I cannot adequately describe how wonderful and all-encompassing my trip to Washington, DC, has been. Since this immersion class is called Faith & Public Policy, I will begin this blog by focusing on the faith or religious component. I believe that faith and compassion are both necessary to perform the exhausting yet rewarding work of influencing public policy through direct social justice advocacy and community organizing on the local, state, and federal levels of government. I further believe that the work that we as men and women, who are pastors, teachers, chaplains and other religious leaders execute, on behalf of the most marginalized among us, is God ordained. In the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus reminds us:
35/ For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36/ naked, and you clothed Me’; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 37/ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? 38/And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?’ 39/When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40/ The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
I saw first-hand how this portion of sacred scripture was fulfilled in myriad ways through the work of committed public servants such as Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, who are the senior and junior Senators from the great state of California. Members of our class had the opportunity to meet with the staff persons who work for both Senators. Senator Feinstein’s Legislative Fellow, Dr. Pete Curran spent a considerable amount of time with our group. We were able to ask him to communicate our concerns regarding the current state of the Affordable Care Act as well as issues revolving around criminal justice reform and immigration. Dr. Curran listened attentively and promised to share with Senator Feinstein what was discussed in our meeting and would also thank her on our behalf, for her many years, of public service. He also shared with us a newsletter from the Senator that highlighted the following accomplishments:
- Senator Feinstein introduced a bill to shield farmworkers from deportation (5-3-17) which stated “Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are now a priority for deportation under this administration’s (Donald Trump) shameful policies. We simply must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”
- Senator Feinstein and colleagues introduced a LGBT non -discrimination bill (5/17)
The equality Act of 2017 would ensure full federal non-discrimination equality by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to other protected classes, such as race or religion, in existing federal laws. The bill would explicitly ban discrimination in a host of areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, access to credit, and federal funding.
In addition to the work of legislators from California, I was also introduced to the work of a group called ‘Network Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.’ NETWORK, mentioned that their social justice advocacy group, was appalled by the budget that was recently submitted to Congress by Donald Trump, which highlighted draconian cuts in many social and safety net programs, as well as a 31% cut in federal funds to the Environmental Protection Agency. “NETWORK, believes the federal budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities of our nation. Our budget must prioritize human needs programs, ensure funding for vulnerable members of our society, restore economic opportunity, and invest in community.” The work of Senator Feinstein and NETWORK/Catholic Sisters represents the personification of faith and public policy in action.
My faith in God, and the teachings of Jesus Christ, as the prime example for faith in action, is what influences and motivates me, to want to do everything in my power to help empower the most vulnerable people in our society. I was glad to see so many social justice advocacy groups collectively working non-stop in our nation’s capital and beyond for the common good of humanity.