March 21, 2008

Afternoon at Congress

2008 1508 page5 capears ago when it fell my lot to represent the Adventist Church at provincewide Sunday legislation hearings in Ontario, Canada, I learned (from lack of it) the importance of having many supporters in the audience. Which is one reason I joined dozens of other Adventists one afternoon in February attending a hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in support of Attorney James Standish, who was appearing as a witness.
Several things impressed me as I followed the proceedings that afternoon. I mention three:
1. Standish’s strong presentation. Director of legislative affairs for the General Conference, Standish spoke the name “Seventh-day Adventist” with appropriate pride, giving every evidence that he was eminently comfortable representing the church in that important forum. I watched the committee’s chair and other Congressional representatives as, in his introductory remarks, Standish made reference to the church’s “practical ministry of healing and teaching.” Chairman Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) seemed clearly moved, his head nodding, as Standish mentioned how “Adventist hospitals and clinics provide care for over 800,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa each year.” Nor did committee interest wane as Standish waded into the heart of his testimony.
2008 1508 page5I was proud to be associated with his presentation. It was a demonstration of balance, knowledge of the issues, and a profound commitment to God and church. As to the outcome, Standish has no illusions. It’ll be a long and protracted process, he told me afterward.
2. The intense interest and focus of the committee. These legislators clearly have a good deal on their plates; and so I was intrigued by their comprehensive grasp of the (sometimes complex and intricate) details surrounding the cases before them. They’d clearly done their homework, and each witness was taken with utter seriousness. Many among the U.S. public tend (from a distance) to consider most congressional hearings a waste of time, but that one hearing gave the impression they’re much more important than we give them credit for.
3. Other workplace problems equally as vexing as the religious ones. Like the other Adventists in attendance, my main interest was the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA), H.R. 1431, in support of which Standish (and the Muslim and Jewish witnesses) testified. But there was another hearing immediately preceding ours in the same committee room, dealing with workplace problems of a different kind. And of the many testimonies here, the most poignant came from Jamie Leigh Jones.
Jones told how as a Halliburton/KBR recruit, she went to Iraq (in July of 2005) “in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Her first disillusionment came upon arrival in Baghdad, when she found herself assigned—contrary to company promises—to a predominantly male barrack, with all the unwanted attention that that involved. But her real nightmare started when, as an unsophisticated 20-year-old, she accepted a drink from colleagues she had no reason to suspect. Passing out after just a sip, she would awake the following morning with severe pains, and would discover, after medical examination, that she’d been drugged, raped, and sodomized.
Jones went on to testify about her physical and psychological evaluation back in the U.S.; about needing to undergo reconstructive breast surgery because of the abuse she’d suffered the night of the rape; about her continuing need for “additional medical treatment, including another reconstructive [breast] surgery”; about the counseling she must receive three times a week; and about how both the criminal and civil courts in the U.S. would not touch her case, since she’d (unwittingly) signed away her rights during the employment contract process.
“I was later interviewed by Halliburton/KBR supervisors,” she said in the most tear-jerking sentence of her testimony, “and it was made clear to me that I had essentially two choices: (1) ‘stay and get over it,’ or (2) go home with ‘no guarantee of a job,’ either in Iraq or back in Houston.”
The hearing room was quiet, with no swarming battery of reporters and photographers. I got home too late for the evening news that day, but I would hazard there was nothing on it about Jones and her tragedy, let alone anything about the severe hardship and discrimination cases documented by Standish and the Jewish and Muslim witnesses. The day following, however, a Congressional hearing on the use of steroids in baseball would see the media falling all over itself to cover it, with sizeable chunks of airtime on the evening news—which also featured Uno, the beagle that took Best in Show at a dog contest in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
And I ask myself, What kind of world is this?

Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.