Monday, September 21, 2009

The Health Care Debate Doesn’t Belong in the Church …

Uh-oh! No doubt, the health care debate is tough to follow--it’s complicated because it’s not just about one thing, but a whole huge nest of problems. It reminds me of a quadratic equation: move one variable and it affects all the others in the equation. However, health care is not an abstract issue that simply involves numbers. Real people in our families and our communities are involved. Every day there are folks without insurance who have no access to health care and they end up in the hospital or they die.

There are no easy answers. I certainly don’t have the answers and I don’t think Glen Beck has the answers either, but I do believe that it belongs squarely in the church and in the hearts and minds of Christians. Active concern about health care ought to be on the “to do” list of every Christian. Why?

1. Jesus healed people. He was not simply concerned with something inside us called a spirit or a soul. He had compassion for the sick, he wept for his friend who died and he healed all kinds of diseases. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry with his disciples begins with teaching in the synagogue and healing.

2. Many of our churches followed Jesus’ example and have a long history of ministry to the sick and dying. John Wesley believed that faithful people ought to be concerned about the state of one’s soul and one’s body. Visitation and care of the sick were central pieces of Wesley’s ministry. On my bookshelf, I have a copy of Wesley’s Primitive Physic. The sub-title is “An easy and natural method of curing most diseases.” It must have been quite popular—by Wesley’s death it had gone through 23 editions.

3. But what if I’m happy with my health care insurance. I am. I feel fortunate to have good insurance, even though it’s very costly both to our family and the church. Many families in our country could say the same thing; they’re quite satisfied with their policies and see no need for sweeping changes. If that’s where the debate begins and ends, though, we have seriously missed what Jesus is calling us to. Concern for our neighbor is the identifying mark of Christian action. Jesus has called us to serve not ourselves, but "the last, the least and the lost.” Many of those without adequate health care are the least among us … children. As Christians, I remain unconvinced that one of our options can be simply to leave things the way they are.

What can you and I do?

Get to know the issue. Go beyond the sound bytes and news briefs. Dig deeper. A good place to start is a health care forum offered recently by the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas. You can listen to it at

Pray for our leaders that they might sit down together and grapple with the issues and bring together the best ideas from both sides of the aisle. Let your representatives know about your concerns and that you fully expect them to come up with a plan that improves health care for all. Pray for all those in health care professions who must do more with less every day and who have to make such difficult decisions. Pray for those families who do not have health care.

Host a health care forum at your church with representatives from among those who have a stake in the health care system.

Here are a few things I've found central to my own position on health care.

1. Tell the truth. Death panels! Please. Socialism! Is the fire department socialist? The Canadian health care system is a mess! I grew up in Canada under socialized medicine and lived to tell the story. I fully understand that health care is a huge, incredibly costly business and that if we want to debate it, we need to be prepared to play hard ball. But lying and scare tactics are a huge distraction and add nothing to the debate.

2. Listen to both sides. There actually are some good ideas on both sides, if we are willing to engage with and think through a position that is different than ours. I would hope that the end product of the health care debate is a solution that finds some common ground and that uses the very best ideas, whichever side they may have originated from. Of course, saying "both sides" kind of assumes that there are two sides and on some aspects of health care there clearly are multiple sides. And having a side also assumes that you have something to say. Shouting and ranting that the other side is wrong is not a side.

3. If you are a person of faith, engage the issue as a faithful person. I believe that health care is a moral and spiritual issue that cannot be decided by market capitalism. Obviously there are tricky issues that need to be worked out: who will control our health care? how much will it cost? and so on. The health of even a single human life is not decided by the lowest bidder. We are created in the image of God, redeemed by the son of God and filled with the spirit of God. We are not health care consumers, but children of God and our care for each other should not be decided simply by a cost-benefit analysis.

That's my take. Now, what do you think?