Laws that demand justice

Photo: Unsplash.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. —Frederick Douglass, speech from 1857

I was raised in a Mennonite community that held the government at arm’s length, particularly national religion and putting faith in our government structures. 

We didn’t say the pledge of allegiance in school or put our hands over our hearts when the national anthem was played. Politics were not part of daily conversations, and most people did not vote.

We were law-abiding citizens, to be sure. We read the newspaper and cared about the wider world, but government action was separate from God’s plan. 

My, but things have changed! Christian churches, including Anabaptists, have become deeply attached to politics. Whether conservative or liberal, Christians look to the government to legislate their moral values and bring forth the kingdom.

This is a difficult reality for me. I regard the political process as basically flawed and feel it is futile to participate in it. I vote, but only because I’d be embarrassed to admit that I didn’t. 

However, I do want to stay relevant. I want to live in the world faithfully and yet honor Jesus’ words, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight. . . . But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV).

People create government to force themselves to be honest and fair. Did you know the Department of Agriculture employs a weights and measures inspector? This person visits stores and manufacturers and checks that their scales, scanners and gas pumps conform to federal standards. 

This is a justice issue. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him” (NIV). 

Hosea, Micah and Amos all refer to dishonest measures and false weights as a way to oppress the poor. Who will speak for the consumer? Turns out the U.S. government will.

“We the people” empower the government to punish those who will not adhere to the laws. A store using faulty scales will be fined or shut down. 

Remember that the law to integrate schools meant little in New Orleans until members of the National Guard walked Ruby Bridges into William Frantz Elementary in 1960.

There are also laws that do not promote justice. Indeed, these laws give advantage to the powerful while hurting the weak. 

One example is the “family glitch.” I’ve always been on my husband’s insurance, but this fall I decided to see if I could find cheaper options since the Affordable Care Act became law. I was disappointed to find that I could not get subsidies for affordable health insurance if my spouse’s employer offered “affordable health care.”

Affordable was defined as 9.61% of one’s household income. Not just my spouse’s income, but mine as well. 

Also, the 9.61% was figured from the premium amount my husband would pay for himself. Not including me or our three children. 

None of that makes practical sense, but OK, let’s do the numbers. 

Our household income is $70,000. For my husband to insure only himself would cost $109 every two weeks. This is around 4% of our household income. So affordable! 

To insure both of us (no children), the amount more than triples to $350 every two weeks. That’s 13% of our household income. Not so affordable. 

To insure our entire family comes to 17% of our income. 

Now let’s consider an even more tragic reality. Suppose our household income was $31,000 (which is below the government’s 2023 poverty line). The individual premium of $109 every two weeks is still less than 9.61% and therefore deemed “affordable.” Never mind that insuring the entire family would eat up 29% of our income.

This law isn’t only unfair, it is just plain mean. 

This is only one example of many unfair laws and policies, some far more crippling to the poor and vulnerable. 

I have no doubt that insurance lobbyists had a hand in creating the “family glitch.” And while I’m tempted to blame big business for everything, ultimately, the glitch only exists because lawmakers voted for it. The culpability lies with them. 

On a happy note, because some people denounced the family glitch policy, last year the IRS changed the rules so that more families will be eligible for subsidies. 

Micah told the people that God requires justice, mercy and humility. I’m not sure that our governmental machine is capable of being merciful or humble. But it can, sometimes, work for justice.  

Sarah Kehrberg

Sarah Kehrberg lives in the Craggy Mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and three children.

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