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A Republic If You Can Keep It > Health Care Reform > What Would Jesus Do?

Updated on June 23, 2020

Is there a cure?

Arrogance and Biblical Interpretation

My local newspaper, considered a "liberal rag" by conservatives, ran in a big, bold feature the results of an Associated Press/GfK Roper Poll conducted on March 3 - 8, 2010 on health care reform. According to this poll, 41% of those polled want Congress to scrap the current negotiations and start over and 15% want the national legislature to leave the health care system as it is now. That totals 56% opposed to passage of the pending bills. Forty three percent of the polled want Congress to keep working and pass a plan by the end of the year. Simply stated, if this poll was an accurate barometer of the national will, the President and Congress moved heaven and earth to pass health care reform in a version that "we the people" didn't want.

Those who voted for the current legislation need to play it straight up with "we the people" in the upcoming election. Instead of ignoring the weight of public opinion or acting as if that weight is on their side (the "silent majority" argument), they should publicly admit that they know better than us, profess "political courage," and submit themselves to the judgment of the people. I don't expect any admissions of superior intelligence and insight or any professions of willingness to pay the price for the courage of convictions. Will you hear any of them say "I know better than you do. If you can't accept that, then send me home"? I predict you will not. If you agree with those in Congress who voted for this legislation, then by all means support those Congress persons who voted for it. But if you feel ignored and your opinion demeaned; if you feel that your Congress persons acted arrogantly in disregard of the will and wisdom of "We the People," then vote to send them home.

Perhaps by coincidence, may be not, I spent two weekends while the healh care debate was ongoing with persons involved in religious ministry - one group "progressive," the other conservative-. I told the progressive ministers that I had trouble finding in scripture the admonition to give on to Caesar the resources through taxes to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, and care for the sick. It seemed clear to me, I told them, that in the New Testament Jesus counseled that it was our responsibility to do these things. Matthew 25 makes that clear.

One of the ministers told me that I was reading scripture like Antonin Scalia reads the Constitution. The Bible is a "living document" and must be read in the context of the times. In Christ's time, the government, Rome, was not in the social welfare business. It kept order, brutally in many instances, and build the Empire. If the government is benevolent and willing to promote social welfare, then it is perfectly acceptable, and indeed necessary, to include taxes to fund social welfare programs as giving onto Caesar.

I responded if that is the case, then we should eliminate all charitable deductions and pay the maximum we can in taxes to give our government, which according to them is more capable of managing social welfare, the most resources to address hunger, nakedness, homelessness, and illness. Would that mean no deductions for contributions to the arts, education, and, yes, churches? My answer - well of course. If the government is best situated and the most wise in providing social welfare, then why shouldn't it take all the available resources to do the job?

I told them that this meant that at the final judgment, when the "sheep" are separated from the "goats," and the Lord asks "what have you done for the least of my brothers and sisters," "I paid my taxes and supported all the government's social welfare initiatives", would be an acceptable answer. The subject promptly changed thereafter.

My discussions with the conservative ministers also went well. My comment that I could not find in the Bible the reference to abdicating to Caesar all responsibility and resources for social welfare drew approval. I told them that I read the Gospel as charging the individual with the job of feeding the hungry, etc. When Jesus ascended into heaven his commission was to us, not to the government. And we will answer for how we carried out the commission at the final judgment. Again approval.

But what I said next did not receive the same reaction. I proposed a tax credit for those who give to meet the basic human needs - food, clothing, housing, health care. In other words, the amounts of those donations would be exempt from taxation. All other charitable contributions - including those for churches (as distinguished from donations to basic needs charities affiliated with those churches), would remain a deduction. "Wouldn't the charitable donations shift toward the credit charities and away from the deduction charities?" Yes, I answered. At that point the discussion moved to another topic. I think I found the common ground on which the progressive and conservative stand - in opposition to my proposals for building the Kingdom here on earth.

The public policy debate on health care will continue. Reform is certainly necessary; whether the current version is the best approach remains to be seen. But I am convinced of this much. Scripture does not give us a pass to just pay taxes and support big government social welfare programs. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, the commission to feed, clothe, house, and heal our brothers and sisters is ours, not the government's. Find private, charitable organizations that carry out this commission and that are good stewards of their resources. Donate to and work for those organizations. Then you will hear at the final judgment "well done good and faithful servant."


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