Monday, September 21, 2009

Evangelicals and Health Reform: Rights and Wrongs

by Lisa Sharon Harper

“Healthcare reform is @ the right to life,” read my Twitter tweet. “Interesting… Many who claim to be ‘pro-life’ trumpeted choice over the past month.” 

The tweet posted to my Facebook page and touched of the longest string of commentary I’ve ever had!  One response from an old friend was particularly interesting.  She identified herself as “a conservative” and “born again” and said health care should be kept separate from the "right to life". 

Should it?

Healthcare is a basic human right according to Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  For, it is directly connected with a human's right to live (Article 3, UDHR).  But let’s not get all technical.

Let’s get biblical.

In the Matthew 25 story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus himself says an equitable healthcare SYSTEM is a mandate for those who call themselves Jesus followers.

Jesus refers to the righteous whom the Father has invited into the kingdom in verse 37.  The word righteous is actually translated the just or equitable in character and action. The word equitable is about fairness and intrinsically refers to systemic justice.  In other words, the ones who seek to create fair systems, the ones who level playing fields will be the ones standing on the right with the sheep.

Now, which playing fields is Jesus most concerned about?  In the same passage, he actually lays out a public policy agenda.  

The word hungry (v. 35) means famished in the Greek.  It should lead us to consider “How just is our food system?”

Thirsty means just that – thirsty.  It should lead us to consider our water system: “How clean and safe is the water provided for the ones on the other side of the tracks in our towns, our cities, our world?”

Naked actually means stripped in the Greek.  It should lead us to consider “How do our systems affect those who have experienced the greatest injustices, those on the bottom, those who live with the greatest weight of our systems on their shoulders?”

Sick means diseased.  It should lead us to consider the justice of our Healthcare system.  Does our healthcare system offer an equitable distribution of health and life to rich and poor? 

Stranger means immigrant.  It should lead us to consider the justice of our immigration system.  

Prison means prison.  It should lead us to consider the justice of our prison system.

So, as Jesus followers we must seek to level the playing fields that govern public life. How can we, then, in good conscience, separate in our minds and our hearts the health of the living from the health of the unborn?  We cannot.

Rather, we must consider our times.  We must consider our history in the public square – I refer here to our leadership in the segregationist movement and the anti-women’s rights movements of the mid-twentieth century.  In those days, evangelicals were ruled by fear of change.  We were ruled by fear of the future.  We were guided by the instinct to preserve the self.  As a result, our mantra became: “Damn the one who would threaten my way of life!”  

Today, we stand at another crossroads.  God has given us another chance to stand on the right side of history.  The evangelicals of the 19th century had their come to Jesus moment over slavery.  They chose well.  The evangelicals of the 20th century had their come to Jesus moment over Jim Crow and segregation.  They walked away from Jesus.  This is our moment.  

We must examine the proposals being put forth by congress and examine the words of Jesus.  

We must ask the questions:  Is it just and equitable to make sure that every citizen of our nation has access to healthcare that can save their lives?  Is it unjust to deny access to healthcare to those who cannot afford it?  Would Jesus condone unjust healthcare policies that have the ability to affect the lives of millions of people made in the image of God? 

Then we must choose our side in the annals of history.

I choose Healthcare Reform and I am for the public option.  Why?

... because I am for a consistent ethic of life.

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