The Fierce Urgency of Now

Domestic Policy, Ethics, Human Rights, Social Justice — By on March 25, 2010 at 12:22 am

It’s Friday, and I’m sitting in a crowded megachurch in Los Gatos, California on a warm spring evening.  A singer scratches the air with his rough voice and acoustic guitar with the sincerity only a musician with a small Facebook fan page can muster.  It’s a far cry from the scores of concerts taking place around my hometown of Austin, Texas tonight.  There, South by Southwest is in full swing; there, artists like my brother jam in clubs and on obscure stages seeking recording contracts, faithful fans, or just the transcendent experience of a truly great jam.  Here, there are no agents and no fans.  Something far stronger than a great show binds the artists and audience together: charity.

Last August, a May graduate from the school where I teach left home for church.  She was broadsided by a reckless driver.  The doctors call her condition TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, but that doesn’t come close to expressing the destructive force that transformed Jessica from a bubbly, college-bound girl to a girl who, seven months on, can nod her head on a good day and has yet to speak a word.  To compound tragedy, the family’s health insurance has balked at paying for her treatment every step of the way.  Despite the fact that it was only because her mother stayed with her every hour that a nurse was notified in time to save Jessica during several midnight crises, it took several petitions and the investigative department of a local tv station to keep the insurance company from forcing Jessica into a hospital wing that was inadequately staffed and didn’t allow family to stay overnight.  The Huse family’s saga has been one long apologetic for the need to ensure that for-profit insurers cannot abandon or financially destroy faithful customers for the sake of the bottom line.

Tonight’s concert is an apologetic, too, and it communicates something of a mixed message.  Hundreds, most of whom had never met Jessica or her family, purchased tickets at $20 per person and participated in the raffle and silent auction to raise funds for the family’s medical bills.  This evening is a testimony to the generosity of strangers, family, and friends, an outpouring of the Church caring for a sister in need.  But tonight’s proceeds won’t put a dent in the cost of the long-term care Jessica requires.  The family needs night after night after night like this one.  Even a large congregation unburdened by this recession couldn’t sustain that kind of giving.  Most churches struggle to collect enough tithes to keep the lights on.  And Jessica is merely one sister in need.  Charity, no matter how heartfelt, is not enough.  We must do more to make health care available to everyone.

Whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is part of the solution to this problem is a legitimate matter of great debate.  A few things are certain: it will bring access to care to thirty million of our fellow citizens, it will take important steps to curb insurers’ refusal to cover patients with preexisting conditions, and it will stop them from dropping patients who become ill or injured.  It is incomplete, insufficient, and contains provisions that raise serious moral questions.  It is also the closest we’ve been to making this system more just in the better part of a century.

Whatever the rest of this legislative session brings, we have a clear mandate from He who is Charity.  We must uphold the sanctity of life, from the unborn to the aged, from the man with cancer who loses his job, his insurance, then his life, to the girl hit by a car on her way to worship Him.  If not this bill, then another, and that right soon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”  As with so many other things, Dr. King was right.  It was one of Christ’s most famous parables that radically redefined our responsibility for each other when He told of a Samaritan who rescued his enemy on the road and paid for his medical care at great personal cost.  Health care costs have spiraled beyond our ability to mimic the Samaritan in many cases, but He has not excused us from helping our neighbor.  Like the people who gave with open hands to a girl they’d never met, we can find a way to extend our great fortune of health care to those who do not share that fortune.  We may not be able to pay out of pocket, but we have been granted the power of political participation and creative private enterprise.  If we do not use them, we, like the priest and the Levite, pass by the wounded man on the road.  Christ didn’t speak highly of those men. ‘



  • Alan

    Yes, but Christ never pointed a gun at anyone and forced charity. Should and must (backed by the coercive force of the gun) are much different things. Many changes were proposed that would have dealt with your friend’s problem without enslaving the population. The effects of socialism on the soul of man are well documented and known. What profits a man if he gains the world but loses his soul.

