COLUMBIA — Questions about the environment, health care and the economy have taken center stage thus far in the presidential campaign. Earlier this month, Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama addressed religion. The topic of faith and social justice arose during a Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. The forum helped bring religion to the nation’s attention as part of the presidential campaign. The candidates talked openly about their faith and the role religion plays in everyday life in America. Today the Missourian begins an occasional conversation on the topic with Columbians. In this installment: Kim Gage Ryan speaks about the impact politics has on her personal prayer life.
Age 50 Occupation Associate minister at Broadway Christian Church Education Graduated from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University after completing her undergraduate degree at Texas Tech University. Background Originally from Amarillo, Texas, Ryan moved to Columbia in 1989 to serve as an associate minister at Broadway Christian Church. She was pastor at a church in Wabash, Ind., for five years. Community activities Mentor/leader and chair of the board of The Bethany Fellowships, a Christian church (Disciples of Christ) program encouraging young ministers in their first five years of ministry. Community activities include an interest in violence prevention; she was previously involved with RAIN, an STD prevention resource and counseling center.
Q: You speak a lot about compassionate issues of combating poverty and hunger. Does this inform how you frame political issues in your prayer life?
A: “It’s a piece of my prayer life, but it’s not limited to my prayer life that informs my political perspectives. There are a variety of other things that inform those political perspectives alongside of prayer. And that includes studying the Bible. What does the Bible have to say about issues of poverty? Who’s left out? Who’s considered the ‘least of these’ in our society?”
Q: How much of a role do you think prayer has in your life?
A: “I don’t know if I can attach a number to that. It’s so much of a part of every piece of my life and every piece of who I am.”
Q: When you are confronted with an issue, whether you read a news article or see it on TV, what makes you want to incorporate it into your prayer life?
A: “Where’s the heartache? It is always the heartache of a situation, whether it’s human or it’s natural, that compels me to be in prayer. Because what prayer does for me, it helps me to feel the places where God’s heart aches.”
Q: Can you elaborate on that and how that ties into making a decision to pray for something?
A: “Well, I think that it’s whatever may happen in the course of a day. Whether it’s something here. Whether it’s something I see on the news. I hear about on the radio. Or read about in the newspaper. Where there is sadness, where there is injustice, where there is tragedy. Those are the places where I feel compelled to pray.”
Q: The extension of this is if there are policies that are based on compassion and helping others then you’re probably going to pray about those when they come up in an election time. Would you agree?
A: “You know, I think the political process is a really awful process. While I admire anyone who has the courage to be a part of that process, it’s really a difficult place that they’re in. And if they can keep focused on issues of helping others. And I think that there are candidates that genuinely do care and want to help other people and want to address the injustices and the wrongs. How they do that and how the system allows that to happen is a mystery to me because I think that we basically have a pretty self-serving, greedy system. So, what can compel us as a society to look to the heartaches and the hard places for other people, not just in our country but in our world?”
Q: Do you see any bright spots out there right now?
A: “I think we as a society are self-serving and pretty greedy and pretty protective of our own. I think the issues that have been raised in the election and the candidates, all three of the presidential candidates, are attempting to address those issues. We can talk about health care. We can talk about poverty. We can talk about environment. I don’t hear them trying to avoid those issues. So, from that perspective, that’s encouraging that there’s a willingness on their part to name and recognize the issues that are confronting this country and confronting the world.”
Q: Many people say their prayer life is dedicated to praying about health for others. Does that make health care a large issue for you? Do you pray for leaders to do something about it?
A: “In terms of what contributes to poverty for families and for individuals, people that do not have health care coverage, it takes very little for them to be taken down.
“I don’t think it’s just one thing, it’s health care, it’s issues of poverty, the environment plays into that, too. So all of that is kind of woven in together. I can see how different families, if they have health care, how they are able to navigate the difficulties of a health crisis. And if they don’t have health care, the added burden of navigating a health care crisis. The stress is tremendous.”
Q: Do you see that your prayer life is going to change as we get closer to the election? Will political issues take a larger part in your prayer life?
A: “Probably not. I mean certainly we are all going to be more aware of what those issues are. In terms of personally, praying is not to allow just the sheer frustration of what happens between candidates and what the media does with that. I mean, I hardly can watch television anymore because of how convoluted — every little thing gets blown out of proportion.
“So I will continue to pray for the candidates themselves. I will continue to pray for our country to make the wisest decisions we can make for the greatest good for all and not just for the few. My greater sense of prayer will be that we can remain focused on what’s really important and not get drawn into and away from the political circus that takes place.”
Q: When you say to remain focused on what’s important: That’s people.
A: “It’s people and the environment. It’s issues of poverty and injustice and hunger and health care. It’s those places where everybody’s lives are touched by the decisions that are made in a political realm. I just don’t believe we have the luxury of making decisions based on what’s good for America or the United States. What’s good for my family. What my prayer life does is continue to hold me to some accountability that we are connected to this entire world and our decisions have to take into consideration the wider ramifications and consequences.”