Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is There a Christian Position on Health Care Reform?

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter.

During a town hall meeting in Lebanon, PA last week, Senator Arlen Specter took some theological criticism. The Philadelphia Inquirer described it this way: “Specter stood inches from a screaming man who accused him of subverting the Constitution. The man thundered, ‘One day, God's going to stand before you and judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill - and then you will get your just deserts.’" No doubt, like all of us, Washington politicians will one day stand before God and answer for their sins—and no doubt, many of them will have some doozies!—but I think it’s fair to ask whether or not this type of religious criticism really gets us anywhere?

I think it is also a fair question to ask whether any or all the multiple plans for health care reform circulating through Congress really subvert the Constitution, just as I also think it is fair to ask if so, would that necessarily mean God would condemn anyone for doing so? But, let’s set these questions aside for the purposes of this column and ask a more fundamental question—is there any position on health care reform that can appropriately be called Christian? I’ll show my cards and say, “Yes.” Although, I’d qualify my answer by adding, “I think there is a Christian position on health care reform in a general sense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any particular reform plan is a Christian plan or should be supported by all Christians.”

I’ll begin explaining what I mean by this qualified statement by quoting Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of our denomination, the Disciples of Christ. In a recent letter to the denomination, Watkins wrote:

Jesus’ ministry was one of healing, bringing life to the dying, sight to the blind, wellness to the sick, and peace of mind to the troubled. Jesus’ witness was that abundant life includes physical, mental and spiritual wellness. The call upon us is to make this vision a reality for all.

Disciples have been involved in the work of healing at home and abroad for generations. The General Assembly has twice spoken out on the need of health care for all (1999, Cincinnati Resolution, 9995; 2007, Fort Worth, Resolution 0724). Congregations know what it is like to help families when they have fallen through the holes in our health care safety net.

I am writing because I believe this is the moment of a generation – when the United States can finally make decent, affordable health care accessible for all.

Watkins states well Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God where all people are made spiritually, mentally and physically whole. Ultimately only God can accomplish that goal, but where Christ’s followers can move their society closer to it—however imperfectly—they must do so. I believe it is not only an issue of human rights from a secular perspective but also an issue of Christian ethics that every person should have available to them quality health care. If I take seriously Jesus’ command to love my neighbor as myself and the theological conviction that each person is made in God’s image, then I can accept nothing less.

Although the final form of Health Care Reform legislation is not yet clear—if it ever will be—and the solutions to our nation’s health problems are multifaceted and complex, one thing should be clear to people of faith: the status quo is not acceptable. Most news reports agree that approximately 47 million Americans are without health insurance and lack affordable health care. Millions more with health insurance are one serious illness away from bankruptcy—health costs were the leading cause of bankruptcylast year. Approximately, 14,000 people lose health insurance each day! Even those with good health insurance now have no guarantee that their employer will continue to provide it tomorrow, next month or next year. Of course, that last point assumes that people with employer-provided health coverage will still have jobs tomorrow, next month or next year.

It is fair and necessary to debate particular solutions to the millions of people without affordable health care and the millions more on the verge of being without it, but what is unethical and I would argue un-Christian is to argue against reform for partisan political gain or ideological allegiance. I believe people of faith should take as their starting position that reform needs to happen and then move on to debate how it should happen in a way that is humble, truthful and Christ-like. If God is going to judge any of us, God will judge all of us for refusing to love others enough to make sure all have quality health care.

Grace and Peace,


lneely said...

since when did being a legislator become a mortal sin? oh wait... specter is a democrat now, isn't he? yeah, he's screwed.

whether you subscribe to a faith or not, to deny good health care to all people in a society that is more than capable of providing it is a moral outrage. not to mention the mounting evidence that the current system is fiscally unsustainable...

i say it's about time we joined the civilized world.

wideyed said...

I love others enough to be a proponent of the quality healthcare that is produced by a competitive, mutli-faceted system (rather than a one-size fits-all government-managed system).

Like many liberal initiatives, I do believe the intention is well and good (which is no small thing considering all of the selfishness that abounds in this and all cultures). But liberals should remember that supporting a charitable cause does not require government mandates or management. Most of our nation's progress and medical advancements are not due to government but to our free-market, after all. And don't forget that it is possible for churches, private charities, and self-determined capitalists to address many of society's ills and shortfalls...including health insurance (which is distinct from healthcare...and which I'd agree does need reform, but not with the proposed increased government engagement).