Would Jesus Support Healthcare Reform?

I can’t tell whether John White is being intentionally fatuous or whether he genuinely doesn’t understand Christians on the Left, but either way, his response to John Blake’s article–“Would Jesus support health care reform?–is riddled with nonsense.  Blake’s piece collects quotes from various Christian leaders to show that “Christians are as divided about this question as others. Many cite Jesus, but come up with completely different conclusions.”  White, perhaps expecting Blake to provide us with a definitive answer despite initially indicating that he wouldn’t, “realizes”–i.e., pretends–he’s been duped, and goes on to insist that Blake’s question is a dumb one.

I differ to beg. First, there’s nothing dumb about applying the principles proclaimed by Jesus to contemporary political problems.  The folks at CatholicVote, where White blogs, describe their very purpose as such: “CatholicVote.org is a lay movement, foremost, of committed Catholics who are passionate about living out the truths proclaimed by Christ and His Church in the modern world.”  Second, the deeds and teachings of Jesus do, in fact, speak to the issue of health care.  Not only was Jesus himself a healer, he taught in no uncertain terms that we will be judged according to the care we offer to the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the otherwise needy.  As a society, we provide such care predominantly through our healthcare system, a system that works very well for those who have wealth and/or extensive insurance coverage, but very poorly or not at all for millions of others.  We can do better and, according to the principles of Jesus, we should do better.  We’re not providing for those to whom we could be providing.  Jesus was clear about where this sin of omission leads.

So, yes John White, it is a no-brainer: Jesus would support healthcare reform. No, not because Jesus is a Democrat, but because his principles demand it.  Now, it behooves me to note that support for healthcare reform does not necessarily translate into support for a particular means of reforming our healthcare system.  Saying that Jesus would support healthcare reform is not to say that he would approve of “Obamacare” or single-payer or whatever concoction Paul Ryan would come up with.  However, it is to say that if we are not interested in reforming healthcare and make no genuine attempts to do so, then, if Jesus is to be believed, we’re in for a world of hurt.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Alien Shore says:

    Thank you for this post, Kyle. Ordinarily, I prefer a dialogue, a conversation, about differences because I believe that reasonable people (or people at least capable of reason) ought to be able to speak to one another about issues. But, as much as I didn’t always like the late Christopher Hitchens’ approach to those with whom he disagreed, some things are just appropriately addressed with Hitchenesque ridicule. White’s article is one of those things. White’s article is simply a childish, condescending bunch of drivel written by an idiot who thinks he is being clever.

    He offered not one word of subsatnce, but was written by using stupid and highly inaccurate caricatures and then replying to these non-existent people whom he says is the Christian left. For him it is as simple as the Christian left says Jesus would support Obamacare because, well, that’s just what people on the left always think. Did he actually address any substantial arguments for Obamacare? Nope. Not necessary. All he has to do is make stupidly childish statements about what he thinks the Christian left always believes. An argument against a position you don’t like isn’t necessary if you don’t truly presesnt the arguments made by those who hold the contrary position to yours. Just think yourself clever and say stupid things.

    I appreciate, Kyle, your distinction between “Obamacare” and healthcare reform in general and how it isn’t unreasonable for Christians to respond to the principles taught by Jesus by seeking to apply them to issues of our time.

    While ridicule isn’t necessarily the only reponse one might make to White and his article, ridicule is certainly a due response to it. White is a below mediocre writer, from this article apparently a poor thinker, and ought to go find something to do he does well. Because thinking or writing are not.

  2. kenB says:

    First, there’s nothing dumb about applying the principles proclaimed by Jesus to contemporary political problems.

    I wouldn’t call it dumb, but it’s misguided, whether done by the Left or the Right. In all of the Gospels, Jesus was addressing individuals (and perhaps faith communities) and advising them how to behave and what to do with their own resources — unsurprisingly, he makes no statement about how a democratic non-religious government should go about using its monopoly of force to coerce all citizens to follow his rules.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Well, yeah, obviously Jesus didn’t speak directly about the principles and matters of democratic governance, but what he said may still be applied to contemporary political problems–and applied without using a “democratic non-religious” government’s “monopoly of force to coerce all citizens to follow his rules.” Theocracy would be misguided, but I don’t see why religious-motivation and influence would have to be. Two politicians may propose the same solution to a political problem, one out of religious concerns, the other out of humanitarian concerns.

      • kenB says:

        Not sure I communicated that well, so first let me say it a bit differently — it’s fair to say that Jesus would encourage us as individuals or as Christian churches to spend our resources on improving the lot of the poor and generally caring for each other. But when it comes to government policy, we’re talking not only about spending our own money, but spending the money of others, including non-Christians. Moving from saying that Jesus wants us to give our own money to charity to saying that Jesus wants us to push for getting public money spent on charity is a leap that doesn’t have any scriptural basis, as far as I can tell. (I also think that Jesus’ primary message was more toward personal salvation through renunciation rather than charity and social justice for its own sake, but that’s a different discussion).

