I don’t make a habit of starting up, or even joining in on, political discussions nowadays, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe good discussions aren’t important. They are. It just seems harder and harder to have a good, honest, respectful talk on controversial issues with any depth. It seems like so many people are quick to make up their minds on the best course of action, either to one extreme or the other, and thus, debate and discussion becomes futile at best — and aggressive shouting matches at worst.
I hate the fact that the word “politics” in our culture has come to mean something along the lines of professional networking, image-crafting, backstabbing, people pleasing and basically anything else that will advance a politician’s idea of personal success. Politics, at its core, is about making policy. Families make policies — whether they know it or not — for how the household will be run. Businesses make policies for how they will operate. Societies make policies for how citizens and aliens should be treated, how justice will be administered, what services should be provided for the community and what should be the responsibility of the individual. Crafting these policies is a never-ending process; it is a process that each person should take seriously, contributing in whatever way he or she can.
Politics are important, but still, I tend to be silent. I have found that the more I learn, the less I know, and the less prepared I feel I am to make a black-and-white decision on a technicolor issue. So I listen, I learn, and I think. I think about when it will be appropriate for me to lend my voice to the discussions. Should I speak up for what I believe is right if I find myself working as a pastor in church one day? As one charged with mentoring and shepherding the flock, should I weigh in on the real issues of the day? Should I write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, speak at community meetings, and explain my views to my parishioners? Or should I be silent? If I find myself working as a reporter again, should I write editorial columns aimed at persuading my readers to join me in advocating the policies I see as most beneficial to society? It would mean harsh letters back; it would mean every news article I write from that point forward would be taken with a grain of salt, or simply disregarded, regardless of how hard I work to present a fair and balanced perspective. If Kristen and I are blessed with the opportunity to serve as international missionaries, should we limit our work to preaching the gospel and sharing with those in our small circle of friends, or should we become vocal advocates for the real needs of the people we are serving? Would we even have a right to an opinion on national policies in a country we live in, if we are not citizens? Would we have a right to share our opinions on policy in the United States if we no longer spend our lives here, no matter how passionately we might care for the land and people of our native country?
I think about these things, but right now, I mostly stay silent. That doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle long and hard with the issues of the day though. One of the things I find myself swinging back and forth on all the time is the increasing role government plays in health care. There are hard feelings on both sides of this debate. I believe that although the health care reform bill passed in Congress during this last session, and it is already in the process of being phased into effect, the policy making on this issue is far from over. It will continue to be controversial, and will continue to be a topic of debate, as it should be, probably for as long as our society exists. Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on, I have found nearly everyone — whether they admit it in as many words or not — agrees that changes need to be made in the health care policy of our government. Either insurance companies have too much free range and it is too difficult to get the basic health care a person needs in our country, or else government is already shelling out way to many tax dollars to people who only abuse the Medicaid and Medicare systems, encouraging personal irresponsibility and destroying the hard work of the very people who drive progress in our world.
One way or another, something has to change.
When I hear stories of how, just in North Carolina in the past few years, billions of dollars of government money have been siphoned off by phony mental health providers who claim to be serving the poor, but are actually only lining their own pockets, using fraudulent Social Security Numbers and stolen credentials to bill the government for services to people that don’t even exist, I nearly cry when I think of the percentage of my family’s income — not even a drop in the government bucket though — that we pay in taxes each year. When I walk down the street in Raleigh and I meet a woman who has fallen through the cracks in the system, who lives on the streets, who has been overlooked all of her life and doesn’t even have the interpersonal skills necessary to apply for help, if help was available, then I wonder how we let that happen.
I hear doctors tell stories about patients that play the game and milk the system for everything they can get. A woman comes to the hospital emergency room, without fail, each month, bringing in one of her children with a cold or coming alone when she has a sore throat. She parks her new Mercedes at the curb. Walks up to the receptionist with an air of entitlement, flashes her gold bracelet and diamond ring in the poor nurse’s face when she doesn’t get service fast enough, pulls out her iPhone to call her friend and complain about the poor state of things in the emergency room, and then walks out the door with a bag of free medicine, having stuck the taxpayers with the entire bill. Stories like this are endless.
Then there’s the poor single mother of three. She dropped out of college to raise her kids. She works three jobs. Her young children ride the bus back and forth to school, come home, fix their own dinner, don’t get any help with their homework, go to bed, wake up and start all over again, all without seeing their mother because she’s working around the clock just to get enough money to pay the rent and keep the water turned on. She doesn’t have a dime left to spend on health insurance, and she certainly can’t pay a hospital bill. But then her 7-year-old boy gets sick. He needs a blood transfusion and a heart transplant. Does he have any less right to it than the child of a stay-at-home mom who spends her days trying out new recipes and swapping parenting tips with her friends while her lawyer husband — who, by the way, worked hard and made it through law school on a scholarship because his parents were able to tutor him three nights a week from the time he was four-years-old until he graduated from high school, number one in his class, thank you very much — pays the bills?
Or how about the young college grad. She comes from a pretty well-off family, not rich, of course, but they’ve worked hard and never gone without much. Growing up, she was the model student and model daughter. She worked hard in high school and got into a good college. Then she got sick. As it turns out, she has a rare disease that makes it excruciatingly painful, if not impossible, to move through the activities of a normal day. She get’s the latest medicines and has to have frequent surgeries, but she always maintains a good spirit and pushes through. She draws strength from her illness and wants to learn more about what has happened to her. She goes to medical school. She misses class all of the time because of her disease as her minor surgeries become more and more frequent. To make up for it, she works three times as hard as the other would-be doctors, and graduates at the head of her class. Then she finds out, while all of her medical expenses and surgeries were covered under her parents’ insurance plan before, now that she is out of school, she is no longer covered. No health insurance provider in his right mind would offer her a policy. She can’t get insurance — she has a pre-existing condition. She can’t get treatment — paying the bill is simply impossible. She made all of the right choices and gave it all she had, but now, she is out of luck.
The anecdotes are endless.
One way or another, change needs to happen. What kind of change, though, depends entirely on your perspective.
Politics are never black and white. Do we extend generous resources and care to help those who need it, even when we know people are abusing the system and stealing from the community chest to fund their own personal frivolities? Do we stop offering handouts and encourage people to take personal responsibility, to prove their worth first, to work hard and give back to society before expecting to get something for nothing?
What is the Christian response to this? For people of faith, making the right decision doesn’t often seem easy either. Jesus told his disciples to “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you,” and “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back.” The same Jesus warned his followers not to “give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.” So what is a Christian supposed to think about health care reform? The great thing about looking at Jesus’ as our example is that he didn’t just tell us how to live, or tell us how we should treat people. He showed us. He wanted to make the right course of action perfectly clear, even in the hardest of times, so he lived life as God intended each of us to live — and, as it turns out, he also took health care pretty seriously.
Now on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten men with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance, raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
When he saw them he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went along, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell with his face to the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (Now he was a Samaritan.*)
Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (NET)
Abundant thanks didn’t come back to Jesus for his healing work. The vast majority of those he served were too focused inward to even acknowledge the gift they had received; none of them really seemed concerned about paying back the favor. Yet Jesus keeps on doing this kind of thing again, and again, and again.
Politics are never black and white. Understanding what Jesus would do, however, is often crystal clear. That doesn’t make following him any easier though.
* That is, he was an alien in Judah; An outcast, no doubt hanging around town looking to steal work from the poor Jews who have lived there for generations. He even tricked Jesus into healing him just like he was one of the native, legal Judaeans. It’s a good thing he came back to thank Jesus, huh? Who knows what Jesus would have done if he would have known the truth about this guy.