Health-Care Reform and the Golden Rule

Health-Care Reform and the Golden Rule for urban faithTelling half-truths about health-care reform makes it harder for us to judge Obama’s plan based on the facts. But it also violates one of our greatest biblical precepts.

Good will is a primary element of moral conduct. This is an important idea in the thought of philosopher Immanuel Kant. A good will is good in itself because it does not depend upon whether or not the person will benefit from a particular action or not. An individual acting out of a good will considers his or her duty to act in accordance with the moral law.

Kant’s test for whether or not an action coheres to the moral law is his Categorical Imperative, which is very close to the Golden Rule that Jesus taught. The Categorical Imperative says: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” The Golden Rule says: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So, to act from a good will is to act in accordance to one’s duty to do to others as we would be done by — to ask ourselves what kind of world we would create if everyone acted the way we do.

Sadly, many of our leaders in Congress are not acting with a good will. In advance of President Obama’s health-care reform summit, for example, at least one Republican Congress member said that the American people oppose the President’s health-care reform proposal. He is correct. A recent Rasmussen poll reports that 56% of its respondents strongly oppose President Obama’s health-care reform. However, what the Congress member does not say is that in polls where the respondents are told what the elements of the bill are, they approve of the various elements, and support for the bill goes up.

A Newsweek Poll conducted Feb. 17-18, 2010, found the following opinions of the President’s plan: opposed 49%, favor 40%, unsure 9%. After hearing about the specifics of the proposal, the numbers changed: opposed 43%, favor 48%, unsure 9%. Fifty percent of the respondents favor “a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private plans.”

More people in the Kaiser Family Foundation Kaiser Health Tracking Poll believe their families would be better off if the President and Congress passed health-care reform (better off 34%, worse off 32%, 26% not much difference). This number goes up when asked if the country as a whole would be better off (better off 45%, worse off 34%, not much difference 12%). Thirty-two percent think that Congress should pass legislation that has already been approved while 20% think Congress should pass only those provisions where there is broad agreement. Fifty-nine percent think the delay is due to both sides playing politics.

That Congress member told the partial truth, which is still dishonest. There are items in the polls that would support Republican positions. Most people think it is important for health insurers to have the ability to sell across state lines. However, by giving only the facts of the poll that support his position, that Congress member violated the Categorical Imperative and the Golden Rule. The presumption here is that he would not want people to tell half-truths to him or that we ought not to make half-truth-telling a universal law.

What is worse, we have to spend time checking the facts of a poll rather than learning the facts of the various proposals, a combination of which may finally get this country to universal health care. And universal health care is a moral good and ought to be a legislative imperative.

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler.

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 3

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 3 for urban faithIn this third and final installment of Todd Burkes’s series on the thorny political, racial, and cultural issues surrounding the health-care debate, the author dives headlong into his most controversial question yet:

Why is “socialism” such a dirty word in America? Is it really that evil?

We both watched the same scene on CNN while sitting in the crowded food court of the Nairobi airport. But while I understood perfectly the context and quickly dismissed what I was seeing, the woman sharing my table was taken aback.

“What is wrong with her?” she said of the woman on the TV screen who was shown breaking into tears at a U.S. health-care reform town hall meeting. She spoke passionately about what was happening to “her America.” All of her fears about what was happening to her America were wrapped up in her declaration of her Christian faith.

“Is she unstable or something?”

My tablemate couldn’t fathom the depth of emotion that the American woman on the television was expressing over a word that to her was simply not very controversial.

“All of this, over socialism?” she said. “What am I missing?”

Both of us being foreigners visiting in Africa, perhaps we instinctively knew this was one of those cultural differences that make international relations so difficult but that also can broaden our minds to new understanding. This subject and coffee would carry us through a portion of our long layover.

I would soon learn that she was Louise, a Swedish ethnologist who had been in Kenya working on a for-profit clean-water project. We would both soon learn that the word “socialism” means very different things to Western Europeans and Americans.

Socialism is one of the keywords most heard swirling within the fear and anger that have been uncapped by those seeking to prevent President Obama and Democratic Party leaders from reforming America’s health-care system. After the near trillion-dollar bailout of the nation’s banking system, followed by the government essentially becoming a multibillion-dollar stakeholder in General Motors, opponents of health care successfully began playing the socialism card.

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 3 for urban faithAnd, right on cue, many people began to feel that their America, the America that waved the banner of capitalism and democracy in the world, was becoming something else: socialist.

