On June 30, 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States reasserted a long standing basic principle of the social contract: that the government has the authority and responsibility to broadly gather resources in order to provide for the common welfare of citizens. The notion that all persons deserve access to the quality medical care available in their local hospitals needs little justification and derives quite clearly from a belief in the basic value and dignity of human life. In expressly theological language, human beings deserve high quality medical care because they bear the divine image and are beloved children of God. Our responsibility then, as clearly expressed in the sayings of Jesus, is to express our reverence for God through care for the most vulnerable of God’s creatures (Matthew 25:40).
Many liberal Christian commentators have expressed correctly that the court’s decision moves our nation toward a more just health care system and they are right to celebrate it for this reason. Indeed many Americans, who otherwise could not have, gained access to insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is however a deeper theological issue at stake in this decision and how it is discussed: how does this act look when measured against Jesus’ vision of a just community? Christians ought not be fooled into speaking about justice on the state’s terms. It has become clear that the American political system no longer defends the interests of the people generally and has become instead beholden to the flood of money coming through Political Action Committees and corporate campaign contributions . The political apparatus of our nation has become so corrupted by corporate greed that we cannot submit the radical vision of Christ to the front end of the political process and simply celebrate whatever survives on the other end. The protections offered by Affordable Care Act are life changing for many, but taking a larger view they are relatively modest. A broken system now serves more people more fully, but the system is still broken.
Obama and many democrats were hammered politically and expended remarkable political capital to pass a reform which modestly improves the for profit healthcare industry in a time when our nation desirably needs to abandon the model of health care for profit. Private companies whose only motive is profit simply cannot be entrusted with responsibility for the basic welfare of human lives. It is an abdication of social responsibility on the part of the state, and it is sinful failure on our common responsibility to care for one another.
The Supreme Court should be applauded for finding a legal way to move forward with a healthcare system that requires universal participation. Ensuring that all Americans pay into the pool (whether in the form of premiums or the tax penalty), creates a more just society for all. At the same time, liberal Christians must not be content to accept what is granted by the corporate controlled state as a substitution for the kingdom for which we struggle each day. The proximate solutions of politicians and bureaucrats cannot be our only image of the kingdom of God. Instead we must work each day to broaden our social understanding both of what is possible and what is required of us. The proposals of people seeking to build a just society are rarely politically expedient and are most often regarded as impossibilities, but it is these proposals that broaden our thinking by standing apart from the insular and prevailing logic of broken systems. Healthcare for profit is a broken and sinful system, and no matter how much it is improved, we cannot rest until a socialized single-payer healthcare system is in place that truly provides access to healthcare without regard for a individual patients economic circumstance.
John Allen is a Master of Divinity Student in New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a chaplain to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Davidson College. He is an ordination candidate in the United Church of Christ Metropolitan Boston Association.