Health care reform and people of faith

Can you find your way to a hospital? When you get there, can you pay?
Can you find your way to a hospital? When you get there, can you pay?

You can’t open any newspaper editorial page these days without seeing arguments for and against health care reform. You can’t turn on television coverage of Town Halls around the issue without seeing sometimes gun-toting – as was the case in Phoenix last week – and always sign-toting people protesting the public option as though giving health care to the most vulnerable among us (the very young, the very old, and the very poor) was akin to, well, acting like Hitler.

The comparison, of course, is specious, the crutch of those who cannot argue their case based on merits alone. It is also, as pundits on both the right and the left have explained, trivializing to the millions who suffered under Hilter’s cruel attempt to purify the human race.

But setting that craziness aside, we are still left with the problem of millions of Americans living without access to health care, and, for purposes of God Blogging, a question about people of faith and what they should do about it. According to the folks over at Faith For Health (and a couple of representatives of local Christian communities), believers should get pay attention to what radical discipleship calls one to when reflecting on health care reform.

“There is not an official statement from the United Methodist Church regarding any particular bill, but our historic concern – and our current concern – has always been for the poor,” said Rev. Billy Still, senior pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. “It isn’t our only concern, but it is a preferential concern. I’m speaking for myself here, not for the Church, but when I look at health care in the United States, clearly it should be provided for everyone. Our country has the ability to do this. And I’m not an expert, but it seems to make economic sense. I know elderly people who can’t afford their blood pressure medicine. Well, if they have a stroke and survive, treating that is clearly more expensive than providing their blood pressure medicine.”

The Faith for Health group hosted 40 Minutes for Health Care Reform last week, a national conference call with representatives of all the major monotheistic faiths as well as a rep from President Obama’s office and a brief appearance by the Prez himself. (I got a transcript of the call and pasted it over here.) Obama set the record straight on a number of controversial rumors floating around: no government funding of abortion, no death panels, no free health care for illegal aliens. He said that opponents were “frankly bearing false witness” about health care reform. (You gotta give it to the guy for saying, when speaking to a group of believers, “bearing false witness” instead of “misinformation” or “lying.” Never let it be said that he doesn’t know his audience.)

The 40 Days movement is pretty clear that you really can’t call yourself a person of faith and be against health care reform that includes some sort of public option. That is because, as Rev. Still mentions above, concern for the have-nots in society is a high priority in just about every faith. Most people are familiar with Christianity’s teaching of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” (Matthew 7:12) but may be less familiar with the teachings of the following:

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law: all the rest is commentary — Judaism (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself — Islam (Sayings of the Prophet Mohammed; Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim)

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself wuld find hurtful — Buddhism (Udana-Varg, 5:18)

Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself — Baha’i (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 71)

I agree. Faith, particularly the Judeo-Christian variety, demands that believers to care for the most vulnerable in society. Why then, are there so many people who appear to be Christians protesting the public option? Did they not get Jesus’ multiple memos on caring for the poor?

Let me explain: While not all Christians are conservative, a vast majority of conservatives DO claim the mantle of Christ. Therefore, it seems problematic that they claim to be disciples (defined as “one under a discipline,” one who follows the example of Christ) while spewing vitriol in public and spreading hate and fear through the Internet. They seem to be thinking only of themselves – not their neighbor, as Christ calls them to do.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out with a series of articles addressing the four things the Catholic Church wants to see in health care reform, as well as addressing misinformation that is being passed off as Gospel Truth. Here’s a snippet of the article linked above, detailing what the USCCB says is necessary for true health care reform:

  1. Respect for life and dignity, from conception to natural death.
  2. Access for all, especially the poor and legal immigrants.
  3. Pluralism, both through freedom of conscience and a variety of health care options.
  4. Equitable cost, applied fairly across the spectrum of payers.

What the church does not want is abortion. Abortion does not cure people; it snuffs out human life. The Hyde Amendment precludes using federal funds for abortion, and that same restriction ought to govern programs emerging from health care reform. If there’s anything that will sink a health care reform bill, it’s including a procedure that more than half the nation finds morally and fiscally repugnant. Americans do not want to make a fiscal sacrifice for the taking of innocent life.

The official two-page statement of the USCCB can be found here, but the main point the bishops make is that adequate health care is a basic human right. Locally, Bishop Gerald Kicanas will be writing about health care reform in the September issue of the Tucson Diocese’s newspaper, said spokesman Fred Allison.

“He’s addressing the tenor of the Town Halls and how ugly and nasty some of the blogging and misinformation is,” Allison said. “He’s also talking about the four things the bishops think are important in reform. The reality of the history of the Catholic Church and religious orders is the involvement in health care; the first hospital in Arizona was started by a religious order. I don’t think the bishops have put it strictly, ‘Is it a sin to not support a public option,’ but they are lending their support to a truly universal health care policy. Through their Web site and the Catholic Health Association, they are putting out the facts, but they are realistic that the Democrats are being lobbied heavily around abortion.”