But so what? That’s what many of my friends from Paris and other European nations are asking. Why does the word socialist evoke such an emotional response from Americans? And why do American evangelicals see opposition to socialism as a required part of their faith?

Quelle Horreur!

It wasn’t until I moved to France 14 years ago that I really understood that socialism was not a dirty word throughout the Western world.

Shortly after my arrival in Paris I was confronted with the reality that my views had been shaped by a particular American experience that simply was not shared by French people, no matter their political leaning, their faith perspective, or any other factor.

In France’s parliamentary government, for example, there are basically a few nationalist parties on the far right and then Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party at the mainstream right. There’s the MoDem party in the center, and then on the left are the Socialist Party and several relatively minor parties, including the Communist Party and the Green Party.

So the Socialist Party is mainstream in France, as it is in most Western European countries. The Communist Party remains important, as many remain loyal to the party that stood firm against Nazi occupation during World War II.

Christians here would line up across the political spectrum, but they tend to see the Bible through their cultural lenses, focusing a great deal on the social aspects of Christian teaching.

Understanding the Terms

In the America that shaped my understanding of the world, socialism was linked to communism, and communism was simply wrong. Communism, as we understood it, was not just unproductive and unworkable, it was also evil. Ronald Reagan even called the Soviet Union an evil empire.

Why evil? Both Soviet-bloc and Chinese Communism both were known for their repression of religion and for stifling freedom across the board. People in the Soviet bloc were literally prisoners in their own countries, unable to freely travel abroad.

This was communism as it was portrayed to us. And for many, if not most of us, this was also socialism. Many believed that socialism was a less-extreme form of communism, but that the end result was the same: people who were not free … lazy people who looked for a handout instead of working … an economic system that would not work.

So, France, for example, was socialist while the Soviet bloc was communist. But both were doomed to economic and social failure.

Now, way back in some 101-level college class, I learned that socialism was simply an economic organization designed to distribute more evenly a society’s wealth, while Communism — at least the Marxist version we all know and love — was a government form designed to force a state-run socialist system on a partially unwilling population.

So socialism should be compared to capitalism as an economic system, while Communism should be compared to Democracy as a governmental system.

This is vital to understanding that socialism is not in opposition to Democracy or freedom, as many Americans seem to believe. Anyone who lives in Western Europe, where most of the nations are relatively socialist, can attest to this. One could argue that France’s democracy is much more vibrant than America’s, with an extremely literate and well-informed population frequently taking to the streets and calling for general strikes to make its voice heard by its government.

Yet the people of this vibrant democracy have chosen to use socialism in their economic system to a much larger extent than have Americans.

I stress to a much larger extent because Americans use socialism too. We have socialized police and fire protection, socialized education, socialized retirement insurance and health care for our most vulnerable citizens.

We even have “private socialism,” which is basically how one might define any insurance plan. Everyone pays in so that those who find themselves in need (because of a hurricane, a car accident, or sickness) will not be economically ruined by the unfortunate event.

Of course, we don’t use the S-word to describe any of this.

Which Protestant Ethic?

“But that is exactly how we view socialism,” said Louise back in Nairobi.

“Perhaps it’s more normal for us to think like this,” she said. “Perhaps it is part of our Protestant ethic.

“We’re all on welfare, in a way. We all freely receive all kinds of things. So perhaps it is easier for us to imagine giving back so that others can freely receive.”

It fascinated me that to her, socialism was part of her culture’s Protestant ethic.

I had only ever heard of the Protestant ethic with the word “work” inserted in the middle.

But to Louise, the Protestant ethic was one of grace. It was based in the idea that all Swedes had been blessed greatly and that it was only natural to share the blessing.

In America, our social programs — at least the ones we notice — tend to be in the form of handouts to the poor and the vulnerable. So everyone pays, but only the needy receive. Naturally, there is a certain disdain for this from Americans, who tend to value rugged individualism and pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.

Many Christians even quote often from the Gospel According to Benjamin Franklin, thinking that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.

In majority-culture evangelical churches, passages against idleness and handouts like “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” tended to be preached and taught much more often than their relatively obscure stature might suggest.

Louise made me wonder if American evangelicals, whose gospel message stresses that God’s salvation does not come by works but through God’s grace, realize that the Protestant work ethic, and the attitudes it produces, perhaps run contrary to their doctrine.

