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?
According to a perplexing but wondrous rabbinic tradition, no one could be admitted to the rabbinic court who was not able to prove that a sheretz (a category covering all sorts of creeping creatures – lizards, worms etc.) was pure. The catch of course is that according to Jewish law a sheretz is impure. So why demand that a potential judge argue something that was clearly wrong? To teach prospective religious leaders how easily religious ideals and ideology can be bent in various directions.
Should everyone have health care? Of course. One cannot imagine an argument that says it is good to deprive people of medical care.
But – to turn this general religious impulse into a policy prescription is something else again. Does God mandate single payer? Public option? To ask the question is to recognize–one hopes – its ludicrousness. God no more prescribes the form of health care than God endorses Notre Dame’s football team over USC’s. Sometimes we have to realize that the intricacies of the decision are with us.
The intersection of religion and public policy is delicate, and too often preachers, imams and rabbis run roughshod over the line. The Bible tells us that the poor will always be in the land, but that one must give to help the poor. Why give if there will always be poor? Because the obligation devolves on us nonetheless to try to make things better. So a religious leader can say: “Everyone deserves health care. Each of us has an obligation to examine the options and promote that which is not only best for him or herself, but for all in our country – rich and poor, blessed and dispossessed.” What I think a religious leader may NOT do is suggest that he is given some divinely inspired insight into competing health care plans.
I know my own tradition well enough to be able to marshal adroit arguments in favor of opposing political positions. That should make me suspicious of those who are convinced they hold the policy keys to the kingdom. God wants us to take care of one another. But God does not micromanage policy; indeed, one might say the devil is in the details.