The Common Good

Three Responses to a Conservative Critic on Health-Care Reform

Just received this:

I am one of the conservative Christians you refer to in your letter. I did not and still do not support President Obama although I do know that there is reform needed in health care. It just does not need to be run by the Federal government. The reason I do not support the President is his pro abortion views. The Senate bill will mandate government payment for abortion. How an Evangelical Christian or any Christian support a president or a bill calling for the taking of the life on the innocent in the womb is beyond my understanding. Or vote for a candidate that is pro abortion as President Obama has made clear he is. I strongly support the church doing its part in caring for the health needs of the poor. My church[First Baptist] in West Palm Beach, FL has a state of the art medical clinic for the poor along with a ministry to help the homeless and poor with basic needs. If liberal Christians as yourself would spend their time mobilizing the church to do what it is called to do and give generously and encourage others to there would be no need for health care reform for the needy. I would like your response relative to the life issue. I would have posted this on your blog but saw no way to do it. I pray God will change your heart. I find it very interesting that the life issue is ignored in your open letter.

Thanks for your note. I certainly respect your position. I hope we can model a civil conversation on this - as you know, there is a lot of scary miscommunication going on this summer!

Let me respond on three points. You said:

I do know that there is reform needed in health care. It just does not need to be run by the Federal government.

First, we agree that reform is needed. Just in the last couple days, I've met several people who are falling through the cracks in our present system. We may simply disagree on the role of the government in this regard, but here are a few of my reasons for believing the government should be involved.

  • Governments have the responsibility for making laws, and where injustice is occurring - which I would define as the abuse of power, usually by the powerful, to the detriment of the less powerful - better laws are needed. I think this is a case in point.
  • The recent financial crisis, to me, is a parallel situation. Powerful banks were not properly regulated by the government, and they took risks that hurt millions of people. Similarly, when health insurance companies and employers are not given proper accountability, they may make decisions that increase their profits but hurt people. In those cases, better laws are needed.
  • I am suspicious of big government, as you are - but I am equally suspicious of big business. In fact, at least with government, we have the right to vote out corrupt politicians. But corporations often manage to keep their policies secret from their shareholders - as Enron, Worldcom, and the recent bank failures exemplify - and so it is especially important for us to hold them accountable through good laws.
  • If people say that government can't be trusted to handle health care well, I would wonder why they think government can be trusted to handle weapons well! I would also point to medicare, and to the VA, which people seem to be pretty happy with. But if governments can't handle laws well - and that's what we need in this situation, I believe: better laws - then they really are failing. Here we are in a situation, though, where even though government failed in the past to provide needed laws (just as they failed to do regarding big financial institutions), now they're trying, and that's why I want to support them.

Second, you said ...

The reason I do not support the President is his pro abortion views. The Senate bill will mandate government payment for abortion.

Where did you hear this? Whoever told you this was misinforming you. I have been involved with a group of religious leaders who are working hard to be sure this will not be the case. The language we're using is "abortion neutral" - health care reform, we believe, should not become a surrogate battlefront for either side in the abortion conflict. Whoever told you this is a fact - that reform will involve abortion - was either intentionally trying to mislead you or they were passing on misleading information unintentionally. (I hope you will notify them.) Although it is highly unlikely, it is possible that such a bill could pass, and that's why many of us are involved in seeking good reform that will be abortion neutral.

If you want to understand why I voted for President Obama even though he is openly pro-choice, you can read my postings on the subject from last summer, starting here.

Third, you said ...

I strongly support the church doing its part in caring for the health needs of the poor. My church [First Baptist] in West Palm Beach, FL has a state of the art medical clinic for the poor along with a ministry to help the homeless and poor with basic needs. If liberal Christians as yourself would spend their time mobilizing the church to do what it is called to do and give generously and encourage others to there would be no need for health care reform for the needy.

I applaud you for supporting your church in caring for the needs of the poor. Please keep up that good work! That sounds like a tremendous program - thanks be to God! Here again we agree: the church should be involved in helping poor people who are sick. I wonder if you would also agree with this:

If a poor person is hungry, we must help him get food. If he is naked, we must help him get clothes. If he is unemployed, we must help him get a job. If he is oppressed and treated unjustly, we must help him get better laws for his protection.

So - when I write and speak as I do about matters of justice, I am trying to do exactly what you recommend: to mobilize the church to do what it is called to do. That includes giving - but it also includes voting and using the power of citizenship. Those of us who have good health care who are Christians can not, as Paul said (Phillippians 2), only be concerned with our personal interests; we must be as concerned for our neighbors who lack health care as we would want them to be for us if the tables were turned. Health care reform, as I see it, is about seeking better laws for the common good of all our neighbors.

So, although we have disagreements, thankfully, we agree on two really important things: health care reform is needed, and we should mobilize Christians to do what they are called to do on behalf of those in need. I hope this explains a bit more of why I've been outspoken on this issue in the ways that I have. And of course, wherever I am wrong, I too pray that God will change my heart, and I trust you will do the same.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.

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