Reason rules the Roberts Court on ‘Obamacare’, but Christians need to continue to advocate for the poor

Joe Raedle GETTY IMAGES A sign giving direction to The University of Miami Hospital’s Emergency Department. The Supreme Court has … Continued

Joe Raedle


A sign giving direction to The University of Miami Hospital’s Emergency Department.

The Supreme Court has upheld important facets of the Affordable Care Act., reasonably concluding that Congress can impose a “tax” as an interpretation of what is called the “individual mandate,” the provision that requires Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty.

This is the centerpiece of the legislation known as “Obamacare,” and the way in which the economics of coverage will be managed.  Without it, 50 million Americans would have continued to be without access to affordable health care, and insurance companies could have raised premiums, making it even harder for those who are covered to continue to afford their health plans.

The poorest of the poor are still at risk, however, since while the court also upheld the government’s ability to expand Medicaid coverage for the most needy, it said the government could not withdraw existing Medicaid funding from states that opt out of the expansion. This part of the ruling hampers the government in enforcing Medicaid expansion where states are resistant.

Christians have their work cut out for them here, as they and other people of faith and humanist values will need to vigorously make the case to their fellow citizens at the state level that compassion for the poor is a top priority.

Fortunately, the case for compassion for the poor, and paying for their health care is an easy case to make for Christians.

Anyone who has read the New Testament knows that Jesus of Nazareth was first and foremost a healer. The sick flocked to him (Matthew 8:16, 19:2, Mark 5:34, Luke 5:17, 9:11) and he healed them. Jesus taught his followers that in caring for the sick, they were actually caring for him, and in failing to care for the sick, they were failing him. (Matthew 25:31-46) This is a cornerstone of Christian faith.

Over and over the scriptures talk about how Jesus “felt compassion” for those who were suffering from illness. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)

Jesus taught his followers to have compassion for the sick, to be helpful including paying for health care for those who could not afford it.

The “Good Samaritan,” in a well-known story told by Jesus (Luke 10:25-37), is the person who stops and cares for an injured man left by the side of the road. In this teaching, Jesus tells how the privileged of his society had callously walked by the injured man, ignoring the man’s urgent need for care. It is the “Samaritan,” someone who would have been a despised outsider in Jesus’s time, who actually stops and cares for the man, paying for his care.

It is not enough for me as a Christian, and a person of faith, to do this as an individual. It is my responsibility to call my society to be decent to the sick, and pay for their health care. It is a matter of moral accountability to my fellow citizens.

It is not enough for me as a Christian, and a person of faith, to do this as an individual.  It is my responsibility to call my society to be decent to the sick, and pay for their health care. It is a matter of moral accountability to my fellow citizens.My theology teacher, Fredrick Herzog, taught me and many others that it was not adequate for Christians to just do “God-talk,” that is, quote our Bible in our theology. Instead, the Christian imperative is to do “God-walk,” that is, live the words of scripture in our lives.

In Herzog’s view, this applied to how we acted as a society, not just as individuals. He would often say that “in this society, it is impossible to be a decent Christian” when we do not have social policies based on peace and justice.

This teaching applies most directly to the poorest among us, and that is where the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid means Christians need to make covering the poorest a priority. 

Since the Medicaid expansion will be a matter for states to decide, it is critical that Christians speak directly to their belief that as people of faith we must care for the sick as though each sick person were Jesus of Nazareth himself. We can work together we those of other faith traditions, as caring for the poor is a central value in the major religions of the world. 

The Supreme Court has decided the question of health care legislation with legal insight; it is up to people of faith to dig deeply into their traditions and call on their states to expand Medicaid coverage.

We must bring the deepest compassion to our social policy when it comes to the most vulnerable among us. 

The former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

  • erbkon

    Well. I don’t know where to begin. First as an Orthodox Christian I must shout from the rooftops that Christ, through Whom we believe the entire Universe was created and Who sustains it with His merest thought, is a little bigger than any particular socio-political position on a topic of the day. He can’t be crammed into some pigeonhole labeled ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

    But the writer here sure knows how to trot Him out (complete with scriptural quotes), like a tame mascot to perform for her as required.

    Second, I want to be clear that while I want health care reform, serious health care reform, in this country, I want it to be good reform. As an economist and a student of history and human nature, Obamacare, aka the ACA, isn’t it. It’s not just a bad law (badly structured, badly paid for with accounting gimmicks, and so on) — it is a bad law badly passed, accompanied by blatant public displays of bribery. Is that what the author thinks Jesus would do? Chapter and verse please.

