Agreeing with a graduate of Southern Baptist Seminary on Healthcare Reform, But …

I couldn’t agree more with David Gushee’s recent editorial on the moral imperative of health care reform. Why would I follow that statement with a “but”?
First, let me make my agreement a little more specific. Gushee, now a distinguished professor of Christian ethics at McAfee School of Theology, strikes a downright prophetic note when he says …

The tenor of the debate raises the legitimate question as to whether our nation still has the capacity to tackle an enormously complex policy challenge such as this one. Each day we spend millions of dollars to defeat external threats — but if we cannot address our own domestic problems any more effectively than this, then it will not be al Qaeda that undoes us.

(more after the jump)

Let me also say “Amen” when he proposes that …

Those of us who enjoy access to health care could try a Golden Rule test, and ask whether we are doing unto others as we would have them do unto us if we do not fight for health care for those who do not have it. Is this how we would like our children to be treated when they are sick?
We could work from Jesus’ teaching of “love your neighbor as yourself” and ask whether we can simultaneously love a neighbor and not care if they die from a treatable disease because they cannot pay for care.

… and let me agree equally strongly when Gushee argues based on “basic principles of distributive justice in regard to the goods needed for a decent life in a community,” noting “the obvious fact that the unjust maldistribution of health care in this country is a huge national scandal and an affront to the God of justice.”
Further, he nails it when he addresses the fringe arguments that are providing an amazing distraction from the real issues:

No American Congress will pass health-care legislation with Nazi-type euthanasia panels. No one will start surreptitiously pulling the plug on grandma. And if some contingent tries to slip in expansion of taxpayer funding for abortion into the final bill, it will lose my support and that of many others.

His conclusion, it seems to me, is equally solid and hard to refute: that “on Christian grounds” we “need something like the health-care legislation now struggling through Congress.”
But here’s where my “but” comes in. I don’t think the push for reform is foundering primarily because people aren’t making or hearing good moral arguments like his (though God knows, we need those good moral arguments to keep coming!). Instead, I think health care reform walks into a strong headwind because economic ideology and economic self-interest trump moral reasoning for too many Americans, including too many American Christians. They serve as a pre-critical frame for all debate, and so moral arguments that don’t fit neatly within the frame simply don’t register.
I was at a meeting some years ago where a parallel situation arose, and I believe David was there as well, so he may remember this moment. We were among a group of mostly-conservative Evangelicals being briefed about the latest scientific data on global climate change. Most of the people in the room were won over, I think it’s safe to say, by the scientific data that was presented so calmly, reasonably, and clearly by Sir John Houghton. But resistance was strong because, as one participant said, “We’re pro-business, and addressing climate change will be perceived as pro-government-regulation and therefore anti-business.”
I don’t know if David remembers the moment, but it was a “penny-dropping” moment of awakening for me. “Ah, so that’s it,” I thought to myself. “These folks don’t want to rock the boat of Reaganomics.” Putting the recent financial crisis aside – a crisis that had as one of its key causes a Reagonomic doctrine against government regulation, it seems to me that moral arguments, like scientific arguments, find it very hard to squeeze into the frame of economic ideology. That’s where I suspect a core of the resistance lies. (I’ll try to return to this in another post in a couple days …)
So – coming back to agreement with David Gushee, I might add that before the health care issue can be argued wisely and well on moral grounds, we have to convince people, including many committed and sincere Christians, that the economic policies of the 1980’s are not on par with the teachings of Moses or Jesus, and that Christians have a moral obligation to scrutinize even the teachings of Ronald Reagan in the light of a higher authority. I guess that’s another kind of moral conversation that needs to happen. Thanks to people like David Gushee for helping move us in that direction.