The Bible is filled with Scriptures about the poor and exhortations for followers of God to seek justice and protection for them, and to identify with their helplessness as our true state before God.

In the book of Acts we have those two passages about life in the early church (might we call them the founding fathers of the church?), two passages rarely championed as ideals for Christians in evangelical sermons I have heard.

Acts 2:44-45 reads, “All that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”

And then in Acts 4:32-37: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Could it be that the humility the Scriptures suggest should be evident in any person who understands that he or she has done nothing to merit God’s grace is being undermined by an even more fundamental belief in our individual merit?

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 3 for urban faithFrankly, I found Louise’s thinking much closer to the biblical attitudes I find in Scripture than those of many of the people I have heard crying out about socialism. If you pay close attention to the protests and the protesters, you will notice a recurrent theme: Don’t take from me to give to those who won’t work and don’t deserve it.

Don’t give it to those illegal aliens and those good-for-nothing people who won’t work for it. And then, don’t support health care because it will be used to support sinners (i.e., people who don’t deserve it on a moral basis).

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 3 for urban faithMany Americans tend to see socialism as a Robin Hood scheme, robbing from the rich in order to give to the poor. Western Europeans like Louise tend to see socialism as solidarity, everyone pays into the system, but everyone gets something in return.

The City Wall

Centuries ago, most European cities had walls built around them in order to protect the population from marauders and invading armies. Imagine everyone in the city having to provide work and materials for the construction of the wall. Was this an early form of socialism?

Why not a private system in which each one built his or her private wall? Obviously, this would be an impractical and ineffective way of keeping out the enemy. Pulling everyone’s resources together for a common, well-built wall made more sense than some piecemeal wall with huge gaps.

In the same way today, I pay high taxes here in France, but each month I receive a check from the government to help with the expenses for my three children, my kids will be able to go to university for free as long as they perform well enough to continue, and my health care is largely covered, even if I lose my job, change jobs, go back to school, etc.

This just makes sense to most people here. The wall works for everyone, so why not pay your part?

Louise admitted that in Sweden, as is the case in France, this concept has come under more stress now that many of those who live inside the walls of Europe are not Europeans. People have a much harder time with solidarity when it has to be done with Turks, or Africans, or Arabs — people with different skin colors, cultures, languages, and values.

But that’s another subject. Or is it?

Looking Deeper

Perhaps when the Christian woman cried and talked about losing her America, what she really was feeling had little to do with socialism and had a lot more to do with the same struggles that Louise’s socialist countrymen are struggling with in Sweden. Majority-culture Americans are perhaps feeling what if feels like to have to share space — and power and resources — with people who don’t believe like them, don’t think like them, and perhaps don’t look like them. The United States now even has a black president! Indeed, this is not the America they are used to.

I’m not talking about racism. I’m talking about a very human desire to build our wall with people like us. Barn raisings and community fundraisers, or special church offerings for hurting people … none of those things are called socialism or condemned as ungodly. But those things are usually done for people inside our wall. People like us — or people far enough away from us (like in an African or Haitian village) that we don’t have to deal with them in our everyday lives.

But in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks his listeners — who knew they were to love their neighbors as themselves — to consider just who was their neighbor. The answer: It’s not always the neighbor who is like you.

It’s too easy and unproductive to label this inwardly turned streak of our human condition as “racism.”

But it is also too easy to slap the “socialism” and “un-American” labels on everything that we don’t like without examining what is really going on in our hearts. Once we stop worrying about bogeymen like Communism and dictatorships, we can start thinking on another level.

Followers of Christ, in particular, would do well to look less to the founding fathers as their model and instead look to the heavenly Father, who has expressed His love for them, giving to them freely, just as He loves all those people they would rather not have inside their city walls.

This may not mean that everyone will support health care. But it should lead Christians to humility and grace rather than what we are seeing all too often during this present debate.

Related Articles: Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 1 and Part 2.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Where Do We Go from Here? for urban faithA HEALTH-CARE FORUM: 16 Christian leaders talk faith, policy, justice, and reform. Featuring Harry R. Jackson Jr., Jim Wallis, Alveda King, Brian McLaren, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Noel Castellanos, Chandra White-Cummings, Lisa Sharon Harper, and more.

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words in the conclusion to his final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? It was 1967, and he was writing in reference to the epic battle for social justice that raged throughout the ’60s. It was a battle between integrationist and separatist, rich and poor, conservative and progressive, Black Power and nonviolent resistance. Most significantly, it was a battle between American and American.