    Your argument presupposes the Democrats strawman argumentation style – those who are against *this* legislation are against reform.

    Coercion or caritas – which is Christian.

  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Mr. Poet

    The health care “reform” recently passed, once implemented, probably would shunt Jessica into that understaffed hospital wing, where she would die. I don’t think her family would have a choice.

    The level of care Jessica requires does illustrate the hit-and-miss quality of charity, which conservatives who oppose government health care tout. Just a few cases like hers would not only bankrupt a local church, but probably every family in that church if they decided to take care of chronically ill or severely injured congregants. I read an article yesterday in which the author lamented that two surgeries performed on his wife, if his family had not had health insurance, would have cost his family $150,000. My mother and I go to different churches, but I checked her church’s budget statement. That woman’s two surgeries would have cost Ma’s church about half their yearly budget.

    Sometimes we do not understand this. Why? Because the chronically ill and disabled drop out of our churches. They are moved to “shut in” lists, if our churches keep track of them at all. We do not see them on Sunday mornings, so the number of ill among us seems not so bad.

    This health care reform will fail. I think it was written to fail. Health insurance companies will go bankrupt, which will leave all of us (patient and provider) at the mercy of the State. Future Jessicas, if not Jessica herself, will be UK-style health care horror stories, if we hear about them at all.

    Sure, the Good Samaritan paid for the man’s care out of his pocket. But the health care offered by the innkeeper was rudimentary compared to what a modern hospital offers.

    When, not if, America’s debt load becomes unsustainable and welfare to which we are accustomed no longer can be provided; when, not if, our economy collapses because we keep trying to pay for things that we cannot afford, then we will have to visit this issue again. If not before that time. What will we tell the families of future Jessicas when $20 may not buy a loaf of bread?

  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Mr. Poet

    Yes, yes, Alan, we understand Jesus would not have sicced the tax collectors who followed Him onto the rich young ruler when he refused to sell all he had; or onto the rich man who would not give anything to Lazarus; or onto the priest and Levite who passed by the dying man on the road. But crying “Socialism!” and repealing every form of it in America will not pay Jessica’s medical bills. In the real world, American Christians would not necessarily give enough charity to cover the medical bills of Jessica and others like her if you and I, right now, could magically lower taxes and implement a truly free market economy.

    By the way, Alan, the poster graphic on the right sidebar includes information about how to donate money to Jessica’s campaign. Have you any donated any money?

  • Doug

    Remember to love our neighbor as ourself. Instead you want to force your neighbor, rich or poor, to pay. If someone came to my place to steal, even if it was a good cause, I would put my gun in their face and pull the trigger. God hates people stealing and so do I.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    Doug,

    Jesus would advocate shooting someone in the face to retain ownership of your material possessions? I think we’re reading a very different Bible. Which translation are you using?

    Alan,

    Did you read the full article? I did mention that this bill has serious flaws, and that if this bill isn’t the one that will prevent predatory insurers from sacrificing people like Jessica on the altar of profit. Do you object to the bill’s provisions that prevent insurers from taking advantage of their customers (rescission, ballooning premiums, denial of care, etc.), or are you talking about the provisions concerning mandatory health insurance by 2014? I can see flaws with the latter, but I haven’t yet spoken with anyone who had problems with the former, so I’m intrigued.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    Mr. Poet,

    I agree with you that there are serious issues with the funding of this bill. I’m wondering, however, how you get from this legislation to a patient being ‘shunted into the understaffed wing.’ I heard those arguments against the government public option (which didn’t make it into the legislation). How do you see this danger in the bill that was enacted?

  • Doug

    Lindsay,
    Would Jesus advocate stealing from your neighbor? Yes we do read from a different bible. My bible does say I have a right to defend my property. You say I don’t. Montana laws state we can even run the theif down and shoot him. Not that I would, unless he harmed someone in my family when he tried to rob us. The issue here is basic freedom, you want to take that away in the name of a sob story. Remember in the old days she would of died and went to heaven, that is good. But it hurts the ones remaining, now we can keep them alive forever it seems, maybe longer than the Lord wants.

