be afraid, be very afraid of… health care reform

Summertime typically brings a break from our national political drama, but the push for health care reform has ensured no such breather.  This story continues to unfold at a pace that I can barely keep up with.  Has anyone else found it difficult to ignore the noisy hyperbole while trying to understand the actual facts of this thing?

I’ll leave the legislative commentary to those better suited to the task.  What has been most disturbing to me about the past few months is how powerfully people’s fears have been used to oppose health care reform. President Obama has been labeled a socialist, a communist, even a Nazi for his proposed reforms.  Among those who believe the President’s proposal to be a “Nazi policy” was a woman at a Massachusetts town hall meeting.  Representative Barney Frank famously (thanks to YouTube) refused to answer her question, asking instead, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?”

While I thoroughly enjoyed Representative Frank’s straightforward response, it seems the issue is less about what planet this woman lives on and more about the way fear has led her to compare our president with Adolph Hitler.  Where does this come from?

The fear felt by many about the President’s policies may also be exposing some of our nation’s the latent racism.  At a recent town hall forum in Kansas, Representative Lynn Jenkins attempted to rally the Republican crowd by painting a vision of the future.  The Topeka-Kansas Journal reported the story.

“Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” Jenkins said to the crowd. “I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.”

A videotape of the presentation contains footage of Jenkins identifying three members of the U.S. House — Cantor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — as future movers and shakers in the GOP. All are white, as is Jenkins.

“So don’t, you know, lose faith if you are a conservative,” Jenkins said in Hiawatha.

For some, safety and security will return to America once a “great white hope” is elected as President.  Footage at town hall meetings and interviews with average citizens on the cable news networks reveal the fear felt by many that they are loosing their country.  As best I can tell, “they” tend to be white and “their country” favors a certain version of American history.

As strange and disappointing as this story has become, I get it.  I understand how powerful of an emotion fear can be; certainly there are some very smart people on both sides of this debate who know how to use fear to benefit their interests.  So while certain conclusions and opinions seem absurd to me, I know that there are reasons people arrive at their positions.  And often fear plays a large role in how we form our opinions.

Here’s what I don’t understand.  Why have so many Christians succumbed to this fear-based thinking? It seems that many within my Evangelical tribe are using similar language and describing similar fearful emotions about the health care debate.  Equally odd is how little these same folks talk about health care until a personal threat has been perceived.  Why is frustration only now being articulated?  Should the millions of uninsured not have been of great concern before the government ever took an interest?

Again, I don’t pretend to understand the best way forward regarding health care in our country.  But wouldn’t it be something if American Christians were known by our lack of fear in these types of debates?  What if we genuinely looked out first for the interests of others rather than for our own needs?  We are a people who claim to fear only God, a God who deeply loves us.  If this is so, if we believe God cares for even the needs of the sparrow, then might there be a different and less fearful way for us to participate in these important debates?

I’d appreciate any of your (charitable) thoughts about this.

12 thoughts on “be afraid, be very afraid of… health care reform

  1. Your post made me think of the early Christians who were known to be fearless when faced with health catastrophes. They believed in Christ’s teaching and didn’t cling to this world. Much of our health concerns today revolve around our tenacious cling to life because we FEAR death, pain and suffering. Besides fear, though we believe death is bad–that it is to be defeated. And, while death is sad–and many forms of it are evil/difficult/horrible–our insistence on every form of medical care when the end is within sight is a bit over the top. Dr. Everett Koop said that if he was over 70 and needed kidney dialysis, he would refuse that health care option. He believed that kidneys shutting down after 70 is a normal, end of life process. The problem is, we don’t like or accept normal, end of life processes and we want all the medical options. In a world where so many die each day for want of basic medical care, how can we as people who claim to love God and his people fight for such an unbalanced system. I’ve wished many times that there was some way to send my unused medical benefits to someone who needs them much more than me–in my country or around the world.

