Healing America’s Sick Soul
Health-care reform is an economic, political and medical issue. But On Faith panelist and evangelical leader Jim Wallis says it’s also a “deeply theological issue, a Biblical issue and a moral issue.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
The soul of America is sick because our health insurance industry is sick. The creation of a better health care system that guarantees full access to affordable quality health care for every American family, all of God’s children in this country, would be the moral achievement that could repair, and even heal, our damaged national soul. Health care is a deeply moral and religious issue. Here is why.
Healing is central to all our religious traditions. It is at the heart of the vocation of people of faith. The stories of Jesus healing people in the Gospels, of restoring people to physical wholeness and full participation in their community, always signaled the Kingdom of God. We can see from the story of the garden where sickness never was and from the vision of a city in which death will be no more that good health is the will of God. When we are instruments of bringing about that good health, we are doing the work of God.
In America, 46 million are uninsured, many more are underinsured. Many of them are working families who live in fear of getting sick or injured. Some delay seeking medical attention at the risk of their own health or using emergency room services instead of primary care physicians. An estimated 18,000 people a year die unnecessarily from lacking basic health insurance, many from low income families. These realities do not reflect a valuation of our neighbor as created in the image of God and that is why this is not just a political issue, it is a moral issue and solutions for our health care system are long overdue.
What does that mean? It means that the faith community has a unique and important role to play — to define and raise the moral issues right beneath the policy debate. This does not mean that any religious leader has a policy prescription from God ready for mark up by committee. St Luke might have been a doctor but he still didn’t comment on the benefits of computerizing medical records. But the faith community will be raising a “moral drum beat” in the center of this debate that focuses on those who have been left out of good health care in America, and keeps our political leaders focused on real reform.
For example, Leviticus Chapters 13 and 14 lays out a detailed public health policy in regards to contagious rashes and leprosy, I wouldn’t recommend it to the Surgeon General for how to deal with H1N1 but it does give moral instruction in one important area: cost. A consistent theme throughout the scriptures is illustrated very clearly in this passage: A good and moral society does not leave people out because they are poor. After laying out the standard sacrifice required for a sick person to be restored back into community verse 21 starts gives additional instructions, “If, however, he is poor and cannot afford these…” and proceeds to give alternative sacrifices of lower cost to for the poor to pay instead.
The laws governing the Hebrews ensured that participation in their health care system was not based upon economic status in the community. There was not an encouragement for the community to be charitable to those who could not afford it, but a legal mandate to lower the cost to ensure affordability — to ensure that everyone could participate.
Our job, like the prophet Amos, is to call for “justice to roll down like waters;” it’s the politician’s job to work out the plumbing. We have the opportunity to speak for the interests of the common good and those who would not otherwise have a voice. And this time the religious community will be watching, praying, and acting, as the nation takes on the challenge of reforming our sick health-care system.