*****"What Would Jesus Do?" is probably the most useful phrase to come out of the contemporary Christian movement of the last several decades. Since first appearing among Christian youth groups in the early 1990s, WWJD? has become almost as ubiquitous as "John 3:16," showing up on billboards, church signs, and the shirtless chests of body-painted, rainbow-wigged sports fans. Now that the Affordable Care Act (pejoratively known as "ObamaCare") has been ruled perfectly legal by the Supreme Court, it seems that we must take WWJD? more seriously than ever: when it comes to government policies which attempt to make healthcare affordable to families that would otherwise have no way of receiving medical treatment, we must either support these policies in any way we can, or we must cease to define ourselves as Christians.
|St. Francis comforts a man with a pre-existing condition.|
Please bear in mind that what follows is not an arguement from a medical perspective, from a capitalist perspective, from a political/Constitutional perspective, from a legal perspective, or even from an American perspective. The point of this post is not to show you that many other developed (and developing) countries have had universal healthcare plans for years. I argue this strictly from the perspective of a Christian with an ethical obligation to love and serve my brothers and sisters. And you can feel free to disagree with me—but (you will rarely ever hear me say this so matter-of-factly) you'd be wrong. Wrong.
There are few circumstances for which this argument is either called-for or efficacious—but the debate over healthcare is, I think, one of those circumstances.
Christians who oppose affordable health care do so without a leg to stand on, ethically speaking. Without some extreme hermeneutical gymnastics, it is nearly impossible to answer the question "What would Jesus do?" with "Deny millions of Americans the ability to afford to have their illnesses treated." After all, Jesus was a healer. But perhaps more importantly, Jesus was also an ethicist, and if we are to seriously consider using the Nazarene as a model of ethical Christian behavior, we must consider the implications of some of his teachings.
- Matthew 25 tells the parable of the separation of the sheep and the goats, in which the animals are judged according to how they treated the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned. As they find out later, those who helped the people mentioned above were actually giving aid to Jesus—the implication being that we are to treat the less-fortunate as though they were Christ himself. If we deny affordable healthcare coverage to the types of people mentioned above, we are effectively denying them to Jesus.
- The very foundation of Christian doctrine lies in the notion of self-sacrifice for the benefit of our neighbors, regardless of the personal cost to us, and regardless of whether or not we believe they deserve it. As he was nailed to the cross and executed by the Romans, Jesus uttered the prayer, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
- The fundamental debate over U.S. healthcare reform is in reality directly related with your individual perception of the poorest among us. I have seen families ruined by outrageous and unjust medical bills and lack of access to affordable care. I've seen brothers and sisters that have had to drop out of college to help care for their injured and ill siblings because their family could not afford long-term healthcare and education. But Jesus showed unwavering solidarity with the poor. Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God belongs to you." Jesus said, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release of captives and recovery of sight to the blind..." Jesus said, "Go, sell what you own, give to the poor, and follow me." Jesus said "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you." It does not matter if you believe that the poor are lazy moochers who are only looking for a handout, the point is they are poor, and Christ commanded his followers to serve them. End of story.
- And, in case your concern is that the government is telling you what to do with your money, see Luke 20:25 ("Give to Caesar what is Caesar's") and Luke 6:30 ("Give to everyone who asks of you"). Unless you're willing to go all "Peter and John" on a sick person and say, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee..." and heal the person then and there, it looks like you're going to have to show your support monetarily.
At this point, it matters little in what form universal health care materializes: whether it is through the government, like the Affordable Care Act, or through a church or other nonprofit organization. The important part is that it becomes the standard by which we can measure the care of our nation for its citizens. As someone who has been a vehement advocate of the egalitarian and peaceful Kingdom of God, I am by no means a fan of government when it gets in the way of personal spiritual liberty and freedom of the soul. BUT: if it is indeed absolutely necessary to have a governing body, should health care not be one of the primary reasons for the existence of such an institution? After all, it states in the Preamble to our United States Constitution that "We the People" established the document to help (among other things) "promote the general welfare" of the public. If we are to continue to call ourselves followers of Jesus we must come to terms with the fact according to his teachings, we have a moral obligation to ensure a higher quality of life for our neighbors. And if we can't bring ourselves to part with our own possessions to accomplish that goal, then we need to stop referring to ourselves as Christians.What would Jesus do? Most likely, he would stop whining about paying taxes and pursue the cause which seeks to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, regardless of power, politics, and money. So you may argue the finer details of this debate—it is, after all, a much more complicated discussion than what time and space have permitted me to write about here—but in the end, for the Christian, it ultimately falls to the simple decision of whether or not we are loving our neighbors with our actions. If your argument is more about splitting hairs than about showing love, you are wrong. Wrong.