Health care reform

Last week one of our lay persons emailed me some information about health care reform in the U.S. and asked, “Would you consider speaking to this very important issue?”  He must have been reading my mind, for I was just about to listen to a 40 minute webcast sponsored by a number of Christian and other religious groups in our country.  140,000 people were gathered on line in this historic national call-in to the White House to plea for affordable health coverage in our country and also for cooperation.  I was impressed by the diversity of faith groups represented and the thoughtfulness of the dialogue.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” wrote The Little Prince’s Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  I am not qualified to speak intelligently to the details of the Obama administration’s health care proposal.  However, I do feel called to speak to matters of the heart.  Where is the heart in our vigorous and, at times, out of control national debate over health care?

One of the most helpful ways for Christians to ponder difficult issues and “see with our heart” is to look to our Wesleyan “quadrilateral”.  The term was first coined in the1960’s by Methodist scholar, Albert Outler, who claimed that John Wesley used 4 different sources to come to theological conclusions.  Our United Methodist Book of Discipline 2008 says in the section entitled Our Theological Task, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.  Scripture is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’”

Since health care reform is not a political issue for me as much as a moral and religious issue, I offer the following reflections based on the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a way to “see” with our heart. 

Scripture

The heart of the Bible can be summarized in this way: God desires salvation, wholeness and shalom for the world and its people and sent Jesus to embody that salvation.  From Genesis to Revelation, God’s people have been commanded to care for the very least of God’s children. 

  • “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice.”  (Deuteronomy 27:19)
  • “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.”  (Proverbs 14:31)
  • The prophet Ezekiel denounced the leaders of ancient Israel, one of whose failures was not providing health care.  “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:4)
  • Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
  • A hallmark of the early church was their care for one another.  “They would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  (Acts 2:45)

Tradition

Throughout the centuries, Catholic and Protestant churches have encouraged disciples of Jesus Christ to live out their faith by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.  The United Methodist Church is unequivocably clear about health care: we all need it and deserve it, no matter where we live, how much we earn, or if we have a job at all.  According to our Social Principles, contained in our Book of Discipline 2008,

“Health care is a basic human right.  Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril.” …  We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.” (¶161.V)

Experience

As we follow the Wesleyan quadrilateral, we examine our own experience and the experience of others so that we can see with the heart.  Pastors and lay persons are in a position to observe as clearly as anyone the effect that our broken health insurance system in the United States has on people.  We see the needs up close.

  • Joe had to wait for major surgery until his new health insurance took effect.
  • Sue’s health insurance did not cover an experimental treatment for cancer.
  • When Sandra got a new job, her new insurance refused to cover a pre-existing condition.
  • The Jones family has to choose between buying food or buying medicine.
  • Families without insurance are using the emergency room for primary care.
  • A current lifesaver for many unemployed families is a reduction in the cost of COBRA as part of the federal stimulus plan.  

The truth is that virtually all of us are one health crisis away from financial disaster, whether we have insurance or not.  A majority of home foreclosures are a result of insurmountable medical bills.  46 million people have no health insurance at all, and 144,000 more people are losing their health insurance every day.  One out of every 10 children has no health insurance in our country.

Reason

We use reason to read and interpret Scripture as well as the news; to listen carefully and deeply to one another; to learn more about the proposed health care reform plan; and to discern the connection between faith and politics.

Legislators across the country have been holding town meetings over the past few weeks to listen to the American people.  I’ve been embarrassed by the poor behavior of those who have sought to disrupt the meetings, disseminate misinformation, promote fear, or refuse to engage in civil dialogue.  Unfortunately, some people and businesses have a vested financial interest in our current unjust health care system and want to keep the status quo. 

Since most industrialized nations in our world provide far more comprehensive health insurance for their citizens with less cost than the United States does, we know that it is possible to secure adequate, affordable health insurance for all.  Certainly, the path to consensus will not be easy, but I believe that health care reform is a challenge that we must undertake, and people of faith are called to lead the way.

I am grateful for the town hall meetings because they remind us of our responsibility as citizens to become involved in the health care debate.  However, it is never appropriate to vilify or demonize those who disagree with us.  This is where the church can play a critical role.  If we, as followers of Jesus Christ, believe that it is God’s desire for every person to receive affordable health care and that our leaders will be guided by compassionate and responsible leadership, what can we do?

  • Host public forums in our churches to provide accurate information and opportunities for dialogue that involve medical professionals, insurance executives and legislators. 
  • Study our Social Principles and hold Bible studies about the role of health in human welfare.  Download the very helpful “The Bible and Health Advocacy”  Scripture Chart provided by our General Board of Church and Society: Click here for download.
  • Renew our commitment to model open, honest and respectful conversation.
  • Take seriously our call as Christians to sacrifice for the common good.  Examine whether our attitude toward health care reform is affected by how it will benefit or not benefit us.
  • Urge our legislators to sit at a table together to work out a proposal that is financially responsible and feasible, support them in this complicated work and publish their contact information. 
  • Pray for health care reform, both publicly and privately.
  • Go to www.faithforhealth.org, an ecumenical website, or www.1010Challenge.org, a United Methodist website, and take the pledge to work for health care reform through open, honest debate.
  • Make a commitment to become healthy ourselves: physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Scripture, tradition, experience and reason point us to health and wholeness for all of God’s children.   It will take all of us to act in order to reform our health care system.  It will also take all of us to be willing to sacrifice for one another.  It will take hard work, compromise and deep listening.  Above all, it will take seeing and leading from our heart.

Blessings, Laurie

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