        Of course Christians can be motivated by their sense of charity and compassion, inspired by their faith, to push for such policies, just as non-Christians can be motivated by their foundational religious and/or moral beliefs; but to claim that these policies are clearly what Jesus would want is unjustified IMO.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          When we’re talking about applying the principles espoused by Jesus to contemporary problems such as healthcare, their application has to be made within the situation we currently find ourselves. The fact is we provide healthcare not by means of individual charity; rather, we cover the costs through a system that combines an insurance apparatus, government programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and self-pay. Charity may be involved, but it’s not the rule.

          It’s an unjust system because it leaves out people who could be looked after and cared for. If the principles of Jesus are to be applied to healthcare, then they have to applied with respect to this system: either by improving it or changing it to something better. So it’s not that Jesus commands us to use the government or insurance or whatever to provide for people’s healthcare needs. It’s that we already address healthcare in these ways, so it is in the context of these ways that the principles would have to be applied. To summarize: Jesus tells us to heal the sick; we heal the sick by means of X, so it is in terms of X that one would have to apply what Jesus tells us.

        • Liberty60 says:

          Jesus never experienced a democratic society. He only knew of living in a theocratic state similar to present day Iran.
          There was no such concept as “what individuals should do” vs “what society or government should do”.

          Conforming to the principles of Judaism was not optional. Decisions by the religious leaders about what people should or shouldn’t do was THE LAW and as the Gospels tell us, they could effectively execute anyone who defied their wishes.

          • Tom Van Dyke says:

            The Romans executed Jesus.

            Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. John 18:31

          • Liberty60 says:

            Yes, exactly. The Romans had no real problem with Jesus.

            But they executed him in order to pacify the religious leaders who made it clear they wanted him dead.

  3. Tony says:

    “However, it is to say that if we are not interested in reforming healthcare and make no genuine attempts to do so, then, if Jesus is to be believed, we’re in for a world of hurt.”

    Who are the “we” who will be condemned for failing to address healthcare reform? Politicians who actually understand that sort of thing? Interest groups that focus on abortion instead of healthcare reform? Voters who don’t like any of the options on the ballot? Americans as a whole? Is this a matter of corporate salvation?

    I had a similar issue with that controversial Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace document, which seemed to argue that building effective international institutions is “a prerogative and a duty for everyone, without distinction.” I just don’t know what that means.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      “We” includes those of us in our society who have some power, however little, to affect the reform of our healthcare system. Those with more power (e.g., public servants) have a greater responsibility. I ought to do what I can from where I stand and with what I have–both as an individual and as a member of a social whole.

  4. This is a good post, Kyle.

  5. Jaybird says:

    Instead of demanding that Rome institute a better social safety net, Jesus healed people himself.

    Some theorize that this is why he was killed…

    • Mike Schilling says:

      Lenny Bruce:
      “We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.”

  6. Kolohe says:

    “Many cite Jesus, but come up with completely different conclusions.”

    The last 2000 years of Western History in a single sentence.

  7. Tom Van Dyke says:

    The Gospel According to St. Bastard: “Go thou to the rich man’s house, take his stuff, and give it to the poor. And, hey, take a little for yourself, for your time and trouble and all.”

  8. Liberty60 says:

    It is pretty clear that Jesus’ directive to care for the poor could be accomplished in any number of ways.
    And if we were having a national debate over which way to best serve the poor, Jesus would probably consider his work to be done.

    But thats not the debate we are having, is it?

    We have one faction in America that considers it abhorrent that people are allowed to die without treatment for lack of money.
    We have another faction that applauds wildly at that suggestion.

    I don’t think Jesus would be ambivalent about this issue.

  9. DensityDuck says:

    “Saying that Jesus would support healthcare reform is not to say that he would approve of “Obamacare” or single-payer or whatever concoction Paul Ryan would come up with.”

    That’s great, except that for most people, PPACA is healthcare reform, and speaking against PPACA is therefore speaking against healthcare reform.

    Like I said in Isquith’s thread, there are people who honestly believe that the only reason to disagree with PPACA is that you think sick people should die in the street.

  10. James Hanley says:

    I have problems with the liberal Christians who say Jesus would support a particular government policy. The claim can be made, but there’s precious little in the gospels to hang it on. But the real rub is that they want this government policy in lieu of selling all they have to help the poor, which is an explicit command by Jesus. So to get all excited about how Jesus would want a particular collective action that he didn’t specifically address while studiously ignoring the individual actions that he did specifically address…well, it just doesn’t impress me all that much.

    On the other hand, there are those conservative Christians, and I really don’t even want to get started on how un-Christlike they are.