Today in the U.S., we find ourselves at another defining crossroads. The health-care debate is tearing at our nation’s soul, exposing and widening our cultural divisions. Issues — both real and perceived — such as class, race, euthanasia, sanctity of life, immigration law, size of government, and fiscal responsibility have been infused into our conversations and arguments, making a rational and bipartisan resolution seem increasingly unlikely. But whatever the political outcome, a choice remains for us as a nation — and as followers of Jesus. Which will we choose: chaos or community?

In this special forum, UrbanFaith joins forces with Sojourners to present a collection of diverse perspectives on health-care reform. In the days following President Barack Obama’s address before Congress, we asked a cross section of Christian leaders for their opinions about the health-care controversy. Below are their statements of support, opposition, and philosophical reflection. Some are brief, others more expansive. But in each, we hope you’ll find a fresh idea, challenge, or encouragement that helps advance your view of this complex topic.

Reform Is a Moral Issue by Jim Wallis

In his speech before Congress, President Barack Obama made the commitments that a broad coalition in the faith community had asked for — reform as a moral issue, affordable coverage for all, and no federal funding of abortion. Now it is the job of the faith community and every concerned American to make sure the final bill reflects all these moral principles. We will now be calling on our members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, many of them members of our congregations, to support these moral commitments and to make sure, as they “iron out the details,” that each one is firmly upheld.

Rev. Jim Wallis is president and CEO of Sojourners and the author of The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. For his full statement, click here.

Whose Morality? by Harry R. Jackson Jr.

Church leaders have been asked by the president to call universal health care a “moral imperative.” Projecting universal health care as the “only” moral imperative is as sensible as calling a person born in the U.S. a native Australian because he visited Sydney once. It is certain that every judicious person in the nation wants medical care for the least, the last, and the left out — the goal is admirable, yet sometimes evil is done by those with good motives who lack long-term vision.

The crux of the health-care question is not whether we want to help everyone; the question is how do we deliver the help. Personally, I do not want a socialistic system fraught with inefficiencies. Others are wary of crippling a system that is currently saving millions of lives every day. This argument is not theoretical — delay or denial of essential services will spell death for thousands. Aren’t the lives of every American important? “First do no Harm!” are the familiar words to the Hippocratic Oath.

Where does that leave us? Unfortunately, the plan as it is being fashioned is patently evil. It has several major blemishes. These blemishes are threefold — the moral impact of denied service, funding of abortion, and making employers (including churches) pay for a system that administrates death.

Despite the president’s declarations, his henchmen have refused to add amendments to the bill that would specifically rule out state paid abortion. The Capps amendment, which passed the House Energy and Commerce committee, clearly states that abortion can be “covered” under the public option and must be covered under at least one private plan in each region that is in the Exchange. While it’s a precise point, the other side keeps pointing to the Capps amendment and saying, “Look, it says no ‘funds’ can go for abortions”…. but it violates the Hyde Amendment by providing government subsidies for health plans that “cover abortion” whether the tax dollars actually pay for it or the private premiums pay for the abortion.

Experts tell me that the Capps Amendment has an accounting gimmick that makes it look like only private funds would pay for the abortion, but it clearly says that the government public plan and private plans may, and some must, “cover abortion.”

Most people believe that health-care reform is an important moral issue. However, big government alone cannot reform health care. In fact, it is not the proper mechanism for such a reform.

The community, including the church, has to play a role in health-care reform. Historically, churches and other faith-based charitable organizations have taken an active role in the development of hospitals and organizations that supply care for the sick.

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina dramatically altered the lives of many people, and blacks in particular, it was the church and other non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross, the Southern Baptist Convention, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities, to name a few, who were very instrumental in the efforts to respond to this emergency.

Health-care reform is an emergency, no question; however, government intervention alone cannot adequately address it. The American community — and the faith community, in particular — must play an active role in the reform efforts.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church and founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. He is the coauthor (with Tony Perkins) of Personal Faith, Public Policy.

Reclaiming Civility by Kathy Khang

I’ve grown weary of the health-care debate, because there’s less and less actual debating going on. There’s a lot of noise — loud voices coming from people accusing one another of fear-mongering, politicizing, hypocrisy, racism, and ignorance. I must admit that some of the ranting is actually kind of funny, if I don’t take myself or anyone else too seriously.

