By Stephen Tickner
The health care debate in this country has ratcheted up to the likes of an accidental discharge at a fireworks stand in July. Ever since members of Congress went back to their districts for the August recess and started holding Town Hall meetings to hear from their constituents, the obscene, absurd, ridiculous, and frightening have bared their ugly faces. A frighteningly small amount of discourse and debate on health care reform has taken place-if any at all-and been replaced with scare tactics and a propaganda war on both sides. With four bills floating around the House of Representatives waiting for a fifth, and no official bill floating through the Senate, now is the time to return to rationality and have that debate.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that the essence of the problem is getting lost. This country’s health care system is broken and needs to be fixed with true reform and I, as a Christian, believe it is a moral issue that God cares deeply about.
I came to this belief after being challenged by friends on the question of Biblical imperative and observing various Christian organizations making the claim of the moral need for health care reform. So, I wanted to see for myself. A journey through the New Testament as well as visiting some Old Testament prophets ensued and provided me with some pretty interesting answers.
To begin, I want to lay the groundwork for what God demands of his children. Jesus began his ministry with the “Sermon on the Mount.” In the middle of his first sermon, Jesus he teaches his followers how to pray by providing us with the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 6:9-13). The prayer opens up by saying, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So Jesus is telling us that God wants the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought to earth and have God’s will be done here.
Which leads us to the question, what is God’s will? It would be wrong of me to definitively say that I know without question what God’s will is, but Jesus gives us a good clue in Matthew 22:37-40 when he responds to a question from the Pharisees about which is the greatest commandment. “Love the lord with all your soul and with all your mind.” he says. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Throughout the entire New Testament Jesus tells parables that damn the powerful for not loving their neighbors, for loving money more than the poor and the sick, for having the ability to care for the “least of these” and ignoring them, for holding on to ancient traditions rather than showing mercy in fear of breaking such traditions. In fact, in the parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man goes to hell because he refuses to feed, care for, or take in Lazarus despite his ability to do so.
So how does this relate to the health care debate? According the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the United States has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the market value of all final goods and services from a nation in a single year, in the world. That being said, the United States is also the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have health care coverage. Today in America there are nearly 46 million people without any kind of health insurance according to the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. In addition, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academics has stated that there are roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the U.S. due to lack of health insurance. To put these statistics in more staggering terms, that is like the tragedy of the World Trade Center occurring every other month in different cities around the country! As shocking as these statistics are, we haven’t even addressed the underinsured or skyrocketing costs that cripple families on a daily basis (60% of bankruptcies this year will be due to medical bills and 75% of that number actually had some sort of insurance). These statistics do not coincide with me to “Loving your neighbor as you would love yourself.”
I fear our country is like the Rich Man in Luke 16. We wear fine clothes and feast sumptuously everyday. We are provided for and are happy with where our life has led. But we also know there are millions of people out there that need help and can’t get it. It’s impossible to pretend ignorance, we can see them daily at our gates like Lazarus to the Rich Man. We can’t let our hearts harden to those who struggle in our society because as Jesus tells the Pharisees in this parable, we will be held accountable for our actions.
As the month of August continues, so does the argument over health care reform. Like many problems, there are many solutions. The Bible doesn’t provide a simple answer. That is why the debate is so important, it is the only way we will ever develop a just solution that covers every single person and honors the sanctity of life. Health care is a biblical issue. If we keep that in mind, we can eliminate the obscene, absurd, ridiculous, and frightening and return to a vigorous and helpful debate that will result in a sustainable and just plan.