The clock is ticking on President Obama’s health care reform plan, and not necessarily in his favor. The inertia in this session of Congress regarding any health care reform bill is evident and bipartisan.
Surprisingly, however, there has appeared a strong push for health care reform from the faith community. Several Christian groups have stepped forward to aggressively lobby members of Congress to enact health-care legislation this year.
The coalition that has come together around this issue is quite diverse. It includes Jim Wallis’ Sojourner’s community, an evangelical group; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Faith in Public Life, a think tank based in Washington; and the People Improving Communities (PICO) National Network, an alliance of more than 1,000 congregations.
This is no small thing. There is much in the health care debate to cause concern among people of faith. From government-run health care to the fear of government-subsidized abortions, there are several hot button issues that have the potential to divide people of faith over this matter.
The single notion that seems to be holding the coalition together is the consensus belief that health care is a moral issue. For instance, consider this statement from a brochure produced by the coalition titled “Guide to Health Care Reform Debate.”
“The Bible does not outline specific public policies around the provision of health care, but it does make clear that protecting the health of each human being is a profoundly important personal and communal responsibility for people of faith. Physical healing was a part of the salvation Jesus brought. Healing represents a sign of the breaking of God’s reign into the present reality.”
This is new territory for some of the congregations involved in the push for health care reform, and concerns have been raised about church and state relationships.
When does faith advocacy cross the line separating church and state? The rule of thumb is that when faith concerns also have a secular purpose there is no conflict. Being an advocate for the poor or for people who have no health insurance is not a purely religious matter.
The question does remain, however, whether or not health care is a legitimate moral concern.
Writing in USA Today last week, lawyer and minister Oliver Thomas made a passionate case that health care is not only a moral concern, but a moral imperative.
“Perhaps the truest thing I can say about the God of the Bible is that he is for the poor. Not just a little. God appears to be for the poor in a way that he is for no other. Because a disproportionately high number of the uninsured are low-income, knowledge of this simple fact is critical to our views on health care reform.”
Thomas goes on to cite numerous examples from the Scriptures that illustrate God’s special concern for the poor and needy. He concludes with an example from the teaching of Jesus.
“One of Jesus’ most famous parables,” Thomas writes, “is about health care. “A Samaritan happens upon a seriously wounded man lying by the side of the road. The Samaritan attends to the man, dresses his wounds and pays a substantial sum for his care and recovery.”
For Jesus to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” with a story about a man in need of health care becomes a compelling argument that health care is a moral imperative.
You may recall that at the end of the story Jesus told his audience, “go and do likewise.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.