Another Reason Why Evangelicals Aren’t Conservative

Gordon McDonald, the evangelical pastor and now Leadership editor at large (do editors ever work at medium?) has written in support of the Obama health care bill (hat tip to John Fea). His reasoning has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with Jesus. McDonald is glad for the bill “not because I am a Democrat or a Republican but because I think that Jesus, who seemed to take great interest in health issues, is glad. Looking back on his life among people like us, he often acted as a healer. He seemed to delight in curing diseases, restoring disabled people to wholeness, and rewiring damaged minds. You cannot divorce these encounters from the rest of his public ministry. Health-care was in his frame of reference.”

Methinks McDonald’s humanitarianism gets in the way of his reading of the New Testament. Sure, Jesus healed people. Had he lived longer and not gone to the cross, he could have healed a lot more. And had he yielded to Satan’s temptation to reign over everything, he might have instituted a health care plan better than our president’s. It very well could be that his healings, like his raising of Lazarus, weren’t the point of his ministry but only a sign of the everlasting wholeness and well being that will come in the new heavens and new earth for all who trust in him – healthy and sick, insured or not, Republican and Democrat.

At the same time that McDonald’s compassion clouds his reading of the New Testament, it also harms his discernment about American government. He concludes the piece with several points, numbered presumably to give the effect of policy items:

1. Any effort that is made to bring health benefits to more people (especially the weak, the poor, the children) is an effort with which I want to identify.

2. Anyone whose argument is based simply on the notion that we cannot afford making medical benefits available to more people does not get my ear. The fact is that our country—we the people—can afford it, even if it means that each of us surrenders a few more bucks that we would have spent on things for ourselves. We just have to conclude that compassion in the face of human need is a greater value than accumulating more stuff.

3. Any initiative that makes it possible for the common person to have the same access to medical science as the rich appear to have is one I want to hear about.

On the surface, these ideals look benign. But does he really mean “any” in each of these cases? Certainly, he would not countenance legalizing prostitution as a way to pay for health care insurance. Some restrictions will obviously need to come from the moral law.

And does McDonald really mean to say that the price tag is no object? Has he no sense of the debt that his and my generation is passing on to the next? Usury used to be a sin. Can printing money to balance the books – or at least reduce the debt – be a virtuous enterprise, or healthy for a government that depends on the assent of the governed?

And can McDonald really mean he is willing to level the wealth playing field so that I enjoy the same medical care as Ryan Howard, all-star first baseman for the Phillies? Um, either Howard gets easy access to orthopedists and the Phillies make the playoffs, or he and I both wait in the same waiting room, my knees get the same attention as his elbow, and the Phillies miss the playoffs? That’s an easy decision.

But whatever the difficulties in McDonald’s idealism, his haste to evaluate political events by the What-Would-Jesus-Do standard obscures the political and economic realities of universal health care within an American form of government. A better measure of Obama’s policies – or any president’s – is what would Abe do, or what would Jefferson do, or what would Wilson do? Only by asking secular and political questions first, can believers be faithful to their ultimate Lord. Conversely, by asking the religious and ethical questions first, evangelicals wind up, in Christ’s name (of all things) making a mess of this world.

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10 Comments

  1. Matt S Holst
    Posted May 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    And just think of all the people Jesus did not heal. Anyone in favor of starting a Natural Law party? I’ve about had it otherwise.

  2. Philipp
    Posted May 8, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    To be fair: what’s the matter here is not “evangelicalism”, not even its sociopolitical singularity. A similar argument could come, and has come, from just as many Catholics and Liberals, on this and the other side of the pond. The interesting thing is an ad-hoc way of reading the Bible, and a readiness to assume that politics are the stage where this reading is supposed to play out. Evangelicalism, here, is perhaps too narrow of a term for a kind of religion that measures its importance by its relevance.

    As a sidenote: I’m all in favor of the health care bill – just for different reasons.

  3. Posted May 9, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    On the other side there’s the evangelical’s latter-day Queen Esther going around saying our “Christian nation” should get back to passing laws based on the God of the Bible and the ten commandments.

  4. dgh
    Posted May 10, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Philipp, good point, but isn’t it odd that evangelicals think of themselves as conservative. Liberals don’t. RC’s are a more complicated case.

  5. Posted May 10, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Funny thoughts, DGH. Thanks!

    But, I think your “legalizing prostitution” comment is “rather strawy,” don’t you? Certainly Gordon means “any responsible effort to pay for health care,” not just any means to an end. I don’t think he would advocate selling body parts to reduce the national debt either.

  6. Posted May 10, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    These sorts of public-policy proposals based on the words and deeds of our Lord don’t take account of the fact that Christ, like every other human being in history, had a particular vocation, and his was to take away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. Our Lord is not a public magistrate, soldier, health-care professional, or first baseman. Since disease is a consequence of sin, along with death, famine, and many other ills, his healing of diseases and exorcism of demoniacs (why isn’t that on anyone’s political platform?) demonstrated his power to save from sin, death, and devil, as his glorious Resurrection on the third day supremely did. Once you rip Christ out of the context of his justification of the ungodly, you can say anything about him that you want.

  7. Dan
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    People often equate socialism with charity and charitable behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charity comes from the heart, not coercion of the State. Christ calls for heart-felt charity from the individual, not statist interventionism.

  8. hap
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The “evangelical” label is a confusing mess…I think the “evangelical” label and identity has come to mean “Pop-Protestantism”…for better or for worse.

  9. Posted May 25, 2010 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    I like your post.

  10. Posted October 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Pretty impressive article. I just came across your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your opinions. Any way I’ll be coming back and I hope you post again soon

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