Among other controversies, the health-care debate has shined a light on the different ways that African Americans and European Americans think about government in the lives of people.
I was recently talking with a European-American friend of mine who is also an evangelical. I am African-American and evangelical. We were talking about the tense debate that has been going on in our nation about health care when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a health-care reform bill was a government-run health-care system, which would lead to bigger government. I responded by agreeing with his concerns, but stating that he should have been concerned about big government militarily during the George W. Bush years as well.
I then asked the first question: “Why do some conservatives so easily see the threat of big government when it has to do with health care, but can’t see big government when it’s running an expensive war in Iraq? Not many conservatives complained about how much money the war in Iraq was taking out of their pockets, but now they’re angry about how much the potential passing of a health-care reform bill would. Both the management of war and health care are types of big government, leading to spending money we don’t have as a country in debt.”
My friend responded by asking this question: “Why do so many African-Americans trust government with health care? Why are so many not concerned about big government in this way?”
I thought this was a great question that gets to the racial divide around how some African Americans and some European-Americans see government and corporate America from different perspectives. One of the reasons some European-Americans would rather see health care worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans, life in the U.S. began with a seeking of independence from European government systems and the pioneering of a new way of living based on democracy — and maybe more importantly, the development of an economic system called capitalism. This history sheds light on why conservatives and many evangelicals today would be concerned about big government.
For African-Americans there is a history in this country which begins with slavery. The African-American begins his or her experience in the economic system of capitalism and free enterprise as the slave. From there, the experience with the economic system for many African-Americans is within a race-based, sub-system called Jim Crow Segregation. Primarily, government has been the catalyst to open the door to freedom from slavery, even if Jim Crow Segregation was one of its initial alternatives. Overall, government has been the instrument through which substantive change has come for African Americans. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government-led realities.
Could this be the foundational reason why, in this society still influenced by race, many European-Americans are concerned about big government while many African-Americans embrace it? I believe the church in the United States of America must rise out of being the most racially segregated institution in this nation so that it can lead conversations and forums on reconciliation. At the church where I serve as senior pastor, we have a class called City Matters which seeks to raise awareness and spark reconciling discussion. We’ve also hosted an initiative called The Invitation to Racial Righteousness, developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are a part.
We need more churches to lead these types of initiatives. These conversations and forums could help us understand one another better. We need to move from demonizing those with different perspectives than ourselves and seek to understand the historical roots of our differences. It is possible to love God, follow Christ in a radical way, and have conversations about differing perspectives on how we view the role of government.
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As an African-American I definitely understand our looking to government for help, but I think it’s time for us to understand that it’s time to stop looking to the government. Our hope is in the Lord, not government. We now live in a society where you can be what you want to be without much hindrance. Is there still racism? Yes, but we don’t face near the obstacles our forefathers faced.
There’s one other thing I’d like to point out. To compare going to war in Iraq with creating government healthcare is comparing apples to oranges. Government has been charged by God to guard it’s people against evildoers. Saddam Hussein was definitely an evildoer and threat to our national security (even without WMDs). It has not been charged to provide healthcare. To add to this, other countries have tried government-run healthcare and many of their people come to America to get the care they need because of the inefficiency of their own system. Government has proven to not be very efficient in running it’s other programs. What makes us think it’ll run healthcare any better? Trust me, as a U.S. veteran, I know how inefficient the government can be. To top all that, what President Obama is proposing will possibly leave our children and grandchildren with a debt that they’ll never be able to pay. I don’t want to leave my posterity with that kind of burden!
I do applaud your desire to bring both sides of this debate together. Ultimately, in the Body of Christ, there is no such thing as black or white, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. If we believe on the Son of God revealed in scripture, then we’re one in the Lord!