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Commentary: Think like Christians in health care debate

Odell McCollough, a member of Kirkwood (Mo.) United Methodist Church, has his blood pressure checked by parish nurse Carol Connolly.
A UMNS file photo by John Gordon.

A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop William H. Willimon*
Sept. 9, 2009

Brother Rowe Wren recently wrote to say, “I would like your thoughts on … the present health-care bill.” In my travels around the conference, I have heard much discussion on this pressing issue before our nation.

Bishop William H. Willimon

I personally find the bill being debated and proposed to be fearfully complicated. But it is an attempt to solve a complicated and expensive problem. We must not be deterred by the complexity.

Above all, we are enjoined to think about this issue and any others like Christians. (If you are interested in a thoughtful response to health care by some of the leaders of our church, then log into health care.)

I’m not sure that I have special light to spread on this subject other than my own attempts to think about this issue in a Christian way. Here, for what they are worth, are some of my responses:

  • I hear that most Americans are “happy with their health insurance.” I sure am. Our denomination provides our elders with the most generous of health care programs. North Alabama Conference heavily subsidizes the health insurance of our retired elders. I am deeply grateful for such support. We cannot leave it at that, however. The most underserved in our society when it comes to health care are poor children. Alabama leads the nation in the number of children who are untouched by medical care, making us also a leader in childhood malnutrition and illness. As the church, Jesus has given us responsibility for the “least of these.” Saying that “I am happy with my health care” is not saying enough. Our concern should not be to protect our entitlements but rather our Jesus-assigned concern is “Am I happy with my neighbor’s health care?” 
  • Scripture tells us that we are “not to bear false witness.” It is tough enough to have a national debate over an issue of this complexity without deliberate misinformation being put out on the airways to muddy the conversation and spread unwarranted fear. 
  • I am so disappointed by our state’s members of Congress. Most of them have contributed nothing to this debate. They show a callous disregard for the welfare of their poorest constituents. Let’s urge our elected officials to get in the debate and craft good legislation. We have the most expensive health care system in the world that leaves out millions because, while it is not government run, it is dominated by the insurance companies. I’m glad that our elected representatives have health care; thousands of their constituents don’t. 
  • I fully trust the American Medical Association and our doctors to worry about health care. They say we need dramatic reform. Methodists should care about those who cannot get health care as much as the AMA is concerned.

I visit church after church where the congregation is having to pull together and provide funds — thank goodness! — for people in their congregation or community who have suffered catastrophic financial loss due to huge medical bills. Some of our health care professionals volunteer every year to work in medical missions where Christians are trying to help those left out of our health care system.

Why? We think about these issues with Scripture, with Luke 10, where, in one of Jesus’ favorite stories, the Samaritan says, “Take care of the wounded man, and when I return I will repay you whatever it costs.”

It would be great for every pastor and church to explore how your congregation can prayerfully, thoughtfully respond to this issue. Surely we can do better than the likes of TV’s Glenn Beck and Joe Scarborough.

Of course, they have no desire to think about this issue with Jesus, and it shows. But we do!

Read Luke 10:25-35! Then, “go and do likewise.”

*Willimon is bishop of the Birmingham Area of The United Methodist Church.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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