But in the past couple weeks I’ve had to stop reading, listening, and watching. The news is too disheartening.

I think we’re losing our way to reforming anything because some of us are too busy drawing lines in the sand. (And not the kind Jesus was drawing.) I know I’m lost.

What difference does it all make if, in the name of reform, neighbors can’t be neighbors?

Well, it matters to me because on most days I want to live out what I say I believe. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to love my neighbor when I think they are stupid and wrong. Justice and reform will have to start with my heart, before I open my mouth to help shift the noise back to reasonable and civil debate. Anyone want to join me?

Kathy Khang is a mother of three and wife of one who’s trying to love and follow Jesus. She also serves with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a multiethnic ministry director. She is a coauthor of More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith, and she blogs at MoreThanServingTea.wordpress.com.

Affirming That America Cares by Barbara Williams-Skinner

As chairman of the board of the Christian Community Development Association and a member of the National African American Clergy Network, I wholeheartedly welcome President Barack Obama’s clear and bold pronouncement of the moral foundation for comprehensive and affordable health care for all Americans. His affirmation that America must become a nation that cares about the health and wellbeing of all of her citizens is encouraging.

In his speech to Congress, beyond the issue of universal, affordable coverage and health care as a basic moral issue, was another critical issue. As a pro-life Democrat, I was especially gratified to hear President Obama state unequivocally that abortions would not be included as part of health-care reform legislation.

I pray that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle would come together behind the President’s vision for comprehensive health-care reform legislation that is worthy of our great nation.

Rev. Dr. Barabara Williams-Skinner is a member of the National African American Clergy Network and president, Skinner Leadership Institute.

Not a Political Contest by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

Our health-care crisis is, above all, a moral failure. Reform should be neither a partisan cause nor a political contest, but a necessity of service to the common good of our society. I trust that our politicians now can act as the leaders they were elected to be.

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America.

Remember It’s HealthCare by Arnold M. Culbreath

Everyone in the U.S. should have, and deserves to have, health-care coverage. I think we all agree that our current health care needs an overhaul. However, to have a proposed health bill that either directly or indirectly mandates a universal tax funding for all abortions for any reason is not health care — especially when abortion remains the leading cause of death in the Black community, higher than AIDS/HIV, accidents, heart disease, cancer, and violent crimes combined.

Rev. Arnold M. Culbreath is the urban outreach director for the Life Issues Institute, where he leads the Protecting Black Life outreach ministry.

Neighborliness and Generosity by Diana Butler Bass

President Obama has made the moral case for health-care reform by appealing to the best aspects of American character, reminding us of our history, and by making people accountable for their actions. He has called us to neighborliness and generosity. He has drawn a life-affirming picture of a caring community, asking everyone to do his or her part, outlining the responsibilities of deep democracy. And if that’s not progress — and progressive — I don’t know what is.

Diana Butler Bass is a commentator and scholar in American religion and the author of several books, including the bestselling Christianity for the Rest of Us. Read her full statement here.

In Good Faith by Galen Carey

The National Association of Evangelicals welcomes President Obama’s renewed call for bipartisan cooperation on health-care reform. We support the goals of extending coverage, controlling costs, and preventing federal funding of abortion. As the debate moves forward we call on all members of Congress to negotiate in good faith and with the civility, humility, and respect which this important issue demands.

Dr. Galen Carey is director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

Pray and Act Accordingly by Alveda C. King

The church can turn the tide in the current political debates. God is neither Democrat nor Republican; God is sovereign. The first and final acts of people of faith should be to pray and act accordingly. As to the current health-care debate, we must encourage the President and leaders of our nation to remember the dignity of all Americans.

In a recent open letter to President Obama, I joined several African American leaders to declare:

“Mr. President, in the Beloved Community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., equal justice means that young people in the womb are not terminated and the elderly in ill health are not denied care because of their age.

We are concerned that your current healthcare plan will not serve the needs of those who are most at risk….

If healthcare reform passes, we have no doubt the number of African American women having abortions will sky rocket. The healthcare bill text needs to clearly exclude abortion from any taxpayer-subsidized or government-mandated benefits. Abortion is not healthcare.

People with disabilities, terminal illnesses, and the elderly, all who need special and expensive care, are also at risk of losing accessibly to doctors and having care denied or delayed…. We are concerned that patient care would be made based primarily on cost and that people with disabilities or special health needs will be put on waiting lists, or worse yet, denied potentially life-saving procedures outright….

