Posted by: John Adams | September 14, 2009

Obama, Healthcare, and the Church

President Obama defended his healthcare plan to the American public on “60 Minutes” tonight, confidently stating that despite a month of acrimonious debate in Congress, rancorous town hall meetings, and yesterday’s march on Washington to protest federal spending, he still believes he has enough votes “to pass not just any healthcare bill, but a good healthcare bill that helps the American people, reduces costs, [and] actually over the long-term controls our deficit.”

While the president was as likable, thoughtful, and well-spoken as always, I must confess skepticism as to that last point. I am not clear on how a program with a price tag pushing $1 trillion will “control the federal deficit,” particularly when similar programs have not proven to do anything of the sort in other countries where they have been implemented, such as the United Kingdom. The president’s argument that the healthcare solution he proposes will help cut costs in the long run by eliminating “the biggest problem we have in our budget, the biggest long-term problem we have…Medicare and Medicaid” is tortured logic at best, since the program with which he proposes we replace those failing programs is simply a larger, more expensive, more comprehensive version of the same.

For evangelical Christians, however, the primary point of concern with the bill continues to be the fact that it contains no specific prohibition of the use of federal funds to insure practices such as abortion and euthanasia. While some leaders of the “Evangelical Left”–particularly Jim Wallis–have given lip service to making sure abortion services do not become a federally funded part of the public option, the fact that Wallis and co. have already pledged support to Obama’s plan through last month’s “40 Days for Health Reform” campaign essentially means that Democrats can count on their support whether they change the bill or not. Without a “line in the sand” approach, the strength of the pro-choice lobby within the Democratic Party will ensure that the bill does not change, but remains the same.

Whatever the final form of the bill, I believe President Obama when he says he has the support to get it through. When  it does pass, its success will not owe primarily to President Obama’s charisma or the Democratic majority in Congress, but rather to the Republican Party, who have never demonstrated significant interest in this issue when they have held the majority and who seem to lack imagination now more than ever in proposing an alternative. Whatever your view on healthcare reform, the fact remains that America is the world’s only developed nation to have upwards of 30 million uninsured citizens, a statistic by which many political conservatives seem non-plussed.

More frustrating is the attitude prevailing among many American evangelical Christians, whose views on this issue are often more reflective of the individualism that undergirds much conservative ideology than a worldview shaped by the Scriptures. The Bible contains a strong thread of social responsibility, embodied in codes such as the “gleaning laws” of the OT, which reserved a portion of every wealthy man’s field for harvest by the poor. This thread continues on through the prophets–who repeatedly cry out on behalf of the fatherless, the widow, and the alien, and decry those who would make themselves rich at those groups’ expense–into the NT, where we find the early church pooling its resources in order to provide for the defenseless and down-and-out. This ethic of “every man not only for himself, but for himself and as many as he can help” is a far cry from the rhetoric of modern conservatives like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity.

When Republicans and conservative Christians get serious about the fact that America is the only first-world nation where a medical crisis can bankrupt a middle-class citizen (and demonstrate that seriousness in crafting thoughtful legislation), I believe that the nation will listen. Until that day, it is embarrassing that the people most determined to address the issue are those with whom we, as Christians, must disagree on so many other things.



  1. Wow John! That was awesome. So well presented and thought out. Thanks.

  2. Excellent.

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