The question of universal healthcare is shaping up to be a rather serious focus in this election cycle. With costs out of control and each year seeing more and more of us without access to affordable health insurance or health care, many see universal health coverage as the best (and, perhaps, only) longer term solution to the problem. This piece on NPR focused on the difficulties of “making ends meet without health insurance.” It isn’t a pretty sight.
While many Christians embrace the extent to which this, too, is a moral issue, sadly we still have those who seek to erect ideological boundaries by misusing scripture. On my blog, I examine one of the common arguments against universal health care offered by a writer on the Religious Right. This writer seems to think that the primary motivators of a biblical position is one that is driven by “tough love” and “personal responsibility.” Yet:
Throughout the bible, God continually models giving people far better than they deserve. In fact, if one looks at Jesus’ own ministry wherein he feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and both characterizes and models God as one who blesses others without regard to merit (in the Sermon, God’s goodness itself is characterized as blessing without regard to merit), the value system espoused by this writer would make Jesus, oddly, pretty unbiblical!
The author then moves to his central argument that universal healthcare is socialism, and socialism is unbiblical (presumably, something we all just know). Again, the author misses important points:
One does not have to argue that socialism is the only form of economy scripture allows, but to argue that it is precluded overlooks too much. Oddly, this writer would have to judge numerous of God’s commands as “unbiblical.” For example, God commands years of release, wherein debts are forgiven every seven years, as well as years of Jubilee, wherein lands are returned to their ancestral owners. God commands that garments offered as collateral by the poor be returned at night, since the poor would require them to stay warm. Amos 2 gives pretty harsh judgment of those who do not obey this command. Scripture requires that profit maximization be set aside to allow food to be gathered from the fields by the poor. Jesus commands that we give to those who ask from us, and in the Great Judgment of Matthew 25, he makes it quite clear that care for those on the margins is central to his assessment of our lives. These aspects of scripture were not missed by C.S. Lewis, who argued that, to be biblical, an economy would be more socialistic than not.
Sadly, the most serious underlying problem in the author’s evaluation is that it is driven mostly by a rather unbiblical set of precommitments:
In short, this writer has absolutized a particular vision of economies and has missed that what God intends us to make foundational is very different. [Rather than absolutizing markets and an abstract sense of freedom as the right to maximize profits, scripture makes convenental relationships central, as Walter Brueggemann notes.] We are called both to model and to defend economic relations that make neither dependence nor independence primary, but which instead make central the idea of mutual interdependence. It is the mutuality of relations that come from our owning our obligations to each other – whether embodied in governments or not – that determines whether a given system is biblical or not. Sadly, the writer missed this altogether, and, thus, missed giving us a Christian analysis.
Chuck Gutenson is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and blogs at http://www.imitatiochristi.blogs.com/