Partying in the Rose Garden as Healthcare for the Poor Dies
It’s twenty four hours since the news broke, that the Republicans had voted to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with a new act, the ACHA, that promises to save more than 900 billion dollars over ten years by knocking a minimum of 14 million people out of the healthcare system in the first year, and knocking a lot of previously covered care off everyone’s plan .
A number of tidbits about coverage have been surfacing, since it was revealed that prior conditions would now be an option for states to decide to include. Or not.
One of these tidbits is that rape will, in the new plan, be classified as a prior condition. So, for those who have had the courage to go to an Emergency Room, coverage may no longer be available.
Another tidbit is that ED (erectile dysfunction) is not considered a prior condition, so it will be definitely be covered.
Still another, that pregnancy, pre-natal care, delivery and post-partum care are no longer to be covered. One estimate is that the cost of having a baby will now rise to over $17,000. This is a 425% increase from the ACA’s provisions.
Well, more bits will be uncovered. And the Senate has already said it will write its own bill from scratch, so things may change. But political scratch is always an odd construction medium, so we’ll have to see what comes.
Bernie Sanders is already promising Senate defeat for this plan, and he is a fairly persuasive Sir Galahad when it comes to battles like this, so – let the jousting begin!
In all of this, the image that offends me most is the party of celebration that was held at the White House, and began in the Rose Garden. There, for a snap shot, stood several rows of grinning Republicans in expensive suits, with Trump and Paul Ryan in the foreground. Trump’s glee was radiant.
Stephen Colbert calls the picture the White Houses’s ‘special reserve of white men,’ and you do have to look hard to find a couple women present. There were no visible men of color.
Earlier in the day, Paula White, Trump’s pastor and friend, a prosperity gospel mega-church preacher in Florida, spoke on the same White House lawn, in the Rose Garden, at a National Day of Prayer observance, as Trump produced an executive order restraining the IRS from investigating clergy or religious institutions for preaching politics.
Paula White, a product of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Institute, is one of those who believe that God not only saves the faithful after death, but also provides them with riches in this life. The rich, therefore, are walking demonstrations of God’s blessing, in this theology. But the poor – in prosperity theology — are being punished for their lack of faith. The poor are the unblessed. The godless. The lost.
There is something in most of us that pulls away from the stench and filth of homeless people, people who have been living rough for a while. And there is something in most of us that shrinks from the visible signs of terrible illness, the emaciation of advanced cancer, the sores of advanced AIDS, the gasping of those who cannot breathe easily.
But in the Bible God dearly loves these people. Isaiah proclaims God as a restorer of health, the One who makes the lame walk and the blind see, the One who will help the aged mount up like eagles in strength.
The Bible is built on the story of a people who were slaves in Egypt and who walked to freedom. Even when being chased by soldiers in chariots, they dared to wade into the sea, believing God would save them. And God made the sea open a way for them to be saved, and the same sea closed over the soldiers of Pharoah and drowned them.
The poor, despite their immense sufferings, are immensely faithful, according to the Bible, and God, who loves them beyond all measure, leads them through their sorrows and into the promised land. Where, it must be remembered, things do not go smoothly forever. The people, in defeat, are led away from the Promised Land into exile more than once.
Jesus, steeped in this tradition, and following the prophets who made friends for themselves among the poor (remember Elijah, whose survival was made possible by the poor widow of Zarephath) embraces the poor, and the sick, and sinful fallen women, who even in our time are not known for their wealth, but for their poverty.
Jesus is born among the poor, and a number of their children are unjustly killed by Herod, who is searching for the Child of God. So the poor protect Jesus, saving his life. Great is their faithfulness.
Jesus himself dies the ignominious death of slaves and thieves, not the middle class death of execution by beheading, nor the upper class death of garotting, but the lowliest and most horrible death, crucifixion. And he forgives a thief there, and the soldiers. But he does not forgive the rich and prosperous, who have condemned him.
Herod, the High Priest, the wealthy Elders, the party of the Sadducees, and Pontius Pilate all are wealthy people. And none of them is, according to the Bible, faithful. Jesus’ ragtag disciples are the faithful people here.
Jesus even warns the crowds in Matthew’s gospel, that at the Last Judgment, those who have fed the hungry, tended the sick, clothed the naked and visited the imprisoned will be blessed, for by doing so for the the afflicted here on earth we are doing these things for Christ.
As William Sloane Coffin so eloquently said, in the Bible, it is the rich who are the problem, not the poor.
This theology, so loved by Trump, who grew up at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, where Norman Vincent Peale preached a version of the prosperity gospel, certainly holds sway in the Republican Congress, even if it is not articulated there.
Among this group, the higher virtue is to cut taxes, not to heal the sick. The higher virtue is to relieve the tax burden on the rich, not to charge the rich more taxes in order to fund health care for the poor.
The problem the prosperity gospel presents is blasphemy. The God these preachers describe is not the God of the Bible. And their preference for easing the burdens of the rich flies in the face of the values of Jesus.
Ours is a religiously diverse nation, and non-biblical theologies have been present among us since before the Revolution.
But at this point we are engaged in a battle for the mind and heart of Christian tradition. Paula White and James Dobson and the rest of the charlatan preachers are deluding worshippers who want to believe that being Christian can make you rich in this world. Trump certainly seems to be one of these.
In his repeated self-congratulation on his wealth, Trump held out to voters an image of himself as good because he is rich, as faithful because he is rich, and as intelligent because he is rich. There is small wonder then, about his disinterest in health care for the poor. That does not seem to be, in his value system, a part of making America great again.
America is divided, yes. And this struggle must be played out. It would be a mistake to smooth over these differences, as if they did not matter, or as if America can embrace this philosophy.
We’ve had to battle to end slavery, which fit comfortably within a prosperity gospel. We’ve had to battle to get votes for women, for denying them the franchise fit comfortably within the prosperity gospel. And now we have to fight this fight for the heart and soul of this nation, as well as for the truth of the gospel of Jesus.
The image of that party on the lawn will go down in history. And its name may well become, The Day the President Made It Official, That He Doesn’t Give a Damn About the Poor.
Image: Prosperity Preachers and False Prophets. YouTube.com