Monday, November 02, 2009

Sometimes It's Hard to Claim Middle Ground

 Published in Spirit, a new quarterly publication of the Diocese of West Missouri:

Some years ago at Clergy Conference I found myself in intense discussion with a colleague from the Southern Deanery.  He was more conservative and I more liberal, but the discussion was really good.  We were discussing how best to provide for the poor.  What made the discussion good had little to do with how.  We didn’t agree on how much at all.  However, we could agree that, however much we disagreed about how, we were called as Christians to be concerned for the poor.  We could disagree respectfully about the means because we could certainly agree about the end.

I was honored when Hugh Welsh invited me to write the first column in “The Middle Ground” in the new Spirit.  His goal for the column, as he shared it with me, was “to find a middle passage (if you will) between a hot topic with a stated pro and con.”  Certainly, there are a number of pros and cons related to universal access to health care.  Whether we speak about “health care reform” or “health insurance reform,” there are certainly different points we might consider. 

We can certainly have respectful arguments about the means.  We can ask just how much Government action is required, and how much we need to focus on personal accountability.  We can think about how to balance employer mandates and individual mandates and subsidies to help the working poor buy insurance.  We can discuss balancing cost control for physicians with tort reform.  We can discuss various means to provide access to health care for all Americans.

However, what we can all agree about as Episcopalians is that providing that access to health care is an appropriate end.  In General Convention we have called on our government to pursue health care reform since at least 1985.  We have reaffirmed it as recently as this summer, when General Convention passed three resolutions on to universal access to health care.

We take that position because it’s consistent with our faith.  It is consistent with the Summary of the Law, that in addition to loving the Lord our God we are called to love neighbor as self.  It is consistent with the Baptismal Covenant; for the Apostle’s teaching calls us to proclaim by word and example, serving Christ in all persons.  So, for us this is the end on which we can agree, even if we see pros and cons about how.

Unfortunately, there are those who do disagree that this is an appropriate end.  They may argue that we lose freedom if the government is involved.  They may argue that an informed individual can make better decisions for his or her own good than any bureaucrat.  However, if we listen carefully we will discover that their arguments come back to a single theme: that I have a right to make the decision that is best for me and mine without regard for anyone else.

That may be legal, but we wouldn’t call it “true,” because it isn’t true to the faith as the Episcopal Church has received it.  We continue to believe we are called to love neighbor as self in ways that proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.  And so we agree that this goal, this service, and specific strategies to achieve it, like universal access to health care, is an end to which God calls us, even if we might disagree about the means.


brian said...

Suppose I'm an atheist/agnostic. Why should I listen to your arguments about "faith as the church has received it"?
If you can't come up with rational arguments that don't involve a higher power, then you're asking me to either 1. Do what you tell me because they're are a lot more believers than non-believers, which is coercion or 2. Hoping that I'll go along with you because we're on the same side and try to fudge the fact that you're bringing in religion to the argument as evidence that this is a good idea or that there will be seriously bad consequences for not doing it, which is dishonest.
The case for government-funded, taxpayer paid for, universal medical care has good arguments for it (and arguments against it)that are rational, verifiable and do not require the use of invisible suppport. Please use them. Otherwise, you're in exactly the same boat as those arguing for "Intelligent Design", no government funding for abortion/birth control and censorship, all on precisely the same grounds: "My religion/God/reading of the Bible/Christian Social Justice tells me to do this".

Marshall said...

Well, brian, I hope you noted that this was for a particular publication, with a particular audience: in this case, Episcopalians of the Diocese in which I'm canonically resident. So, I've stepped beyond your number 2: this is an audience for which I have reason to see as "on the same side," and for whom the statements of Scripture and the General Convention are accepted already as sources of authority. Were I writing for a broader audience - as I have in other posts - I have used arguments not dependent on God. And, of course, I couldn't in good conscience say that God had no place in my decision making, because I'm a public Christian. Whether it's authentic for anyone else, it would be false to claim it wasn't authentic for me.

That said, I think there are good arguments for universal access to health care (better public health, national health security, civil rights), and indeed a good actuarial argument for a single-payer health plan (if the point is to spread the expenses of insurance as widely as possible, there's nothing wider in the United States than all citizens and legal residents). I think I've mentioned those in other posts. It's just that this post, as when I post a sermon, was not written originally for a wider audience.

brian said...

Great to get that qualification.
You mentioned arguments that are useful starting points for making the case for government-backed healthcare.
Suppose someone makes out a case against healthcare and claims to be just as christian as yourself? Do you ignore them? Excommunicate them? Assume they're from the fundiegelical side anyway, and you're never going to see eye to eye anyway, so why bother arguing?