    Death has ultimately already been defeated–do we believe it? Do we live it? If we did, then fear for ourselves would be overcome and we could enter the discussion with others best interests in mind.

  2. I think the fear comes from a pretty common American trait–individualism. A big fear surrounding the discussion is the loss of control over our own coverage, and especially these sorts of “end of life” situations. No one wants to be lumped in with a statistic and told that they should not live any more because most other people in their condition don’t do so. Americans don’t seem to take those sorts of conversations lightly. However, the jump from defending control of one’s healthcare to calling for a “great white hope” is eerie and frankly just scary. Hopefully any healthcare reform that does get put in place will seek to insure the uninsured…that’s the point. And as far as control goes, in the end, after making whatever points we want to and having as much of a respectful say as we want to (because it’s our government and we’re allowed to have opinions), control of our lives themselves should probably be given to God anyway.

    (Isn’t it funny that if this was going on in another country one might see the fear tactics of conservative media members as terrorism?)

  3. David,

    Indeed fear is a big factor in this ongoing and heated debate, and for as long as anyone can remember, fear has been very instrumental as a motivating tool. No question, the church needs to care, practically, for those without healthcare. Healthcare reform is surely needed; I think most folks would agree. One part of the equation, however, is that there is great disagreement on what this reform should look like. Fears have been used to oppose the current administration’s plan. But fears and over simplifications have also been used to push forward this agenda as well. David, you state that you don’t understand why Christians have succumbed to this fear. And, of course you raise good questions. But, maybe there is some basis to the fears and maybe even bigger issues at stake. While I don’t claim to have a lot if information about health care in this country, I do believe change is in order. I’m pretty convinced, though, that what is being proposed is not what is best for this country, either as individuals, or as a whole.

  4. I think the whole problem here is people look at history and see that a large centralized government controlling some of our most personal issues is a little, no greatly intimidating. We should look after our neighbors and love them but to have a government mandate and confiscatory program to make someone do this. Also the fear is there because there is a lot of unknown quantities and qualities in the proposed health care reform. Even the President can not tell you what is or what isn’t in it or he would cite paragraph “a” section “2” to back up what he says will or will not happen. Figures are thrown around about who isn’t insured and who isn’t. When individuals are asked they tend to like their coverage but think that others don’t have as good from the reports they see. The problem begins and ends with government involvement. Medicare and Medicaid drive up costs because they do not pay doctors and hospitals the real cost so those costs are passed on to other. Ok now I can see the eyes glaze over, sorry. Its much more complicated and intertwined then evil insurance and drug companies trying to make windfall profit taxes or greedy doctors seeking to amputate limbs instead of treat patients. It’s all about supply and demand. We demand a lot from our health care professionals and we pay for that demand. Now with many more forced into the system w/o more supply of professionals and facilities the cost is going to have to go up or the supply will have to be rationed. You can say rationing won’t happen but it’s got to it’s economics, it’s physics, it’s reality. We can address the problems of pre-existing conditions and other “fall thru the crack” cases without overhauling the best health care operation in the world. It’s an insurance problem not a health care problem.

  5. Sorry for the bad grammar and typo’s had to run. 🙂
    Just because someone disagrees with the president and doesn’t like his proposal doesn’t mean he/she is racist. Racism used to be defined as being against someone just because of the color of his skin. Now racism is being dumbed down to mere opposition to someone’s ideas if that person is one of color. Not one debate I heard from anyone opposing him referred to the president’s race. His defenders are the only ones using the race issue to obscure and dismiss legitimate complaints and questions raised by the proposed legislation. It’s not whitey fearing the black man it’s citizens cringing in fear of the loss of freedom due to a huge unconstitutional intervention by the federal government.

  6. Well stated, David. I have to watch myself that I am actually fully trusting in Christ not opting out of the conversation because of the controversy.

  7. An irony is that Christians in countries with socialized health care fear that they’ll lose health care and become more like the states. Neither Christian is right in their fear, as you suggest David.

