Missouri Faith Voices group presses lawmakers on core issues

A group of faith leaders rallied beneath the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid, increase education funding and allow early voting in Missouri.

Pastors and other leaders of congregations across the state held the fifth annual rally at the Capitol to push their agenda and meet with legislators, but their priorities are not the same as those of the Republicans that control both chambers of the General Assembly.

Speakers tied Medicaid expansion and other issue to their deeply held moral beliefs and expressed an understanding of Christianity that focuses on serving the poor, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

“God is not happy, and we are not happy,” said Doyle Sager of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City. “Healing will only occur when dignity is granted to every child of God in Missouri … Economic dignity and racial equity are not favors we are seeking, they are rights we are claiming.”

They called out lawmakers for using divisive politics to pit people against one another and serving special interests and not the people they represent.

“We are here to remind elected officials that they work for us,” Sager said. “We are supervising our employees, and some of our employees haven’t been doing so well.”

Vernon Howard, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Kansas City, pointed to a saying that graces the walls of the Capitol. His voiced boomed across the first floor and drew shouts of “amen” from the crowd of around 150.

“We assemble in this building with a phrase within our hearts that the importance seems to have been lost to the Missouri Legislature,” he told the crowd, as many rose to their feet. “That phrase is written in Latin to remind all who serve in this building: the welfare of the people ought to always be the supreme law in this state.”

The priorities of the faith coalition face steep hurdles in the Legislature, where Republican lawmakers have stridently opposed an expansion to the state’s Medicaid rolls.

Many of the lawmakers who stand in the way of expanding Medicaid and other priorities of the faith groups share their deep reliance on faith but differ in how their understanding of that faith translates to the political arena.

Sager said the political dichotomy is a result of a difference in viewing religion “as totally private or as a social component of the Gospel.”

“Jesus taught all faith is relational,” he said. “Private piety is not the totality of the Christian message. The teachings of Jesus and his miracles were never about private advancement or private privilege, it was always about your relationship to God and your relationship to others.”

Directly tying the work of Jesus to the issue of health care in modern times, Sager said, “Jesus healed people so they could make meaningful contributions to their world.”

The coalition of faith groups, Missouri Faith Voices, attempted to place an initiative on the 2012 ballot to cap payday loan rates at 36 percent but came up one congressional district short of gathering the requisite number of signatures to put the question to the entire electorate.

While the Secretary of State has approved similar initiatives for circulation this year, Jim Hill, the group’s president, said it was “unlikely” they would push to get the issue on the ballot this year, because it was already late in the year.

“But we certainly aren’t going away,” Hill said.

Hill and Sager said the group would hold more rallies at the Capitol this session and continue to meet with lawmakers and introduce them to the “real people” impacted by Medicaid or the lack thereof.

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