Assistant Minister's Corner - Rev. Monica Dobbins

27 February 2019

People will sometimes ask me, how does the political climate of Utah compare with that of my home state, Alabama? There are some ways in which they are very different… and, sadly, many ways in which they are the same.

Five years ago, I was busy advocating for the Affordable Care Act and for the expansion of Medicaid in Alabama. Working with national groups such as Faith in Action and the Poor People’s Campaign, I helped talk to lawmakers and appeared in advertisements, telling my story of how the ACA made it possible for me to go to seminary. After all, I had to quit my job to go to school… but I couldn’t have responsibly done that without assurance of affordable health insurance to take care of my family.

Fast forward to last month, when the Utah legislature tried to nullify the voter-approved Proposition 3, which would have expanded Medicaid for Utahns living within 138% of the federal poverty rate. As the House of Representatives voted on a bill that intended to gut Prop 3, I joined with three fellow clergypersons in protest, staging a sit-in blocking the doors to the House chambers and praying for almost two hours for our legislators to respect the will of the people.

The conservative lawmakers in both Utah and Alabama who oppose Medicaid expansion often express their opposition in philosophical terms: they argue that adults ought to be responsible for themselves, self-sufficient and not dependent on the government or any other structure outside their family and their faith community for help. But a doctrine of self-sufficiency fails to take into account the compounding interest charged by generational poverty: the longer a family remains in poverty, the longer it will take them to climb out, no matter how hard-working and self-sufficient they may be. Add to that the burdens of racism, sexism, disability… and there may simply be no amount of self-sufficiency that can ever pull a family up.

Worse than that: there is often an assumption, whether implied or explicit, that families who are poor have done something to deserve that fate, and that those who have money and privilege were blessed by God. But I believe that God’s sun shines on the just and the unjust – wealth and poverty are not judgments for behavior. Rather, they are systemic – which puts the burden on those with power to make the system work for everyone.

When people in power are unwilling to do this, then it is the duty of religious leaders to disrupt the systems of power and privilege that prevent people from accessing the basic necessities of life and dignity. That’s why I was willing to risk arrest in order to call those lawmakers to their conscience. Health care is a basic human right, and no one should ever suffer or risk their health or safety because they can’t afford to see a doctor. No one should ever have to choose between health care and food or rent. And our government has no right to erode democratic processes to protect wealth and privilege.

I was so grateful to those members of our congregation who showed up with me that day at the Capitol and supported these clergy in our civil disobedience, and for all who stopped during their day to cheer us on. Your love gives us the strength and courage to keep fighting, no matter whatClergy sit in at state capital wMonica.image