It’s almost impossible to turn on the news over the past couple of weeks without bumping into the issue of healthcare and healthcare reform. Some politicians have sounded the ominous warning that Obamacare is in a “death spiral” and should be repealed and replaced by some other legislation, while others say that though Obamacare is flawed, it can be fixed.
But the AHCA (American Health Care Act), which was offered up as the replacement for Obamacare, seemed to be a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans masquerading as healthcare reform. This reform would have taken away healthcare from the very poorest and most vulnerable among us by calling for an end to the Medicaid expansion and by proposing to block grant (that is to say, for all intents and purposes, to put a cap on the amount of money the federal government would pay out in Medicaid benefits), while cutting about $275 billion in taxes for the wealthiest.
AHCA reform, however, failed—which I take to be a good thing. So, why am I still talking about it? Because I’m a Christian pastor. This isn’t primarily a matter of partisan politics but one of being faithful to the moral heart of the teachings to which I’m committed.
The reason I think this is still worth talking about is because one of the predicates for healthcare reform also underwrites a certain brand of political assumptions about everything from poverty to racism to LGBTQ rights: People are poor and without healthcare, people are disproportionately impacted in a negative way by the justice system, and people are the target of legislation that removes protections from being fired, evicted from their homes, kicked out of public places, and prohibited from peeing where they feel the most comfortable, because of a series of bad choices.
In the words, the problems marginalized people face aren’t the result of an unjust system; they’re the result of a defective character that impedes the ability to make good decisions:
“If people don’t have healthcare, it’s their own damn fault!” “If people didn’t threaten the police, they wouldn’t get shot.” “If people chose to be ‘normal’ heterosexuals, they wouldn’t have to face discrimination.” … I mean, the appropriate expression of people’s religious freedom.
But, come on. What about all those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the disadvantaged end of the spectrum? What does it say about our politics that some people are more worried about kvetching over what they believe to be the moral deficiencies of the disadvantaged than in trying to figure out a constructive way to help?
If we start from the premise that being poor, having no healthcare, being a single parent, working for minimum wage, being homeless, being LGBTQ or a refugee or Muslim or an undocumented worker are all the result of a series of bad choices, then that makes everything easier on us. If people make poor decisions, the responsibility for addressing the bad outcomes falls squarely on their shoulders—which is to say, not on our own shoulders.
Looking at the difficult state of people’s lives as the result of a character defect relieves us of any responsibility for asking ourselves how it is that we give tacit approval to a system that continues to produce poor single parents on minimum wage with no health insurance. If it’s just a series of appalling choices I don’t agree with, then they have to fix their problems—not I.
“It’s not we who are the problem, it’s they” is a more palatable take on society for many people, but it’s one, I imagine, Jesus would take issue with.
That’s my principal objection to the now-dead healthcare reform. It scrambled desperately for ways to soothe people’s consciences, by implying that we should feel no responsibility to help others find adequate healthcare because it’s their fault for not having it in the first place. But I’m a pastor, so let’s be honest: booting 24 million people off of healthcare should pose a problem to people who follow a guy who spent a great deal of his ministry roving about the countryside dispensing free healthcare to people who didn’t deserve it.
According to the Christian Gospels, if you’re more concerned about who doesn’t deserve help than in actually helping, Jesus has a fundamental problem with the way you view the world.
You can talk about having compassion for the most vulnerable; but if you spend more time worrying about who should be blamed for being vulnerable than in finding ways to protect them, Jesus is going to be something of a disappointment to you.
If you care more about rooting out sin than in figuring out a way to offer healing, whatever it is you’re doing, it doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus.
Look, I didn’t write the book; I’m just telling you what’s in it.
Jesus goes out looking, trying to be present in healing ways to those whom society would rather just go away. He gets down in the dirt and muck of life to embody the love he’s said is breaking in on us because of the way God loves the world. Jesus views people through a lens that refuses to understand blame as the primary way of seeing people.
And those people who claim to be his followers are now freed up to see others—to see ourselves—through Jesus’ eyes, and not through the eyes of a politics that views people’s oppression as the result of moral defectiveness.
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