Commentary by Bruce Ray, Pastor
On May 25, a Chicago Tribune article revealed that retired Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Jr., received a $126,004 pension last year–much more than he ever made as Senate President. Thanks to legislation he helped craft and pass in 1989, he saw his pension increase over $41,000 after his first year of retirement. And it’s all legal.
This news came on the heals of news of inflated pension payments for former Mayor Richard J. Daley, who according to CBS News and the Chicago SunTimes started receiving $184,000 a year following his retirement in 2011. AND, he will receive an automatic 3% cost-of-living adjustment annually. And it’s all legal.
But “legal” doesn’t make it right.
I’m no tea-partier, but this makes me outraged–both as a citizen and as a follower of Jesus. The people in power make rules that benefit themselves while at the same time cutting funds for services to those who are most vulnerable. We will continue to pay out inflated pensions, but we cannot find a few thousand dollars a year to help a household of 4 making less than $30,000 a year with their childcare expenses. For the sake of fiscal solvency, we must cut millions for housing services to help the homeless (24% of them children and 17% of them working in low-wage jobs); we have no choice but to cut Medicaid payments for old people in nursing homes (they’re going to die sooner or later anyway), but God forbid that we ask Emil Jones or Mayor Daley to contribute even a small percentage toward their currently FREE health insurance. The powerful get wealthier on the backs of the poor, the children, the sick and the homeless. The “least of these”–these brothers and sisters of Jesus–suffer. I can just hear the prophets of the Old Testament now. “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land: ….The Lord has sworn, ‘I will never forget anything they have done.'” Amos 8:4, 7
God will not bless any nation (or any state) that disregards the needs of the poor for the advantage of the powerful. Shame on the Illinois General Assembly. Shame on Paul Ryan and his immoral national budget that called for billions of dollars in cuts to poverty programs while increasing the military budget by 20% and his own salary. (Thank God the Senate defeated that one by a narrow margin). Shame on the Democrats. Shame on the Republicans. Shame on us. We keep handing these people the keys to the car even though we know they’ll drive intoxicated with their own power.
We need some righteous indignation. We need to raise some holy heaven. We need to find our prophetic voice. We need to think and pray before we punch a ballot. We need to put some boundaries around power. We need to pray, “Arise, O Judge of the earth!” We need to stand up in the name of Jesus and defend the needy from the schemes of the unjust. Our faith does not command us to blindly obey those in authority. There are times when tables need to be over-turned.