A reflection from Cheryl Stuart, Synod Vice President
The Gospel lesson for the third Sunday in Lent told the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple. Jesus was angry; one doesn’t “turn over tables” gently (especially not with a whip made of cords)! Jesus was angry over injustice and took action.
Living in Tallahassee for more than 30 years as a lawyer who also lobbies, I admit to being awash (sometimes overwhelmed) in the details of the debates over state policy and law. These last few weeks here have been marked with an unprecedented level of shock, protests, rallies, vigils, sit ins and press conferences arising from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. You have undoubtedly seen the local and national coverage of parts of it. In less than 48 hours, the Tallahassee community rallied to find food, housing, grief counselors, transportation and care for the student survivors, victims’ families, and allies who descended on the capitol to “turn over the tables”. Many faith communities—their leaders and members—answered the call to put their faith into action; to provide hospitality to visitors; to care for children; to lend their voices and bodies to the cry of “never again”. The parallel was not lost on me when I heard the Gospel this past Sunday. Tables were indeed, turned over, in the state capitol. At this writing, the full legislative response remains unclear.
But what about those who don’t react to injustice by angrily “turning over tables”? One of my favorite signs at the Tallahassee protest was “It is so bad—even the introverts are here”! But how can one person make a difference? How can one person put one’s faith into action and have it mean anything?
In another space in the capitol—in a committee room away from the issue of school safety and gun violence—one of our own has made a difference. It was there I saw Pastor (and former Synod bishop) Ed Benoway, his wife Linda, and other family members. They were patiently waiting for a committee meeting to start. You see, Linda and Ed lost their son, Stephen LaDue, to suicide last year. Stephen was a first responder who saw horrible things over his years of service. His PTSD was documented—but the current law doesn’t allow one to get worker’s compensation for PTSD without a physical injury. He couldn’t get the help he needed, was forced to go back to work and had to pay back the time he had missed. Stephen eventually took his own life. It is a tragedy that we lose more first responders to suicide than we do in the line of duty. How many lives could be saved if those who serve and protect could get the help they need via worker’s compensation?
The Benoways and their family turned their grief into action. With a quiet, determined, and relentless focus, they helped get a bill drafted and then considered that would allow those first responders to get the help they need. The Benoway family attended every committee meeting (there were 7), floor sessions, and met with lawmakers. They calmly (sometimes tearfully) told their story—Stevie’s story—in public testimony repeatedly, reliving their pain but taking some solace in the notion that they were helping other families—families and first responders they may never know. They worked with other allied persons and interest groups.
On Monday, March 5, the Florida legislature passed and sent to the Governor a bill that will ensure that first responders with PTSD are entitled to receive worker’s compensation to get the help they need, even if there is no “physical injury”.
What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. Micah 6:8. Maybe one can turn over tables “gently” after all. Now, what tables need turning over in your community?