What would St. Luke do?

biblical-guidePresident Barack Obama will be speaking to both houses of Congress tonight about his efforts at reforming health care. It is news to no one that the five pieces of legislation currently under consideration aren’t being cheered by all Americans. In fact, while many people might agree that health care could use some reforming, they’re not agreeing about many of the particulars about how to do that.

Much of the coverage of the issue has been of the “who is up” and “who is down” variety. That’s because reporters covering the day to day of the political process find those stories most interesting. And they are interesting. I wish there were more critical looks at the actual substance of the legislation, but I’m not sure I trust reporters to do a particularly good job of that either!

Anyway, as for the religious angles, they’ve not been terribly well covered. It took forever for media outlets to notice that Roman Catholics weren’t on board as much as folks might have expected. Most of this was related to the way abortion and conscience protection have been handled in the legislation. But it’s also true that, to generalize a bit, Protestants of the mainline/left variety have been gunning hard for this legislation and that hasn’t been covered much at all.

So I was glad to see this piece in the Salt Lake Tribune that takes a look at how some of those local churches are handling their efforts in support of Democratic proposals to reform health care. The major problem with the piece would have to be that the reporter either doesn’t realize that she’s speaking mostly with politically liberal churches or she neglects to explain that to the reader, giving the impression that pretty much all religious folks agree that religious injunctions in favor of caring for each other indicate support for health care reform. The story quotes, for instance, several members of a United Church of Christ congregation, a rabbi of a synagogue that has both Conservative and Reform affiliations, a pastor of a United Methodist Church and a pastor of a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A brief mention is given to Catholic objections and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ lack of a position.

Here’s a sample of the piece:

Access to affordable health care, [Clayton mother Julie] Chamberlain says, is foremost a moral issue, one that people who say they are religious need to claim for their own.

“Most churches are being too careful. We’re being way too careful,” says Chamberlain, a member of United Church of Christ Congregational in Ogden. “I feel like we should have a big sign out on Harrison Boulevard.”

But this summer’s town-hall meetings, in which thousands of Americans aired deep distrust of reform efforts by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, have inspired faith leaders to wade into the debate.

“That is not the only voice that needs to be heard,” says Rabbi Tracee Rosen, of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City. Too many people suffer because they lack good health insurance and medical care.”

I actually wish the story could have just given the (generally) religious left their due. I’m on the press lists for most mainline denominations and various other religious groups that tend to affiliate in support of Democratic proposals and they have been pounding this issue for years. I’m sure there’s a rich story to be told there and yet you rarely hear it. It’s almost as if the press can only see religiously motivated political activism when it arises on the other side of the political spectrum. That’s unfair and a huge story is getting missed. Also, narrowing the story to that group would allow a richer discussion of that religious motivation.

If that weren’t the direction this story were going, it would be nice to see some of the underlying concepts about religio-political activism. American Protestant groups who align with the political left tend to talk in terms of social justice. American Protestant groups who align with the right side of the political spectrum tend to be more focused on personal morality in their government activism. Those groups on the right weren’t well represented at all in the above story.

But another group was missing, too. I’m a member of that group, but it’s not limited to confessional Lutherans. Other Protestants as well as some streams of thought in other religious traditions could fit in, too. It’s the group of people that tend to see more of a division between church and state. For Lutherans, we call it Two Kingdoms and it’s the idea, to simplify wildly, that the church handles spiritual matters and the state handles secular matters. Given a choice between preaching on the appointed text for the day and what it teaches us about Christ versus preaching on a particular piece of legislation, I know without a doubt what my pastor would do. It’s not that he doesn’t have strong ideas about health care reform — he has strong ideas about everything. But we tend to view the church’s expertise to be in matters religious and while that certainly informs how we respond to legislation, it’s much less important to us than learning about forgiveness and faith and eternal life. The thing is that because we are not political, we are never included in media stories. The reporters only care, again, about who is up and who is down and if you’re not taking sides, you’re not worth mentioning. It’s worth considering that when reading future stories about religiously motivated political activism.

The story includes a sidebar headlined “The word” that consists of the following passages from various scripture:

From Jewish scripture (Old Testament): “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Leviticus 19:16.

From Christian scripture (New Testament): “Then some people came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralytic, carried by four of them.” Mark 2:3.

From Muslim scripture (Quran): “A person whose passions respond only to his or her personal needs, and who is only concerned with his or her own personal and familial life, has long abandoned the true purpose of life.” 15:3.

Other than it being nice to see Leviticus quoted outside of a story about homosexuality, I’m not sure about how much these passages have to do with government action in health care. I mean, it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen Mark 2:3 used in this context and not speaking about the sacraments or the faith of the church. But maybe I’m just too hostile to the practice of quoting verses completely out of context to make a point.

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  • Davis

    If the LCMS doesn’t stake out political positions or lobby, except on abortion/gays and joint work with other Lutherans, how are reporters supposed to include them?

  • Dave

    Mollie, naturally I share your irkedness that the media seem interested in religiously motivated action only if it comes from the right.

    The Mark 2:3 quote could be taken as a lesson that to be like the first followers of Christ one must care about those who cannot fend for themselves. But that’s a wild stab.

  • Jerry

    I wish there were more critical looks at the actual substance of the legislation, but I’m not sure I trust reporters to do a particularly good job of that either!

    This issue cries out for real reporting including how health care is done in other developed countries, what the current set of proposals and thoughts really would do and what various group’s ideologies say about those proposals. And I wish the media tropism toward sensationalism and paying too my attention to noisy tiny groups could be set aside for the nonce.

    Besides debates over insurance company bureaucracies and how the profit motive impels companies to deny care, there is a clear spiritual component to this debate over hearth care. For Christians how Matt 25:33-40 is interpreted would be one component. The religious left finds a collective responsibility for the “least of these” where the religious right sees an individual responsibility and some find both collective & individual responsibilities.

    I’m not sure how Islamic Zakat manifests in this debate nor what Hindu scriptures say that might be relevant, so there’s scope for a reporter to enlighten me here also.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Philip Spomer

    I’m curious about that quote from the Koran, since I’ve fond it hard to locate, what Christians would consider compassionate verses. In my Koran, Surah (Al-Hijr) 15:3 reads “And never have we destroyed a nation whose term of life was not ordained beforehand.”

    I tried Googleing the whole quote, but I only got Molie’s piece and the original refrence in the pro health care site. Which is odd. When one Googles any verse from a religious scripture, one’s sure to get a load of hits. Can anybody find where that verse is in the Koran?

  • Deb

    I agree with Davis. The story is meant to cover the opinions of those churches entering the health care debate (the left side of course). Now if your pastor was speaking out agianst those churches discussing political matters then I that may be relevant.

  • Jerry

    Pastor Spomer, I think that is a bad cite.

    There are many sayings of Muhammad on compassion http://www.sunnipath.com/library/Hadith/H0003P0025.aspx Also http://www.islamiceducationcenter.org/cultural/islam_not_your_enemy_parsa_2.html has a section on Quranic verses on compassion including

    “…We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him [Jesus the son of Mary] compassion and Mercy…”

    Also http://www.submission.org/quran/webqt.php can be used to display six translations of the Quran and can be searched by sura or word.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Thanks for the info Jerry.

  • Chris Bolinger

    My three-word assessment of the sidebar would be my daughter’s favorite statement: That’s so random.


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