On Saturday morning, after weeks of seeing proposed changes to this tax bill and fighting against the disastrous impacts it could have on people with disabilities, people who are sick, and people who are poor, I got lost in the numbers. You see, as I started to comb through the final outline of the bill, I started to wonder whether it was really all that bad. It does seem to be providing more generous tax cuts to many more people than initially forecasted. It’s possible cutting taxes for corporations could create economic growth. And they did remove some of the truly egregious aspects–taxes on graduate student tuition, while expanding medical expense deduction thresholds.
But then I scanned the text for the lectionary the following morning—Isaiah 61:1-4, which reads:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
And I was reminded that our God is a God of justice (by Isaiah, because he says so, in verse 8).
So tax bills, especially for us Christians, aren’t a matter of crunching the numbers but of seeing the bigger picture, and we simply cannot support policies that cut taxes for the wealthiest among us while ignoring the plight of the poor. Numbers aren’t just numbers. They represent people. And people who are struggling should be prioritized over tax cuts to those who are wealthy.
But that’s not what our government wants us to think.
But just stop for a moment and think about why you pay taxes and who you want those taxes to serve? Our family moved to a high-tax district but one that we knew would support Lucia’s special needs at school in spite of the cost, and I’m so thankful that those who live around us are willing to pay more so children can get a good education. Our family also benefits from services through the Medicaid program that is funded by federal and state tax dollars to support people with disabilities, people who are poor, and people who are old, especially those who have substantial medical need for daily living. Many elderly people who are sick and disabled benefit from the substantial Medicare program that threatens to be cut to support this bill.
So here we are again, cutting benefits for people who really need them, so rich people and corporations can get a tax break. For a moment, I accepted that there could be some breaks for all because that’s what the government is saying, but that’s not only fuzzy math, it’s fuzzy morals. Our taxes can’t pay for the things people really need and give huge breaks to the wealthy, and what’s more, they shouldn’t bother with making the rich richer, ever, because it’s wrong. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus, whose birth we celebrate in this season, make it clear that Christians are called to liberate those who are oppressed and to bring good news. This tax bill is not good news and we cannot ignore our responsibility, as unpopular as it may be, to speak otherwise. We cannot turn mourning into gladness unless justice is justice for all.
Wake up, American Christians, it’s almost Christmas, and we have work to do.
But I’ve also heard a lot of people talk about how tired and frustrated they are and how much they want to give up and throw in the towel. It’s been a long, hard year; I’ve written about just how hard it’s been for our family, I’ve lost lots of sleep over these threats to healthcare (I’m up late writing this), and I’m really scared and worried, too. So I can really understand if you feel like things may never change and it’s not worth it, and you just want to give up. I think I know how you feel.
But we can’t give up just because things are really, really hard. That’s why we have to fight harder than ever.
The problem when you or I threaten to quit is not just that those who are against us win, but it’s also that we buy into the belief that we’re all alone in our fight, that it’s not possible to win, because there’s not enough people who care, and that no matter what we do, we can’t make a difference.
But let me remind you that most people in this country didn’t vote for our sitting president, that worldwide participation in the women’s marches in January 2017 were estimated at five million people, that over the summer, you and your phone calls defeated threats to undermine and repeal the Affordable Care Act over and over and over again, and so despite what you may be feeling, 2017 was not just Trump’s or the Republicans’ year, but also a year in which the American people spoke up and it truly made a difference.
You made a difference for my family and me.
And time and time again, when I felt truly lonely and haggard and upset, your words and phone calls buoyed us to believe that it’s not just everyone for themselves but that we can and will and should care for those in need.
So please don’t give up.
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you know that this awful tax bill has to go to conference and a lot can change along the way. So let’s make sure those changes protect Medicaid and people who can’t afford to pay taxes and graduate students and people with disabilities. Let’s take to the streets again if we have to. Let’s jam the phone lines and confront our members of Congress. And build each other up. Stand together, across differences, and make it clear that you stand with people in need. Don’t let fear and isolation win out against the truth that we’re a people who can love and care for one another, who can do more together, with our rich diversity, than we can do alone.
Honestly, that will really stick it to them: a bunch of ramshackle, joy-filled activists who believe in themselves and one another.
Give up? Me? You? Oh, we’re only just getting started.