Sunday, September 20, 2009
Caring for Those that Need
The current health care debate takes me back through the years when I was a young, green Pastor. Occasionally someone would knock on my door. “Preacher, the baby’s sick. We need to get to the Doctor.” They had no car. They had little money. And so I would pick up the Mother, Father and the baby and take them downtown to a Doctor I knew. Dr. Newman never turned anybody away. His office looked like something out of the 1920’s. Big mohair sofa. Not so comfortable folding chairs. His wife was his receptionist and nurse. So the old Doctor came out and said, “Bring the baby on back.” He saw the baby was dehydrated. “We must start the IV immediately.” He shooed us out of the room and in a few minutes he called us back in. “Look, look,” he said. “It’s a miracle,” and be began to chuckle. “Look at the baby’s color—life is coming back. If you had not brought your baby in when you did she might not have made it.” He gave the family a sack full of medicines and specific instructions of how to take care of their baby. He asked for no money—he knew they could not afford to pay. But whenever someone who had little money needed a Doctor I always knew where to go and they were never turned away.
Occasionally some letter-writer suggests that Doctors could pick up the slack of the poor if they would. Sometimes the same folk say churches should certainly provide the support. They say this is not the government’s business. Most of the Doctors I know are overworked and harried as it is. Many give free services and medicine samples out generously but the problem remains. Most of the churches in this country have small congregations. They certainly cannot attend to the health care of the uninsured.
Even though churches could never pick up health care for the millions that are uninsured, I keep wondering why the church has not spoken out more on this crying need. The stories of Jesus’ reaching out to the sick are sprinkled all the way through the gospels. People flocked to him because they knew he cared and he would help and not judge. The Great Physician simply healed those in need.
Jim Wallis, an Evangelical social activist has stated that there are three moral issues involved in the health care debate. 1) We need to tell the truth. We must not over inflate the figures in this debate. We do know countless millions have no health coverage. Neither are we to fall victim to scare tactics like: death panels, loaded words like Nazi, Fascist and Socialists. But we must clear away the smoke and seek the truth wherever it leads us. 2) Every citizens has a right to health care. Wallis says that 30-46 million of our citizens have no adequate coverage for medical needs. It is estimated that 18,000 die each year in our country unnecessarily because they lacked health insurance. The poor should not suffer because they are poor. 3) We have to look at what our inaction already costs. 60% of the bankruptcies this year have been caused by medical bills. 75% of those bankruptcies had medical insurance which did not cover their situations. One has only to look at the long lines of people in Tennessee and Inglewood, California weeks ago that came from long distances to receive free health care for one week. The lines reminded me of a third world country. The most prosperous country in the world can do better.
Health care is not only a moral issue but also a justice issue. Every human being matters. Every citizen counts. Not just the well-heeled and the well-connected. Every person deserves the right to quality health care. After all these years I keep remembering that little baby in Virginia as the color came back in her cheeks. That is the task before us right now. One of Jesus most popular parables was the story of the Good Samaritan. Two very important religious figures did not have time to stop and help a wounded man by the side of the road. Yet a Samaritan, despised by many in that time, stopped and attended to the man’s needs. Jesus asked his audience who was the real neighbor? There was only one answer to Jesus’ question: the one that showed mercy. I wonder if we set down this old parable before the current debate on health care what we might find.
(The above article appeared in the Viewpoints section of Sunday's The Birmingham News, Sept. 20, 2009, Section F)