choose at will the biblical text on which to preach. The concern for personal holiness, with a special focus on the hot button "pelvic theology" issues, can be made to trump all else if you confine your preaching to certain texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and Pauline epistles. But, the priests of churches that employ the lectionary – the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches – cannot get round the fact that in the Gospels Jesus of Nazareth had a lot more to say about how we treat the poor than he did about any sexual misdeeds.
So, it was encouraging to see the reaction of some evangelical leaders yesterday to President Obama’s signing of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. "We go back to our churches, and we hear the pain that comes from our people," said the Rev. Heywood Wiggins, pastor at the Camden (NJ) Bible Tabernacle church on a conference call sponsored by the group Faith in Public Life. "So we bring that voice to Washington to make sure our national leaders understand how important this issue is." Rev. Wiggins was invited to attend the White House signing ceremony.
A faith-based community organizing coalition, the PICO National Network, has been at the forefront of the religious community’s efforts to get SCHIP passed. PICO has more than one thousand member churches of various denominations in 17 states. Nilda Santana, who joined PICO through her Catholic parish in Orlando, told a all too familiar tale for those who have been engaged with this issue for years. "Not being able to afford insurance through my employer, it was a choice between putting food on the table and insurance for my children," Mrs. Santana said. "Due to SCHIP I have medical coverage I wouldn’t have been able to afford." This may be only one chapter in the Gospel of Life, but there is no doubt that it is an important chapter.
Political progressives were not the only ones celebrating yesterday. Bishop Roy Dixon serves an evangelical church in San Diego. He is a Republican but he worked to build a bi-partisan coalition to support SCHIP. "It’s not like we all think or vote alike….I am very conservative and have been that way all my life," said the Bishop. "But I believe that children definitely need SCHIP, and I’m very glad it passed."
Catholics can take pride in the fact that Bishop William Murphy - like Bishop Dixon, a man not easily tagged as a liberal - issued a letter to Congress urging the passage of SCHIP in his capacity as USCCB chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The hierarchy will continue to have differences with President Obama on abortion policy, but that cannot prevent them from working on common goals such as SCHIPs and, despite some complaints from the far right, the bishops will work with the new administration. They should. As we saw yesterday, the Gospel of Life can be spread in many ways. Ask Mrs. Nilda Santana and her children.