How Should Christians Regard the Obamacare Ruling?

With Independence Day coming up, I feel bound to write about the big political topic for Americans: the Supreme Court decision on "ObamaCare"—the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010—which was handed down on Thursday. I wrote an analysis of the legal aspect of the ruling the day it was handed down, pointing out that equating a government-imposed purchase mandate with a "tax" gives Congress the power to impose all kinds of purchase mandates on us, as long as they are designed like the insurance-purchase mandate in ObamaCare.

The most important feature of the ruling is that it resets the relationship between the U.S. government and its citizens. If the authority ceded to the government through this ruling is allowed to stand, the federal government will truly become a burdensome force, on a life-transforming scale, against which the people have no recourse. It has always been understood that lawfully enacted "taxes" are things we have no recourse against, but the order to purchase a service from a commercial company, merely because a citizen exists, is another matter. That order is not government "incentivizing" commerce, or government "taxing" commerce, but government commanding commerce. If the federal government can require us to purchase health insurance, there is very little it cannot require us to purchase.

For Christians, there are several considerations. One is what the Bible has to say about governments that exercise arbitrary power over the people. A second is what Christians, as citizens, ought to think and do in the wake of the decision. And a third is what the consequences are likely to be, and how they may affect our ability to live as Christians and witness for our faith.

It is useful to consider the third question at the outset. One of the most important consequences of the Supreme Court ruling, especially if there are no modifications to ObamaCare, is that the principle will be established that Congress can direct how we spend the fruit of our labors. It would be foolish to suppose that the amount of required spending will not go up, once this principle is in place. Not only will insurance cost us more over time, but Congress will assuredly find additional mandates to levy on us. At what point will the relationship between our labor and our reward become more like that of the indentured servant or slave than that of the free man?

This must matter to Christians, since one of our chief purposes for what we earn is giving. American giving, through missions, medical charity, food banks, and so forth has led the world for decades (coming in at nearly $300 billion in 2011). This is not an occasion for patting ourselves on the back, but it is a sobering figure. Charity is not a marginal factor for either American life or the lives of foreign peoples. By comparison, the total budget of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for 2012 is about $770 billion. The government borrows to spend a large portion of HHS's money, but donors to charity give from what they actually have.

Charity matters, in the United States and abroad. Our freedom to give charitably, at our discretion, is a powerful force in the world. The more our government mandates how we spend our earnings, the less we will be able to give to missions and pure charity: charity given out of love, without political strings.

Government mandating the specific use of our earnings will also impose limits on what we can do for ourselves, from buying houses and cars to educating our children. I see no biblical basis for accepting this principle. The model we have for godly government is the Law of Moses; it prescribed many very specific things but it did not entail the authorities deciding how the people were to spend their earnings. The Law gave the earthly authorities no discretion over the people's earnings. It prescribed a tithe, but that was an immutable matter, not subject to the discretion of the authorities. It was a commandment of God.

Jesus made it clear in Mark 12:17 that "Caesar"—temporal government—was to be respected, and Paul followed that point up in Romans 13:1-7, telling Christians to obey the government authorities. But the New Testament doesn't condone any particular practices of temporal government. Christians are not bound to agree with or accept as proper everything temporal governments decide to do. In a polity like America's, which is intended to be self-governing, it is entirely proper for us to have dissenting opinions on governance and to try to influence its character. We are to behave lawfully, but we are certainly allowed to try to change both the law and the philosophy of government in our nation.