That issue – public funding of abortion – is one of the ‘run for the hills” messages spreading across the Web. As Obama said, the legislation he would support would not fund abortions. However, that’s not to say the issue isn’t being pressed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. There’s no way, IMHO, that abortion coverage should be part of health care reform, especially since more than 50 percent of the public doesn’t believe in abortion on demand.

But more importantly, in the vast majority of cases, abortion is backup birth control, not health care. More than 90 percent of abortions are for “personal reasons,” with only about 6 percent of them performed because of fetal abnormality. The 46 million folks without health care aren’t waiting for abortions; they’re needing mammograms and flu shots and medication for their kids’ ear infections and access to an orthopedist when Johnny breaks his leg playing soccer.

Here’s a preview of Kicanas’ letter:

Unfortunately, some of the misinformation about health care reform has been directed at the Catholic bishops in our nation and at Catholic institutions that are involved in health care. I am hearing and reading that the bishops and Catholic health care institutions aren’t saying enough – that they are “soft” on abortion and euthanasia – while others are saying that the Church has no business saying anything at all.

Clearly, our Church should be involved in the health care debate. Involvement is part of living out our faithful citizenship. The Catholic Church is one of the biggest providers of health care in our nation. Care for the sick, insured or not, has been an essential part of the Church’s mission and will continue to be. We bring that commitment and experience to the health care debate.

(snip)

President Barack Obama has indicated that he wants to work to reduce the number of abortions. We all need to be involved in that. But, providing government funding for abortion is not a way to realize that goal.The Church urges that any bill passed and put into law should be “abortion neutral,” retaining federal policies in place for a long time that prevent government promotion of abortion.

(snip)

The Church will continue to monitor and participate in this debate on health care, and I hope you will as well. Take the time to read what is being proposed, study the legislation and then make your voice heard. Let’s make our contributions constructive and not destructive, civil and not demeaning of others.

That last statement – “not demeaning of others” – goes back to the call of all faiths that humans treat each other as holy and precious. Someone might want to inform Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham – both claiming to be Christian – of that basic tenet of faith: Love your neighbor, don’t call him/her names or yell at him. Even if you disagree.

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7 comments

  1. I agree. Faith, particularly the Judeo-Christian variety, demands that believers to care for the most vulnerable in society. Why then, are there so many people who appear to be Christians protesting the public option? Did they not get Jesus’ multiple memos on caring for the poor?” … thank you so much! It infuriates me how many professed Christians do not practice the main tenet of their faith. Do unto others… and but for the grace of God…

  2. Should medical coverage include birth control ? The bishops oppose that too.
    Let the bishops and preachers get involved in health care legislation and the first thing they will do is try to regulate everyone’s sex lives.
    That is much more important to them than providing vaccinations for kids – they will torpedo this unless they can get their sex regulations written into the law.

  3. An example:
    “WHEREAS, The President’s bill and some alternatives explicitly provide for morally objectionable provisions, such as:

    o abortion on demand or the absence of language which explicitly excludes abortion coverage,
    o distribution of contraceptives to minors without parental consent through public schools by the establishment of school-based health clinics,
    o the rationing of health care on the basis of economic decisions rather than the provision of health care on the basis of medical need,
    o the violation of the centuries-old, covenantal relationship between physician and patient,
    o inadequate conscience clauses which fail to protect religious persons, institutions, organizations, and medical facilities from participating in a health care system which would condone and support morally objectionable practices, and
    o the forced inclusion of Southern Baptist institutions and churches in reform plans which may undermine the missions activities of our denomination.

    THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That while our Baptist heritage of insistence on limited government causes us to believe the need for reform does not mandate a government-controlled, health care system, we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 14-16, 1994, nevertheless encourage the President and Congress in their attempt to reform America’s health care system; and

    BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we oppose any health care reform legislation that includes any of the aforementioned morally objectionable provisions.”
    Christian churches don’t really care about healthcare – that is a front. What they care about is legislating their sexual morality, and they will be more of an obstacle than an ally in passing healthcare reform.
    And after the churchs’ rhetoric (and actions) towards gays, Kicanas has absolutely no standing to condemn “demeaning” others.

  4. I am a person of faith and I am all for charity and caring for the poor. The problem is, when you legislate it and require it from the population, it is no longer charity. That is like saying the robber is only taking that which you would give him if you were being charitable. I don’t believe government is intended to be the charity. Government has it’s role. Acts of charity belong to the individual.

  5. So let em die because you can’t call it charity ? How christian.
    Luckily us secular types think that the government is the best way to provide all kinds of services even to the poor population – we’ll provide them with fire departments and police protection too.
    Jesus didn’t dictate to us about the proper role of government and the free market system, thankfully.
    Guess that was a lost Gospel.

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