Does Being Religious Translate to Responsible Social Policy ?
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
I grew up in Portland, Or, which is a city that has lots of churches and religious communities. During the time that I lived in Portland, I attended Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, American Baptist and United Church Of Christ congregations. As a teenager, I was involved in an organization called Hub-Cap, which was an ecumenical agency that was working on issues regarding the elderly and the poor. Being religious and active in a faith community was important for me then and is important for me now.
Years later, I would learn, probably urban legend, that Oregon is one of the least religious states in the country in terms of church attendance. I must say that it didn't appear to be the case when I was growing up. According to a recent study published by the Pew Research Center, Oregon ranks 39Th in terms of its religious affiliation. The religious profile of Oregon is as follows:
Religious profile of Oregon
say religion is very important in their lives
say they attend worship services at least weekly
say they pray daily
say they believe in God with absolute certainty
How religious is your state?
Pew Research Center - 1 day ago
... levels of religiosity in the Pew Research Center's most recent Religious Landscape Study
According to the same study, Mississippi and Alabama are rated No. One for religious affiliation. In Alabama, 77% report the religion is very important for their lives, 51% report that they attend church weekly. In Mississippi, where I once lived, 74% percent report that religion is very important in their lives and 49% percent report attending church weekly. The state that appears to be the least religious is Massachusetts, home of Harvard, MIT, Tangle Wood and the Boston Red Socks, which is ranked 50TH. In Massachusetts, 33% report that religion is very important in their lives,23% report that they attend church at least weekly. ( Pew Research Study )
Perhaps it's not surprising that the South would be listed as being more religious than the Northeast, but I wonder how does this translate with regard to social policy, especially taking care of the poor and the needy ?
Mississippi has been traditionally viewed as a poor state. According to an article in the Atlantic Magazine;
I It is hard to find a list where Mississippi doesn't rank last; Life expectancy. Per capita income. Children's literacy. "Mississippi's people do not fare well," wrote Willie Morris, a seventh-generation, native son who grew up in Yazoo City How Obamacare Went South in Mississippi - The Atlanticwww.theatlantic.com/...obamacare...in-mississippi/382313The Atlantic Nov 4, 2014 - Why did the Affordable Care Act fail in the country's unhealthiest state? ... view among the poor is: "Mississippi don't care about its poor people.
This is in contrast to Massachusetts, according to an article from the Boston Globe.
The poverty rate for children in Massachusetts increased more than three percentage points between 2009 and 2013 -- to 16.3 percent -- even as the reported unemployment rate declined. Poverty has been slowly climbing in Massachusetts for the past five years (although specialists caution that each annual increase is not necessarily statistically significant), and children are being affected at a higher rate than the general population. Overall, the number of homeless family members in Massachusetts has increased by 81 percent in the past six years, the second-highest increase of any state in the nation, according to Horizons for Homeless Children. Child poverty continues to climb in Massachusetts The...https://www.bostonglobe.com/...massachusetts/.../story.ht...The Boston GlobeSep 21, 2014 - "It can lead to another cycle of poverty," Luby said. ... In Massachusetts, nearly 31 percent of urban children are poor, a 6.4 percentage point increase... And children require access to health care, nutrition, and education so that their future is not determined by adversity.
So, you can be very religious as a state, or not so religious as a state and not do a good job with regard to taking care of those who are vulnerable.
Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' ( Matthew 25:40 )
The late Mario Cuomo once said " the measure of a society is how well it takes care of its less fortunate citizens."
Maybe, the good news this season is that we can be committed to our religious faith and we can be equally committed to providing assistance to those who are poor, marginalized and who have no voice.
May it be so.