Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Universal Health Care -- Un-American?

Some people can just say it better than others.

The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

Here’s more.

Why Is Universal Health Care ‘Un-American’?

by the Rev. Jim Rigby

Last week supporters of health-care reform gathered around the country, including in Austin, TX, where 2,000 people crowded into a downtown church to hear speakers talk about different aspects of the issue. Asked to speak about the ethical dimensions of health care, I tried to go beyond short-term political strategizing and ask more basic questions. This is an edited version of what I said.

Is anyone else here having trouble with the fact that we are even having this conversation? Is anyone else having trouble believing this topic is really controversial? I have been asked to talk about the ethical dimension of health care. Here’s one way to frame such a discussion:

If an infant is born to poor parents, would we be more ethical to give medicine to that child so he or she does not die prematurely of preventable diseases, or would we be more ethical if we let the child die screaming in his or her parent’s arms so we can keep more of our money?

Or, let’s say someone who worked for Enron, and now is penniless, contracted bone cancer. I’ve been asked to discuss whether we are more ethical if we provide such people medicine that lessens their pain. Or would we be more ethical to let them scream through the night in unbearable agony so we can pay lower taxes?”

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Some of the other speakers today have been asked to address what is possible in the current political climate. I have been asked to speak of our dreams. Let me ask a question. How many of you get really excited about tweaking the insurance system so we just get robbed a little less? (silence) How many of you want universal health care? (sustained applause) I realize that insurance reform is all that’s on the table right now, and it can be important to choose the lesser of evils when that alone is within our power in the moment. But we also need to remember our dream. I believe the American dream is not about material success, not about being having the strongest military. The American dream is that every person might have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s amazing to hear Christians who talk about the right to life as though it ends at birth. They believe every egg has a right to hatch, but as soon as you’re born, it’s dog eat dog. We may disagree on when life begins, but if the right to life means anything it means that every person (anyone who has finished the gestation period) has a right to life. And if there is a right to life there must be a right to the necessities of life. Like health care.

I believe the American dream was not about property rights, but human rights. Consider the words of this national hymn:

“O beautiful for patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Doesn’t that sound like someone cared about the poor? There are those who consider paying taxes an affront, but listen to these words:

“O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

“Mercy more than life” -- have you ever noticed those words before? Supporting universal health care does not make you socialist or even a liberal, it makes you a human being. And it makes you an ambassador for the American dream which, in the mind of Thomas Paine, was a dream for every human being, not just Americans. As we struggle to get health care to all people, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils, but remember your dream -- the true American dream, a human dream. Whatever we win through reform is just first step toward a day when every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. He can be reached at


Escaped Waco Alive said...

The people on my Facebook who are the angriest and the most vitriolic about national health care and the EVIL of SOCIALISM are my Baylor Baptist friends and associates. They conflate capitalism with Christianity. (God and Gordon Gekko, I suppose, both believe "Greed is good.") There's a reason I've not set foot in a Baptist church in over twenty years.

sph said...


Ken Martin said...

Rev. Rigby you speak with wisdom. Almost makes me want to go to church again...almost. At any rate your speech was eloquent and right on point. I do wonder if it softened any hearts that are determined to prevent this nation from granting basic health care to every person in it.

Anonymous said...

No universal health care is not unamerican!! What is unamerican is the fact that it is being shoved down our throats.Nobody with any sense of practicality can support such a move.
I am not a Baptist,though I was raised as one.EWA has apparently been led around by the nose and doesn't like it. Well done EWA. You have the same sense of being that most of us have.But you have to realize that the Baptist doctrine is not your enemy. Your enemy is inside your own thoughts.
Unlike Ken who thinks he deserves an award because he doesn't go to church anymore.I think that in the case of most liberals,he and those like him consider themselves above God's word. If you are looking for hippocrites,look to those that quit going to church because they see themselves as too 'elite' to go and worship with those that they deem as unequals.
As a former pastor, I have seen all spectrums of excuses for not going to church. None are ever what the person would have you believe they are.---

Anonymous said...

goose, Remember this?

"In asmuch as ye have done it unto the the lease of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.

"Depart from me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty and you gave me no drink: I was a stranger and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not, sick and in prison, and ye visited me not.

"Then they shall answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

"Then shall he answer then, saying, Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these ye did it not to me.

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

goose, why not practice what you once preached? Why so hateful toward liberals? Liberals are not your enemy, "they are inside your own thoughts". If you are looking for hypocrisy look no further than your mirror. --Ira

Ken said...

What happened to civil rights, among them the right to worship, to worship whatever deity or religion one chooses, and the right *not* to worship, if one so chooses.
I don't need an excuse not to go to church. I simply don't believe in God. I believe life's what we make it. I especially don't believe in any man or woman's right, be they preacher or lay person, to put down those of us who choose not to worship. Why not live and let live?

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