Now That We've Got Reform for Urban FaithHealth-care reform is here, but the debate rages on. What does the passing of the bill really mean for America? Nine top Christian scholars and activists weigh in on the good, the bad, and the future.

A year ago, if you were playing a game of free association and phrases like “public option,” “socialism,” “tea party,” and “death panel” were tossed your way, it’s unlikely “health-care reform” would’ve been the first thing to pop into your head. Today, however, all of those words are essential to understanding the long and often bitter legislative slog that led to President Obama’s historic health-care victory last month.

Hitting the Reset Button

by Anthea Butler

Now that the controversial bill has been signed into law, we asked several respected Christian scholars and activists to comment on what the passing of the health-care reform bill will really mean for America — and for the church.

Health-care reform is resetting the nation to think about what caring for the “least of these” truly means. Here’s hoping that this will place all of the “Christians” back to thinking about what the ministry of Jesus is all about, instead of playing Pharisees and Sadducees with people’s lives over issues that have been subsumed in political grandstanding.

Dr. Anthea Butler is associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent book is Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World.

Hallelujah and Hallelujah Anyhow

by Valerie Elverton Dixon

When President Obama signed the health-care reform bill into law, many of us who have been advocating for health-care reform shouted “Hallelujah!”

For people of faith, there are two responses to anything that happens: Hallelujah and hallelujah anyhow. Hallelujah means: “Praise God.” God is All in All. God is the Holy “Yes” to our prayers for justice. God is the Divine Sovereign. The word hallelujah is an imperative, a command that reminds us of our duty to give God praise. The apostle Paul writes that in Jesus the promises of God are always “Yes.” And we say: “Amen” to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:19-20). So our praise and our hallelujahs are our own affirmation of the things that God has done. It is recognition that God has kept God’s promises. The relationship between us and God is: yes and amen. Those of us who supported efforts for health-care reform and wanted this legislation give God the glory for a law that at long last codifies in the United States the concept that health-care is a right that governments ought to provide for their citizens. The law that President Obama signed is far from perfect, far from what many of us wanted, but it establishes the principle. Hallelujah.

For those who opposed this health-care reform — hallelujah anyhow. You can praise God because God only knows the long-term effects of this law. Your worst fears may not come to pass. And when all of us put our faith in God, that faith stands in the space carved out by our hopes and becomes evidence of what we do not see.

Behind our various positions on health-care reform is a concern for the well-being of ourselves, our families, our nation, and all of our futures. When we praise the God who says “yes” to his own promises, we know that those promises are for our good.

Some people who opposed the legislation have hurled invectives at people and rocks at buildings to express their anger. Some Republican Congress members have promised to run on repeal of some elements of the legislation, and some have promised not to work with President Obama and the Democrats on any other issues. This would indeed be unfortunate. Hallelujah anyhow.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School. Her comments appear courtesy of our partnership with Sojourners.

The Good, the Bad, the Partisan

by James M. Penning

This health-reform bill will be both good and bad for America, but more bad than good. On the positive side, it will provide health coverage for those Americans who are currently without health coverage and will expand opportunities for those with pre-existing conditions. On the other hand, it will cost the American taxpayers a minimum of $940 billion over ten years (CBO figures), money which our nearly bankrupt government simply does not have. It will also most likely result in Canadian-style service rationing, producing much longer waits for (or even elimination of) expensive treatments.

President Obama will claim (and receive) a good deal of credit in the short term. But, in the longer term, as the true costs become apparent, his image will be tarnished. The Democrats will probably lose more seats in Congress this fall than they would “normally” have lost in an off-year election. While each side will blame the other for making the process ugly, the primary blame rests with President Obama and the congressional Democrats for virtually shutting out the opposition from the decision-making process. Bipartisanship will indeed be more difficult to attain after this. But necessity will
force bipartisanship on key issues facing the nation, particularly if the Democrats’ strangle-hold on Congress is weakened.

Dr. James M. Penning is a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where he’s also director of the Center for Social Research.

Cold, Hard Politics

by William E. Pannell

My first concern is the long-range implications of this health-care bill’s passage. The fact that no Republicans supported it is ominous, and it reinforces my concern that politics in Washington is not bi-partisan but anti-governance. These clowns do not govern; they run for office.

