I'm getting ready to head out of town tomorrow on a mission trip to Fort Worth with my youth. This summer we are attending the General Assembly of our denomination, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The assembly is a biennial event that brings together Disciples from across the U.S. and Canada for education, worship, mission projects, fellowship and discernment on important issues.
Several of my youth are representing our church as voting delegates and will have the opportunity to cast a vote on some important social justice resolutions coming before the General Assembly. A "yes" or "no" final vote on these issues does not obligate Disciples congregations to take any action. Rather, they are intended to encourage continued education, discussion, and discernment.
One important issue to be voted on is whether or not our churches should make a public stand on the issue of universal health care for all children. Last night I had the opportunity to see the new documentary "Sicko." I highly recommend this film for anyone who wants a personal and shocking picture of the health care situation in this country. The film depicts the horror stories of elderly persons, children, parents and family members who are losing the fight against the insurance companies and drug industry to get quality health care for themselves and their loved ones. Perhaps most eye-opening is the evidence that universal health care programs are working in many other countries, while the whole idea here is vilified as "socialism." Yet, in those systems everyone gets health care regardless of income or preexisting conditions. The film suggests that the argument that "universal health care equals poor heath care" is perpetuated by a system in our country that is based on profits and not healing. As one ex-member of Britain's Parliament puts it in the film, the universal system is such that "You pay according to your means, and you receive care according to your need." I would certainly be happy to see my tax money going to provide health care for the needy. Anyone who has ever been without health care (myself included, during much of my early twenties) and has had to forgo dental work, medication, and important preventative medical care, can witness that this is an important justice and faith issue that needs more discussion and action within the Church.
Another important resolution coming before the Assembly that my students will have the opportunity to vote for or against is a call for us to speak out against any form of torture, including those acts of torture committed by our own government. When discussing this issue recently at my church in preparation for the Assembly, one person mused, "Is torture really a problem? Are they saying the United States tortures people?" The fact of the matter is, this reality has been confirmed by our own military. Here is article on William Kuebler, a conservative Christian military officer who is jeopardizing his career by defending a detainee in GITMO, a Saudi named Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi. Kuebler is speaking out against what has been happening there. His initial support of the government's decision to detain "enemy combatants" there shifted as he came to understand that the majority of detainees have been held for years with no charge, no trial, or proof of evidence against them:
By April 2006, al Sharbi had already been locked up for almost four years at Guantánamo, where the military had declared him an “enemy combatant.” President Bush had claimed the authority to continue holding him—along with hundreds of men already in custody, as well as any other foreign national he might decide was an enemy combatant—until the end of the war on terror, a sentence that worked out to somewhere between indefinite and forever. His cell was eight feet long and not quite seven feet wide, with a bunk and a sink and, on the floor, a hole for a toilet and a painted arrow pointing toward Mecca. The lights were kept on around the clock, and he was allowed out only in shackles to shower and exercise for a half hour a few days a week. Al Sharbi had also almost certainly been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” some of which until recently were considered torture and, according to the State Department, still are when practiced by Iran, Libya, Turkey, or any of a dozen other countries.
I know good Christians can agree to disagree on these topics, but let there be no doubt that these are not "just matters of politics." They are important issues of faith and I think they are issues our youth should be struggling with in light of their Christian walk.