We, the undersigned, urge you and your colleagues to seriously consider the concerns we have outlined above. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to stand for compassionate care for all Americans, joining the chorus of “Free At Last” as proclaimed in Dr. King’s ” I Have A Dream” speech.” [Read the complete letter here.]

Considering these words, I invite people of prayer to hold steadfast to the dream as we pray that God will heal our land.

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

A Matter of Character by Brian McLaren

Three things struck me about President Obama’s speech to Congress on health-care reform. First, I was struck by his emphasis on morality. Caring for our poor neighbors — and even more so when they are sick — is indeed a moral concern.

Second, I was impressed by the way the speech addressed economic concerns. Like a lot of people, I’m concerned about costs and deficits — and I thought the President wisely pointed out that the rising costs of doing nothing are unacceptably high. The fact that we pay significantly more for health care than other wealthy nations — and are not more healthy, but less — tells me we have a lot to learn from other countries, both in treating disease efficiently and in pre-empting it with healthier living.

Finally, I was impressed by the mature and responsible character reflected in both the speech’s content and delivery. Even when he was called a liar by a member of Congress from whom we would expect more adult, civil, and professional behavior, the President modeled the grace and restraint that signal maturity of character. And similarly, the speech rightly emphasized that health care is a matter of national character. It takes maturity to integrate diverse concerns that are both long-term and short-term, personal and corporate, economic and moral. It takes maturity to integrate our traditional values of individual self-reliance and of commitment to our neighbors.

Our nation hasn’t displayed a lot of that maturity of character in my lifetime, and now, both in what we do and how we do it, is our opportunity to learn and grow.

Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

Looking Beyond Our Own Interests by Noel Castellanos

President Obama’s appeal to Congress and to the American people to stay the course and reform our current health-care system is a clear call for us to look beyond our own personal interests and to assure that 50 million of our brothers and sisters in this country without basic health coverage receive this basic human right in the richest nation in the world.

Rev. Noel Castellanos is CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, a network of over 500 non-profits ranging from grassroots, community based groups to large relief and development organizations serving under-resourced communities.

Contend for the Faith by Chandra White-Cummings

Health care, as is the case with most policy issues, is complex and does not readily lend itself to sound-bite solutions or cue-card commentary. Making headway will require serious and rigorous thinking, an expanded collective capacity to think beyond the confines of one’s own borders of concern, innovative perspectives, and finally, decisive action. A scenario that can greatly benefit from the involvement of dedicated, biblically-literate Christians who are prepared to bring the gospel to bear in this arena.

In the health-care arena, our primary responsibility is the same as in other spheres of life — to make disciples of Jesus Christ by teaching obedience to what He has commanded. How can this apply to health-care reform efforts?

First, we should teach people the importance of prayer. We are instructed through Paul’s first letter to Timothy to pray and intercede for “kings and all who are in authority” by asking God to help them; and to give thanks for them. Society desperately needs to learn dependence on a source outside itself for answers to life’s perplexities and issues. Questions about who should be responsible for providing health care to the poor, what is the scope of government’s responsibilities to its citizens, and how should systemic inequities that plague our health-care system be remedied cannot be answered by mere human wisdom. We need God’s help.

If Christians of all political persuasions, parties, and positions would conspicuously pray for God to help the President exercise prudence and execute justice in a way that will allow all of us to “live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity,” we can show the power of true unity to accomplish workable and practical solutions.

Second, we should teach the importance of a comprehensive standard of justice by standing for truth without compromise. One of the most hotly contested portions of the President’s proposed health-care reform involves allowing government funding of abortions. In numerous places in the Bible, we are told that it is wrong to murder, and also we are warned of the wrath of God against those who shed innocent blood. We are also reminded that God Himself creates human beings with identity and purpose, and that we are responsible to Him for how we use our bodies. Christians should, according to Jude 3, contend for the faith that God has entrusted to us. So we should oppose any provisions that could violate God’s principles of justice.

We can help people understand the unbreakable bond between justice and righteousness, and that if our President would act justly toward his constituents, he must also conform to God’s standards of righteousness. Caring for the poor is but one consideration for truly equitable and just health-care reform.