My second concern is whether either party has the balls to rein in special interests. Will they have the courage to regulate the industries that make billions off health-care, no matter who defines it? Finally, I wonder about the future effectiveness of Mr. Obama within his own party. Democrats are their own worst enemy, and Obama, in my view, is too principled to lead them in the manner that may be required.

Dr. William E. Pannell is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Professor of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary. In the past he has served as a professor of evangelism and as director of the African American Studies Program. He’s the author of numerous articles and books, including The Coming Race Wars? A Cry for Reconciliation (1993), Evangelism from the Bottom Up (1992), and My Friend, the Enemy (1968).

The President and the Pro-Life Movement

by Alveda King

Every United States president dreams of making a landmark contribution during his (or, one day, her) term of office. For President Obama, this contribution is health-care reform. When the air clears, hopefully people will be able to once again think logically rather than emotionally, and consider the ramifications of this decision.

As a Christian, I can’t help thinking that Queen Esther had her King Xerxes, Daniel had King Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph had Pharaoh, and Paul had King Agrippa. In each instance, each Bible hero or heroine had a defining moment where the choice was to allow God to use them for His glory, or to judge the ungodly behavior of their respective rulers, and turn away from them in disgust. In most cases, these Bible legends were able to influence their rulers for the good of the people.

Now, today, the pro-life movement has President Obama. Do we allow offense to prevent us for praying for him and for America, or do we press on in the battle to uncover the evils of abortion, eugenics, and genocide? Our battle is not about which humans are right and which humans are wrong. The battle isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. God is not a Democrat or a Republican!

As Christians, we must continue to shine the light of love and truth, to pray for those in authority, and to resist evil practices. Health-care reform is primarily an extension of Medicare, with all of the political hype being about distracting the public while dirty deals were being cut behind the scenes. The so-called health-care reform is really more of what we already have. Appropriate legislation could have been passed to serve the 32 million needing health care with a lot less pain, fanfare, and money. Instead of being expedient, our political “leaders” have been greedy as usual, and a lot of pockets have been lined, make no mistake about it.

That being said, we must still remain encouraged. We must press on for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone from conception to natural death. Procreative reproductive health should be a mantra for any health-care packaging. We must stay focused and press on towards the mark!

Dr. Alveda King is a pastoral associate and the Director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life.

White Privilege Under Assault

by Randy Woodley

All along, the debate was much bigger than health care. The bill had to pass in order to secure the political future for Obama and the Dems, but it was not true “health-care reform.” It was simply a few small improvements to a terribly broken system. We are still needing health-care reform that will truly care for the lives of all Americans.

Yet, more than anything, this past year revealed the depth of racism still present in the heart of America. The debate showed us that the Democrats now look more like the former Republican Party and the GOP is looking more like The John Birch Society. There is a conservative swing with deeply held racist roots occurring in our country. The racial epithets, the spitting, and the racists faxes levied at Representatives John Lewis, James Clyburn, et. al. in the halls of Congress from the “Tea Party” protesters were simply an example of what was being “not said” all along.

The Tea Party and the Republican obstruction of the bill revealed a desperate movement to reinstate the full benefits of White Privilege in America. It is now time for a national conversation on racism in America. Christians should be leading this conversation, not avoiding it.

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian lecturer, poet, activist, pastor, historian and an adjunct professor of intercultural studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Oregon. He is the author of Mixed Blood, Not Mixed Up: Finding God-given Identity in a Multicultural World.

Beyond Rage to Hope

by R. Drew Smith

The battle over health-care reform has been eye-opening in several respects. First, it has shown that President Obama and the Democratic majority in the House and Senate can use the opportunity afforded them as the party-in-power to implement significant changes voters endorsed through the votes they cast in the November 2008 election. In addition to the reassurances this provides about the mechanics of government, it also provides reassurances that moral ends can still be achieved through our political process, however imperfect that process (or the policies it produces) may ultimately be. In this instance, the moral good resulting from access to life-saving health care for tens of millions of Americans who previously lacked such access outweighs the evils (whether real or imagined) that may be contained in this health-care reform bill

