Note from CM: Thanks to Michael Bird for sharing this article with us. Bird, an Australian Bible scholar, is Lecturer in Theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry. His new, well-regarded book is Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, and Scot McKnight has begun blogging about it at Jesus Creed. Mike blogs at Euangelion.
I suggest that you not only read the post below, but also Mike’s longer piece on the subject from 2012, entitled “Evangelicals and Health Care”. Both of these pieces provide a view from “across the pond” on our health care debate in the U.S. It never hurts to get a different perspective, even if you end up disagreeing.
For a contrary point of view, look at the post written to counter NT Wright that is referenced below, Michael Kruger’s article, “Obamacare, N.T. Wright, and the “Via Media”.
I’m looking forward to a spirited, civil discussion today.
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Michael Kruger, New Testament scholar and President of RTS-Charlotte (see his forthcoming book on The Question of Canon), takes exception to N.T. Wright’s critique of evangelical opposition to the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” This is what Wright said in an interview:
In your country, for example, there seem to be Christian political voices saying that you shouldn’t have a national healthcare system. To us, in Britain, this is virtually unthinkable. Every other developed country from Norway to New Zealand has healthcare for all of its citizens. We don’t understand all of this opposition to it over here in the U.S. And, we should remember: In the ancient world, there wasn’t any healthcare system. It was the Christians, very early on, who introduced the idea that we should care for people beyond the circle of our own kin. Christians taught that we should care for the poor and disadvantaged. Christians eventually organized hospitals. To hear people standing up in your political debate and saying—“If you are followers of Jesus, you must reject universal healthcare coverage!”—and that’s unthinkable to us. Those of us who are Christians in other parts of the world are saying: We can’t understand this political language. It’s not our value in our countries. It’s not even in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others. We can’t understand what we are hearing from some of your politicians on this point. Yet, over here, some Christians are saying that it’s part of the list of boxes we all should check off to keep in line.
Kruger, who I’ve met briefly and had the pleasure of corresponding with a few times, takes aim at Wright for these words and you can read his response here.
Some time ago I wrote a very large blog post about Evangelicals and Healthcare that attracted lots of hits and comments (mostly angry comments). But I stand by my arguments and what is more I endorse the testimonies of the American Ph.D students who lived in Europe and saw and experienced the value of Government provided health care.
Let me respond to Kruger’s criticisms:
First, on Wright’s via media tendency, well ever since the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity (1558), via media is how we Anglicans roll.
Second, Wright’s claim that every western democracy from Norway to New Zealand has universal healthcare should give Americans pause for thought. Yes, America is in many ways distinct, but not always in a good way. It has higher rates of gun violence, higher rates of incarceration, and greater economic inequalities than other nations. The fact that the USA has ten million children without adequate healthcare coverage is indeed distinct, but a distinct injustice and a travesty. Economic freedom is great, so is small government, low taxes, low deficits, and responsible economic management. But fiscal policy should not be pursued at the the expense of our moral obligations to help others in need and to take care of the poor and vulnerable among our citizens. Call that socialism if you like, I call it Christian ethics! In fact, the reason why so many other countries have universal healthcare – not just Europeans by the way – is because these countries were driven by Christian voices to do so!
Third, Kruger affirms, as I expect he would, that we should indeed help the poor (note, I’m not accusing Kruger of being unconcerned about people’s welfare). But he asks why it should be the government’s responsibility? Is this not a church responsibility? Well, yes, the church has a responsibility to care for the poor, and the best way to do that on a national level is to form a government that acts out of Christian values to help people and to help each other. I’m not buying into this Government vs. the People thing. Government is the representatives that the people elect. Correct me if I’m wrong but the first document of the first U.S. Government reads, “We the people …” Government is people, our people, well, at least until they replace politicians with robots. Watch out for the Obamabot 3000 in the 2020 POTUS election! In its Revelations people, you’ve been warned!!!
Kruger keeps using the tag “socialist” as a way of invoking a scary label for his readers. Let me put my conservative political cards on the table and say that I rather like what Margaret Thatcher once said, that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. That is why in order to share wealth you have to create wealth. You need economic freedoms and economic mobility to foster economic growth in order to sustain Government services in growing populations. But even without being a socialist, we should have a social concern to provide healthcare for our fellow citizens, wherever a government is elected by people with broadly Christian concerns to provide a basic level of healthcare for all.
When it comes to the American evangelical opposition to universal healthcare, global evangelicals look at them with a mix of disbelief and disgust. Its not just N.T. Wright, ask someone at the Lausanne Congress or at the World Evangelical Alliance or at the Tyndale Fellowship what they think about American evangelicals howling protests against Obamacare! We are mystified as to how can good Christian men and women oppose – in some cases in the name of religion- providing healthcare for it citizens. Yes, I know there are some grey areas like the contraception mandate, and so forth, I understand the religious freedom objection, but the general principle of providing adequate healthcare for all should be championed by evangelical Christians who follow the teaching of Scripture.
I’m writing this so my American friends can, as your own poet Robert Frost said, “See ourselves as other see us.” Why do global evangelicals look at you in this way? Maybe its not us who are enthralled to a godless philosophy! I want to challenge my American evangelicals friends to consider whether your views of healthcare are truly biblical, and to consider whether you have been blinded by a culture of hyper-individualism, economic rationalism, placing faith in market forces. Because to outsiders the anti-Obamacare thing looks like “civil religion,” a syncretistic concoction of Christian teaching, Republican partisanship, capitalistic-worship, and social darwinianism with its mantra of the survival of the fittest. Let me add that much quoted phrases like “God helps those who help themselves” and “Don’t tread on me” are not found in Scripture. Do you know what is found in Scripture? — “love justice” and “do kindness” (Mic 6:8), “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10), “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11), and words I recently read in 2 Corinthians just yesterday, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Cor 8:14-15; Exod 16:18).
Oh, and when, will ETS let me host a panel discussion on evangelicals and healthcare!