  8. David,

    Thanks for this post – It has been quite thought provoking for me.

    From my perspective, we do have reason to fear. I firmly believe that the purpose of government is to provide for a few very specific needs such as security and public order. When the government begins to involve itself in more personal aspects of our lives – finance, education, health care, environment, etc. – it does become a scary proposition. We lose our freedom to choose how we interact with those areas of our lives.

    At the same time, I realize the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick need help and care. My contention is that individuals, and even more so the Church, are best suited to provide for those personal needs. What would it look like if a hospital or medical group worked to develop a fund to be used for those who do not have insurance and cannot afford the fees? What would it look like if churches developed more environmental awareness in Christ followers and challenged people to take care of the Earth God has given us? What if more of us gave of our own wealth to help our neighbors when they are in need?

    So, for me it is scary to have our government get more involved in these areas of our lives. The question for myself, for Christians, is: Can we get past the fear and make world changing choices which help to provide for neighbors in need?

  9. Thanks for the comments folks. Not surprisingly, there are a diversity of opinions here. Like I initially wrote, my interest here is not about the details of the different health care reform proposals. Clearly people have a variety of perspectives on this issue. Fair enough.

    But to my original question: What might it look like for Christians in American to eschew the fear tactics of both sides? Additionally, how might this current, angry debate look differently if American Christians had already been rallying for a just system of health care where none would be left out? My hunch is that most of us Christians, like everyone else, only begin to care strongly about this issue when we are made to fear that something is going to be taken from us.

  10. It would look like churches seting up clinics in underserved areas. Doctors and nurses would volunteer time. Businesses would dontate supplies. Countless people donate to fund research for afflictions that don’t impact them. The wealthy would donate moneny to fund hospitals. Retired people would start organizations to help improve the quality of life for others that are struggling. A church member would take a grumpy lady to the doctor. A business person would start a company and provide good medical benefits. The list could go on and on. I think Christians and nonchristians ARE doing alot of things to improve the quality of medical care for many who need help.
    To say that the only way for Christians to act justly would be to work towards free health care for all is to me a little like saying the only way to combat abortion is to fight to make abortion illegal. It kind of discounts all the good work that Christians are doing.

  11. Every culture in every country has fears. Certain countries fear unregulated big business and militarism. Others fear famines and floods. In America, we fear taxes and “big government.” It’s our history. For better or worse, it’s part of who we are.

    The question is how to distinguish healthy fears from unhealthy ones, which is a matter of fierce debate. I think it’s healthy to fear warrantless government wiretaps and costly military campaigns, for example. But I would contend that when fears of government lead to the neglect of our society’s most vulnerable members (children, elderly, disabled, low-income etc.), we’ve slipped into an unhealthy, un-biblical kind of fear.

    Many of my fellow evangelicals will disagree with me, but I believe the fears surrounding health care reform are mostly of the unhealthy variety. When middle-class families are going bankrupt due to a child’s medical emergency that occurred when the primary breadwinner was out of work due to this horrible economy, there is something wrong with the system. When health care costs more every month than food and shelter, that’s a problem.

    Charity is not enough. We don’t expect churches and soup kitchens to cover auto insurance expenses of $100/month for all of their members, so why is it reasonable to expect voluntary donations to pay for insurance premiums that cost more than $1000/month for those whose employers are too small or too stingy (or both) to pitch in?

    David’s original point rings true: Most of us never really cared about the struggles of 45 million uninsured people until the government started to get involved. It’s ironic that all of us suddenly have an opinion about what should NOT be done.

    Rather than the democratic process of our elected leaders, maybe we should fear apathy, self-reliance and the indifference to human suffering in our midst.

  12. David, I think you are asking the right questions here. Having struggled with all kinds of fears in my own life, and reading in 1 John about how “Perfect love casts out fear,” I think this is a very real indicator of the authenticity and strength of our Christian faith. I’m with your commenter, Linda, here.

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