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Religion and politics were dinner-table discussion topics

Returning to Spokane after studies in history and religion at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, 22 year-old Laura Jennison found a job that fits her interests.

Laura Jennison

Laura Jennison

She became the new coordinator for the Interfaith Council’s Advocacy Action Network of the Inland Northwest, a project which has closed.

In that role, she prepared four Initiative Education Forums to inform voters in churches about five initiatives on the ballot for the 2005 election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

In Laura’s family, religion and politics have been everyday discussion topics, so she speaks with ease about the intersection of these issues.

“When state or national legislation affects people in poverty, people without health care and people living in inadequate housing, people of faith care,” she said.

Her job was to inform people, so they could talk to or write their representatives to tell them how they felt on issues because of their faith.

“Part of my role is to remind people of faith that it is our responsibility to care,” Laura said.

Along with the forums, she met with congregations to do advocacy training, educate them on issues and reminded them “why we as people of faith care about these issues.”

She knows it’s easy to lose sight of their responsibility.

“The talk of separation of church and state, which is important, often means that people of faith do not bring their faith values into the public square and do not work for issues of concern,” she said.  “Often they separate what they learn and do in worship from what they do in relationship with the government.  Many see church as a private sphere, separate from the public sphere, limited to personal relationships.

“We lose sight of the role of the congregations as communities involved in the public process to help people who are poor or hungry.  Many will help people through church or nonprofit agencies, but few want to deal with the systemic changes, so people can provide food for their families on their own,” said Laura, a member of North Hill Christian Church.

“I don’t expect that vast, sweeping change will happen quickly to help people move from poverty and live on their own as they want.  People who work full-time at minimum-wage jobs cannot work their way out of poverty. People should be able to support themselves and their families without having to work 60 to 80 hours in two or three jobs.  Even working that much, many still do not have health care.”

Laura is concerned that the nation is deep in debt and adding to it with hurricane recovery.

“Social welfare programs are more desperately needed now than ever,” she said.  “Before the hurricanes, Congress was planning to consider legislation proposing deep cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, Medicare, housing assistance and financial aid for college students.”

Because of spending priorities in recent years, Laura said, the federal government is spending more than it receives. Congress is considering $35 billion in cuts that would cut millions of children and adults out of access to food stamps, health care, housing and education.  Meanwhile, other bills seek to make $70 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy permanent.

While tax cuts sound generally beneficial, she said people who earn little income or have small estates reap no benefit from them.

“We are responsible as a faith community, as neighbors, as cities, as states and as a nation to help people who do not have as much as we have gain access to medical care and to free them from worry about how they will put dinner on the table,” Laura added.

“All faiths have a tenet of social justice—to help and protect those who do not have the means to take care of themselves,” she said.

For her, that means more than individual assistance through charitable ministries and organizations.  It also means that individuals need to try to affect the whole society, to make changes so everyone has opportunities.

An ingredient in action is hope, Laura said. 

Although the degree of hope she has realistically depends on the day, she is overall hopeful that it is possible to change society.

“I have faith that the people of this country are good and care about each other,” she said.  “We may not see vast social change today or tomorrow, but there is a brighter future out there.”

The project has ended.

By Mary Stamp - Copyright © October 2005 - The Fig Tree