Third, Christians can contribute to the health-care debate by teaching the necessity of examining and addressing root causes of deeply entrenched problems. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was His insistence on compelling people to deal with heart issues and not just outward behavior. In health-care, racism and discrimination, institutional corruption, and abandonment of personal responsibility have all greatly contributed to the mess we find ourselves in. For example, a May 2008 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that the annual cost of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related conditions in this country is $2.25 billion to $4.6 billion. This economic toll on an already overburdened health-care system represents but one result of our refusal to submit our sexuality to the principles of God’s law.

Whereas many are still trying to keep a wall erected between private behavior and public intervention, Christians should be dispelling that myth and injecting notions of collective accountability and consequence into conversations about how to bring down the cost of health care.

The Bible clearly teaches Christians that we have a life-preserving, purifying, and illuminating role in society. Christian lives, lived boldly and faithful to biblical principles, can turn around even this seemingly impassable health-care dialogue.

Chandra White-Cummings is a columnist for UrbanFaith and director of the Black Life Issues & Action Network, in Dayton, Ohio, a non-profit program that works to educate, empower, and engage the African American community concerning issues that impact Black women, children, and families. She blogs at Life As We Know It.

Beyond Vilifying and Demonizing by Eugene Cho

In the health-care debate, I think it’s time we move beyond vilifying and demonizing one another as people who either monopolize compassion or completely lack it. No one wants anyone to die or to go broke. But we have a system that can be improved, right?

My perspective is simple, even though I acknowledge the situation is complex and the solutions even more so. As a country and government, I don’t believe we have to provide universal health care. While I personally acknowledge it is a moral issue from my worldview, I have to understand that people have fundamentally different views about the role and purposes of government.

So, while we don’t have to, it is amazing to consider that as a country and as the people of this country …

We can do this.

We don’t have to but we get to. Doesn’t this contribute to our collective idea of liberties and the pursuit of happiness?

Rev. Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. He and his wife are also the co-founders of One Day’s Wages — a movement to fight extreme global poverty. You can stalk him at his blog or follow him on Twitter.

Rights and Wrongs by Lisa Sharon Harper

“Healthcare reform is @ the right to life,” read my Twitter tweet. “Interesting … Many who claim to be ‘pro-life’ trumpeted choice over the past month.”

The tweet posted to my Facebook page and touched off the longest string of commentary I’ve ever had! One response from an old friend was particularly interesting. She identified herself as “a conservative” and “born again” and said health care should be kept separate from the “right to life.”

Should it?

Health care is a basic human right, according to Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for it is directly connected with a human’s right to live (Article 3, UDHR). But let’s not get all technical.

Let’s get biblical.

In the Matthew 25 story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus Himself says an equitable health-care system is a mandate for those who call themselves Jesus followers.

Jesus refers to the righteous whom the Father has invited into the kingdom in verse 37. The word righteous is actually translated the just or equitable in character and action. The word equitable is about fairness and intrinsically refers to systemic justice. In other words, the ones who seek to create fair systems, the ones who level playing fields, will be the ones standing on the right with the sheep.

Now, which playing fields is Jesus most concerned about? In the same passage, He actually lays out a public policy agenda.

• The word hungry (v. 35) means famished in the Greek. It should lead us to consider “How just is our food system?”

Thirsty means just that — thirsty. It should lead us to consider our water system: “How clean and safe is the water provided for the ones on the other side of the tracks in our towns, our cities, our world?”

Naked actually means stripped in the Greek. It should lead us to consider “How do our systems affect those who have experienced the greatest injustices, those on the bottom, those who live with the greatest weight of our systems on their shoulders?”

Sick means diseased. It should lead us to consider the justice of our health-care system. Does our health-care system offer an equitable distribution of health and life to rich and poor?

Stranger means immigrant. It should lead us to consider the justice of our immigration system.

Prison means prison. It should lead us to consider the justice of our prison system.

So, as Jesus followers we must seek to level the playing fields that govern public life. How can we, then, in good conscience, separate in our minds and our hearts the health of the living from the health of the unborn? We cannot.

Rather, we must consider our times. We must consider our history in the public square — I refer here to our leadership in the segregationist movement and the anti-women’s rights movements of the mid-20th century. In those days, evangelicals were ruled by fear of change. We were ruled by fear of the future. We were guided by the instinct to preserve the self. As a result, our mantra became: “Damn the one who would threaten my way of life!”