    If you can’t see the danger in government takeover of 1/6 of our lives, then trying to talk sense to you is like giving medicene to a dead man. That is Thomas Paine speaking. This health bill will destroy the greatest health system in the world. Get that? If government is so good that it can take a great system and make it better than maybe we should have it rule everything! But get real, this is the beginning of something evil. Always have been in history and in history there are plenty of people like you that cheered it on until it killed you.

  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Mr. Poet

    Lindsay,

    I don’t see a specific provision which would place Jessica into that understaffed hospital wing. But in my opinion, based on observation (imperfect as it is) of other health care systems commanded and controlled by a central government (which is what this health care reform IS, regardless of the absence of the so-called public option), I predict future Jessicas will be put in understaffed hospital wings to die. I hope I’m wrong. But nationalizing health care is not something I want to try with the hopes that I’m wrong.

    Another point that struck me last night: Is there a provision in the lawful contract Jessica’s family signed which places a lifetime limit on how much can be spent on her health care? If Jessica had exceeded that lifetime limit (which is possible in her condition), then why would her insurance provider be immoral and in the wrong for abiding by the cut-off limit of a consensual contract?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    Doug,

    I’m not trying to talk healthcare with you – I’m concerned for your theology. Can you cite a reference that speaks of defending your material goods? You claim the Bible gives you that license, so much so, you advocate shooting a criminal ‘in the face’ to defend your property (note: not your family or your life, but your property, as you said). Can you show me which part of Scripture condones that?

    In terms of Christ’s teachings, the closest thing I can find to His instruction on what to do when the government tries to take things from you are (1) His instructions about taxation (“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” – Matthew 20:15-22) and (2) His instructions when government forces you to act in violation of your personal liberty (“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” – Matthew 5:41-42).

    The second one seems most relevant to this discussion of what you allege is the government seizure of liberty. In first century Judea, when Jesus was teaching, any Roman soldier could, by force of law, force any Jewish person to carry his pack (which weighed about 100 pounds) for one Roman mile (about 1611 yards in today’s measurement). That meant a soldier could not only force a subject into labor, but it is labor that aids the Roman military in its violent policy.

    And yet Jesus says “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

    I’m not getting “it’s okay to shoot someone in the face for trying to take your stuff” from that. Montana may be fine with that, but our Lord and Savior isn’t.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    Mr. Poet,

    In this instance, Jessica’s family has not exceeded a contracted limitation. Even so, however, that would be a fantastic argument for the necessity of reform.

  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Mr. Poet

    Lindsay,

    But YOUR theology has a hole in it. Sure, the Roman soldier could compel a Christian to carry his pack one mile, and therefore, the Christian should carry it two miles. But this was to be a witness. What if the Roman soldier repented and accepted Christ as Savior? Then John the Baptist’s advice to Roman soldiers would come into play:

    “And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14 KJV).

    In the end, the repentant Roman soldier should not force anyone to carry his pack anywhere. Just because I should carry a burden when I am compelled by the government (which I would be compelled in the case of health care reform), am I wrong when I say the burden should not be there in the first place?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Lindsay Stallones

    I’m not sure the verses speak of the same situation, though. John’s instruction seems to be aimed toward those in power, while Jesus is instructing those under power. I suppose you could make an argument from John’s instruction that as citizens in a democracy, we are in power through popular sovereignty, but I still think that’s a bit of a stretch in terms of Christ’s very clear instruction.

    It seems to me that the two verses indicate that we can and should work for justice in our government using the power we’ve been given, but when our policy fails, we are to obey the authorities placed over us provided they do not cause us to do anything against the command of God, even when what they command might not be comfortable or easy.

    Fortunately, in our democracy, we have much more recourse against government action (through elections, petitions, court cases, etc.) than those who directly received Christ’s instructions in the first century, but it seems the principle remains the same. We do what we can to seek good through our government, but we know that His kingdom transcends this one and we must just follow Him.