You’ve no doubt heard that the health care reform debate has been turned into a moral and even spiritual crusade. Most of the mainline denominations are claiming in one way or another that Jesus would support heath care reform, MSNBC host Ed Schultz (normally not a friend of theocrats) claiming that Jesus would support the public option, etc. One that stands out for me is a column at Sojourners from Valerie Elverton Dixon of JustPeaceTheory.com, who seems to think that Matthew 25 is a mandate for government-run health care.
She especially focuses on Matthew 25:39-40 (“And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” [NRSV] She starts off by citing an unnamed “Christian leader” who said that the parable of the sheep and the goats refers to Christians’ care of their brethren of the Body of Christ. She then consults a Baptist minister and New Testament scholar named Allen Callahan, who says that the passage doesn’t restrict the care we are to have for the “least of these who are members of my family” to other Christians. So far, so good. The truth is that there’s a lot of debate over that phrase, and to whom it is referring. The problem, however, isn’t with that phrase. It’s with the word “you,” which Dixon apparently thinks is a reference to the government:
The teaching of Jesus to care for the least is a moral teaching for all of humanity. When we see people in our country who do not have access to basic health care because they lack insurance, when we see even those who have insurance now living with the reality that they could lose coverage at the whim of their employer or if they lose their jobs, it is a moral imperative for us to urge our leaders to join most of the rest of the world and recognize health care as a human right and the obligation of governments to provide access to health care for all of their citizens.
Now, I’ve never heard the interpretation that Jesus is addressing the world’s governments in this passage. He is, of course, addressing His people, and telling them that when they see people in need, they are to meet those needs, and to know that they are serving Christ in the process. For Christians to feed, clothe, heal, or visit “the least of these,” they are to use their own resources.
What Dixon wants is for the government to do what Jesus calls on His people to do, and claim that getting the government to do it is the same thing as getting God’s people to do it. In this instance, I think she’s just taken a piece of Scripture and twisted it to use it as a proof-text for her pre-determined political position, which is bad enough. But let’s say that she genuinely believes that Matthew 25 is a command from the Lord to provide health insurance for all Americans. By seeking to get the government to do her bidding, she declares herself a liberal theocrat, along with all the other forces on the religious left who are currently pushing the feds to carry out God’s will.
I look for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others in the anti-theocrat community to thunder down denunciations of this theocratic agenda starting…when the temperature in Hades moderates.