Today, we stand at another crossroads. God has given us another chance to stand on the right side of history. The evangelicals of the 19th century had their “come to Jesus” moment over slavery. They chose well. The evangelicals of the 20th century had their “come to Jesus” moment over Jim Crow and segregation. Many of them walked away from Jesus. This is our moment.

We must examine the proposals being put forth by Congress and examine the words of Jesus.

We must ask the questions: Is it just and equitable to make sure that every citizen of our nation has access to health-care that can save their lives? Is it unjust to deny access to health-care to those who cannot afford it? Would Jesus condone unjust health-care policies that have the ability to affect the lives of millions of people made in the image of God?

Then we must choose our side in the annals of history.

I choose health-care reform, and I am for the public option. Why? Because I am for a consistent ethic of life.

Lisa Sharon Harper is co-founder of New York Faith & Justice, a city-wide movement of churches, organizations, and individuals committed to following Christ, uniting the church, and ending poverty in New York. She also is the author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat.

Justice, Integrity, and Respect by Samuel Rodriguez

Our nation needs health-care reform that reconciles affordability and accessibility with the protection of life, conscience, personal and religious liberties. We encourage all members of Congress to debate with integrity, humility, and respect. Health-care reform is a matter of social justice driven by a moral imperative that is undeniable.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Learning to Listen to Each Other by Gina R. Dalfonzo

One of the questions asked in reference to this forum was “What can be done to heal the ‘often bitter divisions’ that the health-care debate has exposed in America?” This was the question that really got me thinking. As Christians, we’re supposed to set an example of treating each other with love and respect even when we disagree. As Paul tells us, we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

And yet, all too often, we fail to do this. I’ve seen Christians on both sides become mired in conspiracy theories and outright deceptions, leading to groundless accusations, hurt feelings, and anger. Of all people, we should realize the need both to seek truth and to treat each other with courtesy and respect.

Part of that effort involves clearing up misconceptions. Since UrbanFaith and Sojourners have graciously given me the opportunity to share my viewpoint here among my progressive Christian brothers and sisters, let me try to clear up a couple right now.

First of all, believe it or not, we conservative Christians actually do understand your concerns about the poor and uninsured. (I would hardly be working for Prison Fellowship Ministries if I only cared about the wealthy and powerful.) What we need you to understand is that we’re afraid that expanding government control of health care will only worsen the situation. Anyone who doubts the possibility of rationing or other abuses need only look at the government-run health-care system in Great Britain, where infants, the elderly, and everyone in between are having their health care withdrawn, not expanded.

The fact is that governments simply cannot afford to assume the bulk of the staggering costs of health care. And the more control that government has over our health care, the less control we individuals have over some of our most important and personal decisions. And yet many of us who are trying to point these things out get called whiny, racist, or worse.

For the record — though it shouldn’t even need to be said — it’s no fairer to lump everyone who voted against Barack Obama into one big group of racists than it would be to lump everyone who voted against Sarah Palin into one big group of sexists. Of course there are subsets of racists and sexists in these respective camps, and goodness knows they can be unpleasantly vocal. But to ascribe the basest possible motives to an opponent just because one disagrees with his or her ideas is the last thing a Christian should be doing. And this goes for both sides. We must learn to listen respectfully to what others are really saying, not to what our preconceptions tell us they must be saying and thinking.

More than anything, the topic of health care should remind us of the dignity and worth of each individual, and the significance of his or her opinions, needs, and values, in the eyes of our Creator. Without that shared belief to guide us, we will never get anywhere.

Gina R. Dalfonzo is editor of The Point and a writer for BreakPoint Radio, both ministries of Prison Fellowship. She’s also the editor of Dickensblog, “a blog for all things Dickens.”
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Let’s Continue the Conversation

So what do you think? Did you see your perspective represented here? Do you agree or disagree with our panelists? Did we miss a crucial point of the debate? Let us hear your feedback now. Leave your comments below to continue the conversation.

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 2

Confronting Health-Care Hysteria, Part 2 for urban faithOne might find it strange that a guy who spends his time writing and speaking about reconciliation is sticking his neck out on the volatile issue of health-care reform. The attitude of a reconciler, a peacemaker, would seem to be at odds with that of someone who is outspoken about political issues. But the more I understand reconciliation, especially the biblical principles behind the idea, the more I find myself unable to keep my opinions to myself.

In the end, I am not as concerned about whether health-care reform passes or fails as I am with how people who represent Christ to the world are thinking through and communicating what they believe.

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