I’ve heard some folks say that Wyoming hasn’t executed anyone since 1992, so it doesn’t make sense for the Diocese of Cheyenne to join other groups seeking to repeal the death penalty here. Similarly, I’ve heard people deny the importance of unborn protection bills because, they claim, there aren’t that many abortions happening in Wyoming.
If we are triaging by numbers, such arguments raise a valid point. After all, there are many other important issues and current laws affecting (for better or worse) the marginalized. The argument could be made that the status of these laws impact a greater number of people and, therefore, all attention should be focused on them.
Moreover, legislative solutions are important, but they are just one part of the picture. There are many other, less controversial, approaches to change that could be taken instead. Doesn’t it make sense to focus solely on those?
Such questions remind me of a story Catholic author Mathew Kelly tells in one of his books: A man is trying to prepare a presentation for work while at home watching his young son. He finds little games to distract his son so that he can focus on his work. At one point, he rips a picture of a map of the world out of a magazine, tears it into puzzle pieces and tells his son if he can put the map back together, he will earn $20 dollars.
The man returns to his project, assured he has bought himself 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. A few minutes later, his son returns with the puzzle completed. Amazed, he asks his son how he finished so quickly. His son says, “I didn’t know what a map of the world looked like. But I noticed on the back of the pieces there was a picture of a person’s face. So I taped the face together, and turned it over.”
I like the story because it reminds us that people are why politics matter. The irony is that the man was focused on the “problem” of not being able to do his work. But, he was missing out on what was most important to him until his son reminded him.
Today, we have many priorities. They include seeing human dignity in the faces of the poor, the immigrant and the elderly; entering into solidarity with our Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone brothers and sisters, many of whom live in abject poverty; educating our children and keeping them safe; ensuring that the uninsured do not die from curable diseases simply because they cannot afford treatment; and recognizing the dignity of those who happen to disagree with us — yes, even politicians.
I’m not suggesting that if the death penalty were repealed and fetuses were given at least as much protection as an eagle’s eggs that suddenly all of our problems will go away. Politics will not take away the sins of the world. Political solutions are important as part of much broader solutions.
But for any solution to come — political and otherwise — we must recognize that some of our policies are blind to human dignity. Forging necessary and effective change is difficult work. It requires healthy and rigorous debate and even more listening. It takes a collective effort to raise up our responsibility for everyone.
However, if we hope to address the indirect impacts of current laws that degrade human dignity, we cannot ignore laws that directly and intentionally attack human life. We cannot be silent when some of our neighbors dehumanize human fetuses from conception to birth in order to justify the “personal” policy of abortion-on-demand. We cannot be silent about the dehumanization of the elderly when some compare them to cats and dogs waiting to be euthanized. And we cannot sit in silence when some of our government leaders argue for a “right” to kill human prisoners, when doing so is no longer necessary to protect society.
Many will say, “This is a budget session! We don’t have time for ‘social’ issues.” But how do we heighten our shared sense of responsibility for funding important programs that help the marginalized when our current laws enable us to get rid of people some find undesirable or burdensome? People are why politics matter.
Wyoming’s 65th Legislature will bring opportunities to enshrine into our laws the notion that the value of each person cannot be set by those who happen to be more powerful.
As long as one marginalized human being is considered a “problem” to be solved, we will experience division and an absence of peace. Not even our brightest minds know how to put the world back together again. But every single one of us knows what the face of a human looks like. If we get that right, we stand a far better chance of getting other things right as well.