DYCHE | Using scripture for political purposes
By John David Dyche
At the Fancy Farm picnic last weekend state Auditor Adam Edelen talked about Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin’s position that Kentucky's expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare should be repealed.
"Kicking half a million Kentuckians off the insurance rolls with the stroke of a pen is callous and it's not Christian," Edelen said. Turning to Republicans on the stage, he continued, "Maybe this side of the aisle should put down the books of Ayn Rand and pick up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
Rand, an author of philosophical novels made a moral case for capitalism and self-interest. The gospel-writers’ mini-biographies of Jesus made the moral case for altruism.
Edelen's comments echoed those of Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, in response to his expansion of Medicaid there. "I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor," Kasich said.
Evidently you are adjudged un-Christian if you disagree with Edelen and Kasich on Medicaid expansion. They are among the best and best-hearted public servants around today, but surely we can agree that support for expanded Medicaid under Obamacare is not the test of a person's or a society's Christianity.
After all, there are other ways to provide medical care for the poor, reputable studies question whether Medicaid actually improves health outcomes, and no governmental program or amount of money spent truly measures whether one loves God and loves neighbor as one's self.
At the end of the day, even devotees of Ayn Rand can sincerely believe that her ideas are the best way to lift the standard of living for the most people.
The Bible is full of admonitions and encouragement to care for the poor. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me," for example.
But Jesus did not advocate, much less create, bureaucratic entitlement programs that cost so much that they cannibalize resources from other programs and pressing needs. To the disappointment of some in his day, Jesus did not act through or take over the government. He tried to change individual hearts and religious institutions.
Being the Son of God blessed with powers like healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, and turning water into wine, Jesus presumably could have established a Medicaid program for his era's Middle East if that had been God’s will. Instead, he contrasted love and spiritual power against the worldly power of Roman and religious rulers.
None of this gives opponents of expanded Medicaid a free pass. They have a duty – moral and political – to demonstrate effective compassion for the poor. This includes, but is not limited to, health care.
Using religion and scripture to score political points is a risky proposition. Invoking God’s word against political adversaries or as a basis for legislation is quite presumptuous and often highly selective, too.
Some invoke the Bible as a basis for civil rights laws or the welfare state, but angrily resist when others invoke it against abortion or gay marriage. This kind of inconsistency goes both ways, of course, and often with more unfortunate venom on social issues than on Medicaid expansion.
The disputes usually boil down to emphasis and interpretation. For example, the Jesus depicted in the Bible is adamant about non-violence.
Should we therefore unilaterally disarm and forswear war in all circumstances, even to liberate captives and protect innocent victims of brutal tyranny? Does the teaching of Jesus on this topic compel support for gun control and opposition to the death penalty?
The Jesus depicted in the Bible is also generally anti-divorce. Should we therefore reverse course on no-fault divorce and condemn those who divorce and remarry as adulterers?
In the parable of the rich young ruler Jesus says, "Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." Does this mean Christians must back confiscatory taxes and radical redistribution of wealth?
Some of Christianity's most admirable minds and inspirational souls have reached different conclusions on issues like these. The same is surely true for Medicaid expansion.
Our faith should animate all aspects of our lives, including the political. This does not mean, however, that any of us should presume that our political positions on Medicaid expansion or anything else are so clearly in conformity with Christian standards that we can invoke the gospels against those who in good faith disagree.
We should be extremely careful in using God, religion, and scripture as political weapons. People on both sides of the political aisle fall short in this regard, your correspondent among them. Indeed, this column can be criticized as just another variation of the very thing it calls into question!
So, as the Apostle Paul wisely admonished, "Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his [or her] commendation from God."
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)
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