Let’s start with a truth. Much of what passes for debate about health care amounts to nothing more than pundits and people shouting slogans at each other. Their talking points could not pass muster in a high school debate class, where one is required to build a case based on research, genuine engagement with the other person’s position and careful argument.

Americans in general ought to expect and demand something better. If our republic is to thrive, we need serious elected and unelected leaders to undertake the hard work of genuine debate.

Of course, we can’t lay all the blame on politicians, pundits and others. Frankly, we bear heavy responsibility. Our unwillingness to read or listen to lengthy presentations on weighty subjects hamstrings debate and consideration. A long-term acquaintance of mine sums up the tendency with one of his favorite truisms: “I don’t read anything longer than a one-page document or listen to anyone talk about anything for more than five minutes.”

The health-care challenge involves all economic classes, all races, the insurance industry, the health care industry, medical professionals, national finances and classic questions about the role of the federal government. No page-long summary, one-minute sound bite or even gut-level reaction to a poll question is sufficient to the task at hand. If we want to find our way to a workable answer, we must dig in and do our homework.

Being a Christian complicates the matter. Christians in the United States fall into various camps with regard to economics, political affiliations, philosophies and experience with the current health care system. Yet we share a common commitment to Jesus, in whom we seek to center our lives.

At our best, we hope our center informs and shapes our attitudes and actions. Obviously, we fail to make the connection quite often. Even a cursory glance at Christian history is enough to keep us humble.

Still we must try. When I attempt to allow my Jesus-Center to influence my take on health-care reform in the United States, I find myself drawn to a few core conclusions.

  • I am to pray and act for the well-being of all others. Among other things, this suggests I am not to seek to protect only myself or those like me but instead to be willing to run some risk and make some sacrifices for the sake of other women and men. To put it another way, I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper, and if I understand Jesus rightly, all persons are my brothers and sisters. When I translate the sentiment into policy, I become more comfortable with the idea that some challenges require the wisdom and resources of the entire nation. While I may not yet discern the particulars, I accept that any solution must work for all of us.
  • I am to seek and speak the truth. We Americans have become far too tolerant of lies told to advance an agenda. I’m afraid we’ve also become far too willing to accept and use lies ourselves, especially if we think a lie will help us “win.” I cannot imagine Jesus condoning the use of a lie for any purpose. Can you? If Christians are to play their proper role in the current debate, we must once again become people who seek and speak truth.
  • I must lay aside all hatred. A while ago, a Christian woman said to me, “I don’t want any of my money going to help those people.” Whoever “those people” might have been to her, she despised them. Take a little self-test. Use her phrase (“I don’t want any of my money going to help those people”) and try inserting a specific term in place of “those.” Try inserting terms like “poor,” “black,” “Hispanic,” “unemployed,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “pregnant out of wedlock” and the like. Keep doing so until you find a term that makes your blood boil. That’s when you will have identified the group of people Jesus calls you to stop hating. Jesus forbids his followers to hate or to allow hatred to govern their life in the world.

Pray and act for the well-being of all others. Seek and speak the truth. Lay aside all hatred. If we Christians follow these Jesus-centered guidelines, we may yet make a positive contribution to the national debate on health care.

Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He blogs at Thinking Out Loud: A Christian’s Reflections.

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