The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
For the party that claims “family values” and wants to hang the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and have them on monumental display on public property, it would behoove them to read the twentieth chapter of Exodus and ponder for more than a few moments what these words that they say they want to live (and govern?) by mean. This is especially important and urgent as their policies become more immoral and unbiblical by the week.
Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, breaks open the meaning of Ten Commandments by showing in his Small Catechism that these commands are not merely a litany of shall nots, but have an imperative flip side of shall dos.
In his explanation to the command, “You shall not murder,” Luther writes (my bold):
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.
Notice the strong verbs that define the command not to murder. These imperatives encompass far more than not directly taking someone else’s life. This command explicitly states that we are not to endanger or harm the lives of other people in any way.
It is not a big leap to say that taking away health care coverage from tens of millions of people and making the rest pay more for less care is endangering and harming the lives of nearly every person in this country, especially vulnerable people like those who are poor, the elderly, veterans, people with disabilities and preexisting conditions, and children, many of whom rely on Medicaid for their care.
But it is not enough to simply refrain from harm when there is good that can be done. Therefore, the command not to murder also includes the imperatives to help and support people in all of life’s needs.
Certainly, access to affordable health care is one of life’s needs today. This need is not only true for people who need life-saving medicine, surgeries, and long-term care, but also so people can receive preventative care and early treatment for diseases to prevent them if possible from getting worse. Accidents and injuries are also unpredictable and without proper health care insurance can place families in great financial distress or bankruptcy and worse prevent them from getting the necessary care for their injury.
In Christian teaching the neighbor is every single person of every time and place. The concept of neighbor also extends to creatures small and great and even finally to embrace all creation including everything from cosmic wonders to coral reefs. Thus, the command to not murder is as much about making sure people in our country have affordable health insurance as it is about addressing the perils of climate change and our suffering planet and its ecosystems. Polar bears and penguins, rivers and rainforests are our neighbors too and need both our refraining from endangerment and harm and our active efforts to help and support a habitable environment.
Jesus tells a whole parable (Luke 10:25-37) to answer a lawyer’s testing question, Who is my neighbor? The answer the lawyer is forced to reluctantly give is the surprise of the Samaritan who crosses boundaries of culture and religion to show mercy. The lawyer was looking for limits on the definition of neighbor, but Jesus turned the tables on the lawyer’s test showing that neighborliness is a doing of mercy towards a vulnerable person who has been beaten, robbed, and left for dead along a dangerous roadside. And not just any vulnerable person but one who represents the other in terms of culture, nationality, and religion.
Despite the moral imperative of these foundational biblical teachings, which many Congressional Republicans claim are of utmost importance, they continue to craft legislation that is unconscionable, immoral, and blatantly evil. Their latest attempt at heath care reform shows that there is nothing too cruel to prevent them from giving massive tax breaks to their billionaire benefactors. Sarah Jones and Jason Easley explained this cruelty clearly and effectively in their podcast last Thursday: 3 Reasons Why The Republican Healthcare Bill Is Pure Evil.
It does not matter to Donald Trump or most of the Republicans in Congress that people will die if this legislation ever becomes law. Their hearts are hardened and stone cold. Neither statistics describing the impact of this bill on people across the country nor personal stories of families facing life and death every single day will penetrate their stone-cold hearts.
Astonishingly, some Republicans in Congress think that this heartless, immoral, and evil bill is still too kind and generous. This shock is compounded exponentially because it is often these who are the first and loudest to champion what they believe are biblical values in defense of their position. It is what can only be descried as pretzel logic. They take a snippet of scripture and twist it out of context to suit their predetermined ideological argument.
The Republicans inability to govern and their failure to take the necessary time and have hearings and floor debates on this bill may very well save the American people and the economy from certain catastrophic destruction. Two hopeful signs as of this writing. 1. Enough Republican Senators are currently publicly opposed to this legislation to ensure that it cannot pass. 2. Due to Senate reconciliation rules if the Republicans add the individual mandate back to this bill it will require 60 votes to pass, which guarantees its demise.
It is a devastating shame that anyone who calls themselves a Christian can be supportive of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) or more aptly the deathcare bill. From the Ten Commandments to Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, the scriptures are relentlessly persistent that all people are deserving of protection from endangerment and harm and help and support in all of life’s needs especially all the vulnerable ones at the margins of society who are often unseen and overlooked.
Trumpcare not only violates the commandment not to murder, but the process of its development defies our open democratic process of having hearings, debates, and careful analysis of legislation where citizens and stakeholders can weigh in before a vote is taken.
Caring for the needs of our neighbors so that we neither endanger nor harm their lives, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs is not only a biblical mandate, but one of the deepest moral values at the heart of our democracy.