What is not reassuring is the rage opponents of the bill are expressing toward a bill that, on balance, is sure to yield clear moral, practical, and (according to many experts) economic benefits for America. It may not be a perfect bill, but it is certainly not the legislative catastrophe that opponents are making it out to be. The real catastrophe is that a bill aimed at providing urgently needed health care to millions of Americans in need of such care has become the occasion where Republican members of Congress and other political conservatives have decided they must take an uncompromising stand against government spending … and against publicly funded abortions … and against the government requiring citizens to take actions deemed to be in the public interest (i.e., purchasing health insurance). Weren’t there other occasions (and better-suited occasions) — even during George W. Bush’s presidency — where Republicans could have declared on any of these issues: “Enough”? Why wait to take such a decisive stand on these issues now — within the context of a legislative process aimed at extending rights and benefits to many of our fellow citizens who are in dire need?

My hope is that increasingly more Americans conclude in the weeks and months ahead that this significant step toward health-care reform affirms our nobler instincts and should be celebrated, not condemned.

Dr. R. Drew Smith is director of the Center for Church and the Black Experience at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Scholar-in-Residence at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College. He has edited numerous volumes on churches and public life, including Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment and New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America. He is currently writing a book on black churches and contemporary public policy activism.

What the Executive Order Won’t Prevent

by Lorey Carter

I’m extremely concerned about taxpayer-funded abortion in the health-care reform bill and what it means for our nation’s pregnancy centers. Not only does the bill make the work of pregnancy centers, like my organization Care Net, more difficult, it also makes our work more critical than ever before. Specifically, the executive order issued by President Obama does not adequately address many of the issues that concern pro-life leaders. In addition, federal courts will enforce what the law says, not the executive order, and it can be overturned at any moment without a vote.

There are many other matters to consider as well, such as the fact that the bill makes no adequate provision for the rights of conscience of pro-life health-care professionals. When these rights are trumped, pro-life individuals will leave or simply not enter the field of medicine. So, where will pregnancy centers find like-minded doctors and nurses to provide free ultrasounds, prenatal care, or STD testing? They simply won’t exist.

The good news is that African Americans are being awakened to the devastating impact of abortion on their communities and more and more are willing to stand against it. While the president has stated that we should all be working to reduce the need for abortion, the administration’s actions contradict these words. Nevertheless, because of the growing commitment of pro-life Americans at the grassroots level to offer practical help and compassionate support to women facing unplanned pregnancies, abortion rates can be reduced in this country in spite of this bill, not because of it.

Lorey Carter, J.D., is the Director of Underserved Outreach for Care Net, a national affiliation group of 1,200 pregnancy centers in the US and Canada. Care Net is currently partnering with African American community leaders to develop pregnancy centers in underserved communities at high-risk for abortion.

Lessons for Religious Progressives

by Eric L. McDaniel

The passage of health-care reform demonstrates the reemergence of religious progressives as a salient force in shaping the nation. The religious progressive movement has been attempting to gain a major policy victory for some time now. The election of President Obama signaled an opportunity for them to gain greater access to policymakers. The message of religious progressives is one that frames morality as both individual and institutional.

While religious conservatives preach about the evils of abortion and homosexuality, progressives preach about the evils of inequality. The passage of the health-care bill reflects the great reforms this group has championed in the past, including Social Security and civil rights.

This is an important victory for the group and a cause for their celebration. However, this celebration will be short-lived. The fight for health-care reform has only begun. Major battles are looming in the days ahead, including legal challenges from the States.

As Americans better understand how these reforms will affect them, opposition should decrease. But religious progressives must be able to withstand the storm of opposition currently in motion. They must be able to brush off the angry pundits and critics who label them “communists” and “Marxists.” And they must confront the classic American ideal of individualism.

If religious progressives want health-care reform to truly come about, they must take notes from the religious conservatives who constantly mobilize their followers and maintain strong relationships with policymakers to make sure their voice is heard. Just as religious conservatives have extolled the need for individual morality, religious progressives must show that institutional morality is just as important. If they are focused and organized, they can make a lasting difference in developing what they believe is a moral American health-care system.

Dr. Eric L. McDaniel is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin and an affiliate of the Department of Religious Studies and the Center for African and African American Studies. He’s also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He’s the author of Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches.

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