Saturday, June 24, 2017

Scripture's mandate to provide universal, single-payer government funded health care

Let's start off with a simple premise. No Christian, especially a Christian holding public office, can in good faith and with moral integrity support a health care act that offers significant economic relief to the wealthy while at the same time stripping health coverage from the poorest.

The Bible has no patience with immense wealth disparity, and calls it out time and again as one of the greatest moral failures of a society.

So we can add: a Christian community that allows medical providers, health insurance CEOs, and even doctors themselves, to become wealthy off the need of the sick, is equally perverse.

By contrast, as just one example (and we will offer more later), Jesus is abundantly clear about the mandate to offer healing, and to do it at low cost--that is to say, for free. "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.” (Matthew 10:8-9) Notice, remarkably, that the one thing Jesus absolutely DOES NOT encourage in any of his healing or instructions to heal is the goal of wealth and income creation as a part of healing the sick.

The Bible does not, on average, dictate once and for all time the system whereby health care will be provided. You do not have in Scripture any form of neoliberal free market capitalism, or representative democracy for that matter. So not only did the biblical writers not have in their imagination the possibility that people could buy and sell health coverage in a (relatively) unregulated free market, they also did not have in their imaginations that the people themselves through a (relatively) representative democracy could establish laws protecting the "right" to health coverage for every citizen of a given nation.

The next illogical step taken by many modern Christians reading the Bible is to assume that since the Bible doesn't imagine these things, therefore it is not the Christian responsibility for a government (or a health insurance network, or a national church system, etc) to do such things. But this simply doesn't follow. The Bible no more argues for a hyper-individualistic model of health care supply than it does for a government-funded universal one.

And in point of fact, although Jesus himself went around healing the sick as an individual, he was himself a rather unusual individual, the community formed in his name assuming that somehow corporate it was and is his continuing bodily presence in the world precisely as community.

And the church, founded in his name, includes as part of its imagination a mandate in Scripture directly to a nation (or the equivalent of a nation in its day, namely Israel) to provide care for the poor and sick.

To be really clear, what this means is that all the instructions you read instituting laws, or giving commandments in the Old Testament are not given to individuals, or to the church, but to a nation as a whole, the closest equivalent we have to nations today. God's care for the poor and the sick was illustrated through the laws given to Israel--a nation--and God expects nations to care for their sick and poor.

So you get, for example, in Deuteronomy a mandate given not to individual Israelites to follow out of the goodness of their hearts, but a mandate to an entire people, given as law: "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” (15:11).

Many Christian commentators on universal health insurance seem also to overlook the plethora of biblical texts that argue against wealth disparity. Apparently God cares about the problem of some being too rich and others being too poor, and goes to great length via the prophets proclaiming such.

So Amos 5:11 notices that the rich use systems of taxation to consolidate their wealth and build immense homes:

Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine. 

We might be reminded at this point that one of the most frequent causes of bankruptcy in the United States are health care costs. So it is literally the case that federal plans for health coverage that give relief to the rich at the expense of the poor fulfills the warnings of Micah 2:2:

They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
people and their inheritance. 

And if that weren't enough to convince the average reader of Scripture, I can go on, with examples from other biblical prophets.

Hab. 2.9    “Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!” 
Zeph. 1.13 Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,

they shall not drink wine from them.
Hag. 1.4 Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 

You get the point. I hope. The Bible is a big book, with lots of content, but if there is one long-standing social ethic that weaves its way through the entirety of Scripture from beginning to end, it is a concern for grave wealth disparity that leaves the poor oppressed and burdened while the wealthy give comfortably on the backs of the poor.

In fact, the vision of Scripture includes God's direct intervention and reversal of this trend. Mary sings about it in the Magnificat, the rich brought down and the lowly lifted up. Or as the Psalms have it, God raises up weak and lowly, and gives the people as a whole instruction to do the same.

Psa. 82.3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 

There's a lot to talk about in our nation as we seek to implement a health plan that offers real health and healing resources for all people. But if the Christian voice is going to be in the mix, it needs to operate out of some of these basic principles: the fundamental responsibility to heal and provide relief for the poor; the clear moral concern in Scripture about wealth disparity; a deep concern about health care being a source for getting rich; and the call for the community of faith to align itself with God, who raises up the widow and the orphan AND brings down those in high places.

The warning is clear. God's going to do it, and when God does, you want to be on the right side.

Luke 1: 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; 
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. 

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