David J. Dunn, PhD
Orthodox lay theologian
The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, but the fight for healthcare is not over. The GOP now has a rallying cry to drive its base to the polls. Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics make up a large portion of the Republican base. As a Christian political theologian, I cannot help but see their opposition to “Obamacare” as an act of hypocrisy.
Maybe that is putting it too strongly. For the record, I think this hypocrisy is accidental. It is usually a kind of self-deception. Williams James is alleged to have said that when most people say they are thinking they are really just rearranging their prejudices (not me, of course). My point is that the Christian Right’s opposition to “Obamacare” is inconsistent with the rest of its politics.
Let me explain what I mean by telling a brief story. I was recently interviewed by Kevin Allen of Ancient Faith Today, a call-in radio program with a large following in the Orthodox Church (I am Eastern Orthodox). The topic was about gay marriage and Christian politics. My view is that what the state chooses to call a contractual relationship between two people of any sex should be of no concern to churches that consider marriage to be a sacrament. Sacraments are holy things, and the state has no power to sanctify.
Near the end of the interview I was asked if the church could oppose anything it considered immoral in society, such as when it came to the abortion debate. In other words, if the church can oppose abortion, why can’t it oppose gay marriage? This question reveals the basic presupposition at the heart of the politics of the Christian Right. It is the view that Christians should vote their values, and this means we should legislate moral evils into oblivion. Thus if we believe life begins at conception, we should vote against abortion! If we believe marriage is between one woman and one man, we should vote against gay marriage! And if we believe in caring for the sick and the poor, we should vote against “Obamacare!” … Wait a minute!
Do you see the political hypocrisy? The Christian Right votes for candidates who are anti-abortion and anti-gay (at least on paper) because it believes we must pass laws to protect marriage and protect life (at least embryonic life), but it is unwilling to apply the same principle to “Obamacare.” Infants in the womb have a right to life, but apparently adults do not have a right to life-saving medical care.
Christians have always believed in caring for the poor. Jesus began his first sermon with the words, “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), and compassion toward the poor was a hallmark of the early church (Galatians 2:10). Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics are extremely philanthropic. Many of them give generously to charity, and many of them devote time throughout the year to be among and care for the poor themselves. I do not doubt the sincerity of the faith or values of the Christian Right, just the consistency of their politics.
Opponents of the individual mandate argue that the state cannot force citizens to buy health insurance. That is a violation of our individual rights. But conservative Christians are willing to consider subjecting women to transvaginal ultrasounds before undergoing an abortion. Taxing people without insurance is intrusive, but apparently shoving something up one’s body is not.
The idea that we have inalienable rights probably owes something to the Christian belief that all human beings have dignity because they are made in God’s image, but in the Bible freedom is not freedom from but freedom for. We believe we are freed from the power of sin, but we are not freed from our obligations toward others (see 1 Cor. 8). That is why Paul advised Christians to settle their disagreements in the church rather than public courts, even if that meant my “rights” get violated. “Why do you not rather accept wrong?,” Paul asks, “Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Cor. 6:7)
Christians who make up the GOP base believe in voting their values into law (as the following, rather silly, video illustrates https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9vQt6IXXaM ), but apparently not all of their values. When it comes to health care, individual rights trump life.
I am not saying I accept the legal argument of those who oppose the “Affordable Care Act.” I don’t. Nor do I share the politics of the Christian Right. My opinion is that Christians in this country often get their values on the wrong side of legislation. Rather than attempting to outlaw behaviors of which we disapprove, I think we should focus more on the outcomes of our laws. We should ask ourselves if a particular piece of legislation (as the economist Amartya Sen would put it) gives people the ability to live lives they value and have reason to value. Or, in a Christian idiom, Does this law help make the world ready to receive the peace and justice of God’s kingdom?
In the Bible, Cain grew jealous of his brother Abel and killed him. This was the first murder. When God asked Cain where Abel was, he feigned ignorance and replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Christians who oppose the Affordable Care Act are not murdering Abel, but they are willing to let him die, lest the taxes of others be raised! Apparently Abel must suffer to death so that our individual rights are preserved.
Like I said, I disagree with the way the Christian Right applies its values to its politics, but if conservative Christians are going to vote their values, then they should vote all of their values. Christians who oppose abortion and gay marriage should be more consistent. They should support “Obamacare.” Even if opponents of “Obamacare” are correct that the state has no authority to tax citizens who make the rest of us pay for their medical care (through higher bills and insurance premiums) – even if the “individual mandate” does violate our individual rights – Christians should go ahead and let themselves be “cheated,” because when we are asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the answer is always, “Yes.”
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