Health Care: Right, Left, or a Higher Way?

At the risk of inflaming political passions, I can’t resist making some observations about the health care legislation upon which the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in what was either a masterful demonstration of principle and leadership or a last-minute vote change, “sided” with the four liberal judges to uphold the controversial law.

Public and media reaction surrounding the ruling is predictably polarized.  Liberals love the law; conservatives hate it.  I’m not sure either side understands exactly what they love or hate about it, but each is convinced of the rightness of its position.

Christians are not immune to strong political disagreement.  It is possible to find biblical support for both right and left-leaning politics.

Jesus completely rejected the state as a source of Kingdom power.  You’ll find no suggestion of government programs to feed the hungry or heal the sick in the Bible.  Even in the Old Testament theocracy of Israel, it was families and farmers, not the state, who were called upon to provide for the needy.

On the other hand, Jesus did command and model care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, and the Old Testament prophets rightly condemned Israel for failing to do so.  In a democracy such as ours, many Christians argue that the state is an acceptable means by which we can achieve that goal.

Can Christians interact with each other and in the general political arena in a wiser, more redemptive way? 

I believe we can, and Jesus showed us how to do it.  He was no stranger to polarizing issues and power struggles.

The Pharisees, in an attempt to trap Jesus, brought an adulterous woman before him and presented Jesus with two options: pronounce judgment according to the Law, which meant she would be stoned (very bad for his image and against Roman law), or ignore the Law and let her go (an opportunity for the Pharisees to openly oppose him). They Pharisees figured Jesus was in a no-win situation.

Not so fast.  Jesus wasn’t interested in winning.  Instead, he used the moment to expose the false dichotomy between grace and judgment.  He did not condemn, but nor did he excuse the sinful behavior.  He wisely said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus elevated the premise of the dilemma from the fate of one guilty woman to a question of who has the authority to pronounce judgment. 

In another tricky either/or trap, some Pharisees asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.  Yes or no.  Right or wrong. Pick a side.  We’ve got him now, they must have thought.

Jesus wasn’t interested in taking sides.  Instead, he brilliantly re-framed the question to be one of Kingdom allegiance rather than political expedience.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he said, “and to God what is God’s.”

How might these scenarios be instructive to us as we consider health care reform in our country today?

Jesus had to deal with the political realities of his world just like we do in ours, but he did not allow himself to be confined to false dichotomies.  Nor would he play along with polarizing predicaments manufactured to serve the interests of the power brokers of his day.

I don’t think we should play along either.

Health care reform is an important issue in our country, and I believe Christians should educate themselves and intelligently participate in the political process.  But we learn from Jesus that it is not as important that we “win” or “take sides” as it is to elevate the discussion. 

Are we more interested in winning ideological arguments or in truly improving health care?  Do political leaders and journalists who frame the issue in politically polarized terms have their own agendas that are served by keeping us fighting each other?  Finally, are we trusting in government to take care of our health or are we trusting in God?

Health care reform is important, but it is not ultimately important.  The law will probably end up to be the typical human confluence of good intentions, corrupt influences, political considerations, good ideas and bad ideas.  I predict it will ultimately accomplish some positive results, some negative, and plenty of unintended consequences.

Do you think Christians can elevate the tone and content of political dialogue?  Are you tempted to play along with polarized and partisan politics?

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”  1 Corinthians 3:19

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About Judy

At heart I am a student of truth, an observer of culture, and a communicator. Jesus is my teacher and my Lord. In pursuit of these passions, I read as much as I can, serve as Teaching Director for a Community Bible Study group, and write a blog in an attempt to synthesize it all. I take great delight in my relationships with family and friends, and I also enjoy long walks, bike rides and cooking. And did I mention that I like to read?
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14 Responses to Health Care: Right, Left, or a Higher Way?

  1. I appreciate your level-headed approach. It seems like both sides of the issue have infused it with so much hyperbole and emotion.

  2. Larry Who says:

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion about Obamacare. Along with Judy’s words and all of the reader’s comments, I’ve been stirred me up to think about whether or not Christians can elevate the tone and content of political dialogue. So, thanks to everyone and their comments.

  3. Judy says:

    Hi Debbie,
    I like to think that Justice Roberts acted with constitutional integrity. That’s what the Supreme Court is supposed to do, after all. It disturbs me that we even talk in terms of “sides” on the Supreme Court. As you point out, the divisive, disrespectful, and generally hostile political environment keeps good people from engaging and serving – very disappointing behavior from our “leaders.”. Thanks for joining the discussion! And thanks to your son for his contribution:)
    Judy

  4. Debbie says:

    In February, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who is a three-term veteran from Maine, announced that she won’t seek re-election this fall, in spite of the fact that her success was virtually guaranteed.
    I found this to be so sad. Snowe, who is considered to be “one of the handful of moderates left in the Senate”, said that she’s “tired of the gridlock that has paralyzed Congress”.
    This is a portion of her resignation speech:

    “As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives. I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.

    “With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.”

    I typically avoid commenting on political issues because of the rancor involved. My son is a Political Science professor at TCNJ whose emphasis is on American Politics and Constitutional Law.
    As we discussed the Health Care Reform decision, his point was that what Chief Justice John Roberts did was neither liberal or conservative – or even necessarily bi-partisan – but was simply upholding his duty as a justice to apply the principle of constitutionality – period.