    Worst, this law goes against our constitution — not just the written one that specifically gives a limited set of powers to the government and reserves others to the states and to the people, but also against our grain, our very organic constitution. ‘Constitution’ means ‘how things are put together’, how we as a country are put together, and despite a one-party heave of strength that got Obamacare passed, the people as a whole (despite some of what Ruth Marcus has patronizingly called ‘goodies’ sprinkled through it) reacted viscerally against it. Public polls have never shown majority approval; more importantly, voters at ELECTION polls promptly revolted in 2010 at every level, and more than half the states are against it. This president may even be turned out in November. This law does not sit will our organic constitution. Does the author think that, sitting on the throne of the world, this is the particular law Christ would have put in place by decree? Even the section subjecting tax

  • rmlwj1

    Regrettably for your philosophy, madam, we are a republic, not a theocracy.

    I will also point out that Jesus said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”

    There is also the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Think about that too.

  • bromisky

    Facinating, You love Christ, but when it interferes with your political beliefs, not so much….

  • marymiddlemas

    I am so glad to see this articulated. Jesus said to heal the sick, not make an obscene profit from them. Just because something makes a profit, does not mean it is a good thing. Prostitution and crime are profitable.

  • jpost1

    Mythical fairy tales are not a sound basis for a legal system. Remember, the First Amendment was written to also guarantee freedom FROM religion.You’re free to indulge whatever brand of fantasy you desire, but are not free to impose it on others.

  • dagantonia1

    My god! What ugly Americans we are! How far will we go to cherry pick the bible?
    Be careful for what we wish for, because we just my get it! God bless America!

  • GMScan1

    Somehow I missed that verse in the Bible where Jesus organized his disciples to circulate a petition to Caeser demanding that he raise taxes and set up an empire wide health care program.

    It is cheap Christianity to ask government to do what you are too lazy to do yourself.

  • cprdcnats

    Brominsky thanks for summarizing his post. Thistlethwaite does claim to love Christ, but only if it empowers progressive power grabs and building up of towers of babylon.

  • cprdcnats

    True, but it’s freedom from the state’s religion. Thereby allowing you and your neighbor the free exercise of their religion. So you still have to put up with your neighbors’ religion. Even with their praying over meals, saying ‘bless you’ and the utter audacity of them running their religious ministries according to their teachings.

  • erbkon

    Bromisky, this may come as a surprise to you, sitting up their on the Judgment Seat, but people dont have to prove their Christ to you by supporting a particular political position. I simply ask people not to treat Faith as just another tool in the kit to get their particular version of it. It’s on this same principle that I support equal civil marriage rights for gay people (like myself). I just don’t expect my church to have to marry me, or to dance to the government’s tune (or mine), the same way I don’t expect the government to dance to religion’s tune on ‘health care’ as interpreted by the author above, who thinks Jesus would be setting up elaborate structures, bureaucracies, tax credits and subsidies. From the 1st Amendment, back 2,000 years to ‘render unto Caesar…’, this has been a long-known and useful principle we deviate from at great risk. Please don’t trash it so casually.

  • erbkon

    Excuse, I accidentally hit Submit before the final edit. 1st sentence above should read: ‘This may come as a surprise to you, sitting up there on the Judgment Seat, but people don’t have to prove their love for Christ to you by supporting a particular political position.’

  • erbkon

    Not to mention the First Amendment, which the administration is already using the health care law to violate in increasingly shocking ways.

  • erbkon

    I concur, in so far as it goes. I hope you also agree with me that those cherry-picking scripture for fodder on equal civil marriage rights for gay people, or the death penalty, or any number of other hot-button topics, are also misusing the Bible. The Bible belongs in believers’ homes and churches, not next to the Constitution in the National Archives. The author’s cheap invocation of Jesus like some kind of magic trick to save the day cheapens Him and the gospel.

  • rmlwj1

    Yes, there’s that too. Good point.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    The bible belongs in a museum alongside the neanderthal.

  • persiflage

    Romney created it, Obama brought it to the nation, and SCOTUS has permatized it. Affordable Care stands and Obama gets another four years!

    An interesting turn of events……….

  • cricket44

    Bull. It is zero Christianity to look at a program that can help millions in such an upside down fashion.

