Friday, June 25, 2010

Health Care Reform Debate

I listen to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR some mornings. On Fridays, they often focus on a current event in the "Friday News Round Up." A few months ago, I was listening not long after health care reform had been passed, and the panel was discussing that event. You can listen to the program at the link below.

It was a particularly interesting show that morning as the panel discussed the controversy that health care reform had provoked. One commentator on the show noted that most Americans support universal coverage. Another (I think it was Juan Williams) noted that the root concern of many opponents of health care reform is the notion of an expansion of government power. I thought that was a fascinating assertion, which rang true with a lot of my own personal, anecdotal experiences in listening to the concerns of opponents of health care reform (or “Obamacare” as they seem to like to call it for some reason).

In conservative Christian circles, I’ve heard folks express fears and frustrations of “big government” on many occasions, but I admit I don’t fully understand those reactions. What link is there between Christianity and a concern for big government, and what does that have to do with a requirement to buy private medical insurance?

To me, it seems intuitive that Christians would want to effect universal health care (or something close to it) because Christ repeatedly taught us to care for the sick (e.g., The Good Samaritan, Matthew 25:31-46, Mathew 10:8). But apparently for some conservative Christians, concerns of big government override concerns for sick people.

In my observations and experiences listening to folks, the concern of big government seems to be rooted in at least two sources. First, some Christians seem to carry forth the pervasive anti-government attitudes of the New Testament (e.g., brutal oppression of an occupying power, corruption and lies of a puppet king, hypocrisy of the local ruling elite, repeated references to tax collectors being among the most sinful in society, savage post-Easter oppression by the authorities). But we twenty-first century Americans live in a very different era than our savior or even his initial followers. Americans are blessed to have representative government. We are not at the whim of an occupying power. Consequently, in my view, the same New Testament anti-government attitudes are just not apropos in the current era. Nonetheless, the experiences of our spiritual forbearers should never be forgotten. They should be an important reminder to us that political power and authority can be misused to oppress sub-groups within a society, and to inflict misery on the vulnerable and the marginalized.

In my observation and experience listening, a second source of Christian concern for big government seems to be rooted in fears about the sanctity of family. In the last century, some Christians have developed a very strong sense of the importance of the family unit in religious faith. In my own opinion, it doesn’t seem to be based entirely on New Testament teachings. Jesus himself seemed to discount the centrality of the traditional family unit and encourage a broader sense of family (e.g., Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 14:12, Luke 18:29-30). But in twentieth century totalitarian regimes where Christianity was attacked and brutally repressed, the family unit was often targeted as a means of religious oppression. In some communist countries, parents were brutally punished for passing on religious teachings and beliefs to their own children, who then were taught atheistic beliefs in state-run schools. At the time, such persecution did not seem to get a lot of attention in the mainline American media, but it was discussed frequently in church communities. Such totalitarian regimes were often successful in breaking the roots of religious faith, and driving a wedge between family members. In my experience, some Christians in the United States still seem to fear government for this reason. There seems to be a lingering fear that our own government will do the same thing; children will be brainwashed against their parents and their parents’ Christian faith. I personally have noticed this fear most among older Christians who lived through the Cold War.

Luke 23:2

And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."

1 Peter 2:17

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

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