    You’re a brave woman for wading into these waters. ;)

  5. Cara Olsen says:

    You make many great points, Judy, and ask similarly strong questions — some of which I, quite frankly, don’t have an answer to. I am not well-versed enough in politics to have strong opinions about people specifically, but there are principals in which I stand by because they are based in doctrine and reflect The Constitutional Bill of Rights. Health care, however necessary, should not be forced upon an individual — ever. It is their right to choose, and in doing so, give up their right for medical attention should they not have a means for paying for it. Beyond that, things start to get messy for me, and I try an uphold a respect and love for the individual, rather than their choice.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    ~ Cara

    • Judy says:

      Hi Cara,
      I’m not sure how many of us are thoroughly informed on public issues. There’s just way too much information for any one person to absorb. So we must depend on media sources who themselves are putting their own spins on sketchy information. So much for finding the facts. So we do our best to discern, I guess. And I take great comfort knowing that God is absolutely in control! Thanks for your thoughts!
      Judy

  6. pdsteggs says:

    I am absolutely tempted to play along with polarized and partisan politics…but I find that I’ve been beaten to it by none other than the politicians themselves and the media who reports them and the pundits who interpret (at best) or make up (at worst) what the politicians are trying to say.

    But, I am also aware that Jesus teaches and prays: “Lead me/us not into temptation.” And, so, I will not digress into the septic tank of partisan politics. Instead, I agree that our country (and our world need to have some serious conversations (some friends call these “coming to Jesus conversations) about these very important issues that confront us.

    As Christians, we are provided with a beautiful model for being and living in the early church described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Caring for one another — particularly the least and the lost and the forgotten — was paramount. Praying for guidance and discernment as to the will of God always trumped argument and, many times, discussion. Love and respect of all people — even those we would consider enemies — characterized early Christian church life.

    Yes, I believe the country and the world and all the peoples therein need to seek the guidance of that “Higher Power” (Christians, Jews and Muslims call that “higher power” the God of Abraham, Yahweh, Jehovah, the Great I Am). We need to put neighbor ahead of ourselves. We need to view the “enemy” as that person we see when we look in the mirror.

    Yes, people of faith need to elevate the level of conversation beyond partisanship and out of political arenas for the issues that face the people of our nation and the world are complex and serious and we need the help of the Almighty to bring our world and ourselves back into a right relationship with the One who has created us. Indeed, the conversation that needs to happen is a theological one — something well beyond City Halls and Congressional Halls. The conversations need to happen in holy places and spaces. The conversations need to be sacred and not secular.

    Well, that’s probably enough…just a few thoughts from an often frustrated but always faithful and faith-filled pastor. Thank you, Judy, for providing a venue to share and to listen (read). Blessings!

    • Judy says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Dan. I too am tempted to play along, and I’m doing my best to learn how to engage in a wise and constructive way. Yes, the political environment is just toxic – tough to get involved without exposing ourselves to the noxious fumes! I completely agree that we need theological conversations, for those will get to the heart of every issue. I have idealistic dreams of the church leading the way:).

      • pdsteggs says:

        Back around election time in 2008, the United Church of Christ (the denomination to which I am connected and ordained) responded to the racial unrest generated by sermonic comments by then Obama pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, by calling for “sacred conversations” on the issue of racism. I would submit that all conversations that we engage in ought to be “sacred.” That is, all conversations ought to be had in the context of and with the inclusion of the Almighty. Wonder with me as to what kind of world this might be if all conversations were “sacred”, including the God as an active participant instead of, at best, an after thought.

        • Judy says:

          Sacred conversations would require that we subject ourselves and our politics to God and to his Word. I’ve noticed that in the mix of faith and politics, both the political right and left do just the reverse when they interpret the Bible according to their preferred political views. When ideology informs our interpretations of God’s Word, then it is not a sacred conversation but the misuse of Scripture as a political weapon. Ideologies are world views born out of human wisdom, experience and history, and therefore they are all flawed and limited. Only the Bible is true. Of course, we all interpret the Bible differently too, and sincere believers will differ. But our goal should be an honest and humble recognition that God’s Word is the authority that trumps our opinions, cultural trends, and politics. It’s not easy to navigate those subtle distinctions or to discern truth. That’s why we need humility, prayer and the Holy Spirit. And it helps to talk it out sometimes:) Thanks Dan.

  7. Larry Who says:

    Ya all fight this out, hear! I’ll just stand back and watch, okay?

  8. qathy says:

    It is an admirable suggestion to elevate the discussion. Unfortunately, as soon as a suggestion leaves your mouth and enters the brain of the hearer/reader, it is classified on the spectrum somewhere between far left and far right. It’s not possible for the discussion to be elevated. It always falls on that spectrum.
    I’m all for elevated discussion, but the left and the right are so far apart and so starkly differentiated by the political realities that there can be no elevated discussion. Given that truth, I’m for a completely lowly solution. Repeal this divisive and destructive law. Forget a government solution to anything you don’t like about healthcare. Any problems that arise from letting the market decide things do a great deal less violence to both individuals and our nation than any solution that has ever been proposed in the realm of government. The federal government is not a good manager of personal problems.
    The fact is that people of good will and healthcare providers of good will have never let the poor and vulnerable be hurt. They go to the ER and they get help. That practice only stopped when the government chose to interfere by defining ER services as a way to prevent death. As long as the ER doctors and nurses were left alone to care for people, people got cared for. So from my point of view, and I can’t speak from any other, the government has only interfered with the natural charitable instincts of doctors and nurses. The providers of healthcare always put the patient first. It is government that starts analyzing cost-effectiveness and so forth.
    Healthcare has never been the business of government. Government is about protecting the playing field, keeping us safe from invasion and fraud. It is not about direct patient care. Let’s keep it that way. I think that plan elevates the patient above the political rhetoric completely.

    • Judy says:

      It is a challenge to keep discussions about politics from degenerating into the tired old partisan arguments, isn’t it. (And I am not always successful in doing so:) But I’m going to try! Thanks for your thoughts on a complex issue.

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