  • cricket44

    And NONE of that is threatened, Cpr, so you can be happy.

  • Kingofkings1



    Christian have been advocating and serving the least of us for centuries! Thank you for the love you show by serving others-you’re the best! Too many examples to list! Well done faithful serevant! There’s room for one more!!


    Time Magazine interview with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received
    instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled
    by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can
    read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality
    pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life!”

    There’s room for one more neaderthal!


    Ya, look how well making home ownership more accessible worked!

  • persiflage

    ‘In Herzog’s view, this applied to how we acted as a society, not just as individuals. He would often say that “in this society, it is impossible to be a decent Christian” when we do not have social policies based on peace and justice.

    This teaching applies most directly to the poorest among us, and that is where the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid means Christians need to make covering the poorest a priority.’

    Exactly right. It’s virtually impossible to oppose national healthcare for all and remain a bonified Christian – at least according to the incessant drumbeat of ‘loving thy neighbor’ that Christians claim to live by. There are so many benefits accruing to national healthcare that one wonders what the downside could possibly be?

    Of course, folks making over $200,000 per annum may be required to pay slightly more in the coming years. But since healthcare is everyone’s responsibiliy, those that have more will simply pay a bit more. People in Romney’s income range should pay a whole lot more.

    Affordable Care may be viewed as an important element of cultural evolution in the USA – although the timeline is far behind our European brethren. The rest of the modern world has had nationalized healthcare for decades.

    Perhaps many religious folk will come to a new understanding of what ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ really means. It’s less likely that many politicians will gain that same wisdom in the forseeable future.

    Romney has to be the biggest hypocrite on the planet – he’ll now be running his compaign based on the solitary goal of crushing healthcare legislation that he personally helped create for the state of Massachusetts – and the model for Affordable Care. And he’s trying to sell himself as a Christian! Good luck with that one Mitt.

  • quiensabe

    Susan. Please listen carefully. The Samaritan was not a tax man. Nor was he a privileged of society. The Samaritan was Jesus himself. It was He who would pay for the fallen, not to compel others to do so. Christians should help the poor in all areas. But Jesus did not set up a system to do so when He came and He is not setting us up to do so now. The government was on His shoulders because He said He was God, not to force compulsory health care.

  • Secular1

    Susan it si always really dumb to bring a mythical man to buttress your arguments. Even if he was for realy, he was an ignorant raving itinerant deluded wanderer with a few like followers. You cannot his supposed ramblings as any argument. When you do that you get these nut case iike ScotinVA and Quiensabe mock you and spout all kind of drivel about praying and not paying. We don’t need to go into any scripture to justify the Affordable Care. It stands on its own merits. We are a society which cares for the needy, by that i mean when in emergency the care would be provided no matter the insurance status. So forcing the fools who opt not to have insurance with penalties is a no brainer.

  • NPLenz

    Please enlighten us, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, precisely which book/chapter/verse tells we members of the teeming masses that God and/or Christ mandated the government to take money from the people in order to give it to the poor?

    In the many, many readings of the Bible I’ve done, not once do I see such a thing; I do, however, frequently see admonitions to the PEOPLE as INDIVIDUALS to provide for the poor out of their love for their fellow man.

    Charity is no longer charity if it is forced, either at the point of a gun or the threat of incarceration.


    Christians? Advocate for the poor? Not if it cuts into their gun budget.

  • Secular1

    SinVA, isn’t it true that your mythical man rave and rant about foreign exchange vendors in that silly building. What kind of lunatic he must be that he could not see the valuable service these vendors were providing the foreign travelers by exchanging their currency for local currency. Try traveling to Paris and see how far your dollars will take you.

    Coming to laws, yes thats exactly what was done. Just because you, Rand Paul, Birthers, Birchers, and the loony bins hold a different view does not change the fact that it is constitutional. Besides, your man Scalia the senile-racist-bigot’s dissent is something really to hold on to by your ilk, isn’t it. The Neanderthal opined that federal government prerogative in foreign policy was dreadful and akin the federal government rescinding the 100s of years of confederate state laws against free blacks traveling in their states, etc, etc. According to the senile yahoo, however, the 100 year old Montana state law does not comport with his Citizens United decision and had to be overturned. This moron could come up with defense of state sovereignty and against it without any rational explanation for the variance all in one week. That fellow must be sent to Bellvue in a straight jacket.