On Nov. 17, 2016, I was in the gallery of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives to watch my husband, along with 100 other representatives, take an oath to uphold the Constitution and not take any illegal compensation for his work. The swearing-in took just a few minutes, but we would be there for almost two more hours as each representative was given the chance to recognize those who were there in support, namely family members and staff.
Many representatives used their time to give speeches about their values, which is why it took so long to wrap up. One could not help but notice how many times the Christian faith was referenced as a primary influence. Actually, the precious name of Jesus was invoked so many times that it began to feel like a drinking game was afoot.
At the time, I anticipated that these very public declarations of faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus would result in the most family-friendly and community-minded legislative session our state has ever seen. Surely all of these self-identified Christian lawmakers would author legislation reflective of Jesus’ mission to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.
The Pocket Guide for Christian Lawmaking
Oklahoma is just a month into session, and we have seen multiple attempts to repeal restorative criminal justice reform, prop-up predatory payday lenders who target economically distressed communities in Oklahoma, and codify discrimination.
Either these pious lawmakers are actively working against the tenets of Christianity because they actually have different priorities, or they desperately need help making decisions that reflect the values of Jesus, a non-violent resister who offered preferential treatment for the poor and gave away health care for free.
Hope is a vocational hazard for Christian ministers, so I haven’t given up on these legislators. Believing that they just need a little help, I offer this Pocket Guide for Christian Lawmaking. In keeping with preaching tradition, I’ve kept it to three points. Here are a few handy tips on how not to make Jesus weep over hard-hearted legislation:
Use the ‘Holy Family Filter’
First, run everything through the Holy Family Filter. Ask yourself: “Would this make life better or worse for Jesus, Mary and Joseph?” Jesus was born to a teenage mother, and his dad was a low-wage worker. The Holy Family likely would have been eligible for SNAP and SoonerCare, two of the most important safety nets for low-income families.
If legislators start using the Holy Family Filter, we should see an immediate uptick in measures that commit aid to poor folks struggling to make ends meet. We should also see more assistance for families struggling to achieve a living income. (Restoring the refundability of the earned income tax credit would be a good start.)
Don’t be the legislator who would make it harder for the Holy Family to get food on the table or see a doctor.
Be careful about rejecting people
Second, reject only those people Jesus would reject. The list is short. By all accounts, Jesus was the harshest on the self-identified Piety Police of his time. If your legislation permits discrimination based on marriage, lifestyle or beliefs, Jesus is giving you the side-eye. He was a man who broke bread with all kinds of kinds, so it is difficult to imagine Jesus-the-carpenter’s-son checking a customer’s sexuality before taking a furniture order.
Over and over, Jesus ran into people who thought they had the market cornered on orthodoxy. Such people were (and are) confident that they would be headed to heaven because of their “right belief.” Interestingly, when Jesus was asked about eternal life, he said nothing about what to believe. Instead, Jesus told a story about being a good neighbor and commanded us to “go and do likewise” (read: he said nothing about what to believe).
Remember ‘the least of these’
Third, take Jesus’ Matthew 25 memo seriously:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?’
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’
If you are a Christian, this is a pretty clear mandate for providing basic needs, advocating for just prison reform and increasing access to health care.
By following these three simple guidelines, it would be possible for all of those devout Christian legislators to follow Jesus’ example instead of just using his name in vain.
Hope springs eternal — or at least for the three months left in this legislative session.