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Jim Wallis Has Some Funny Definitions of Moral Obligation

Posted on August 26 2009 1:00 pm
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President Obama has switched tactics in pushing health care reform — he’s now urging faith leaders to support health care reform as a moral and ethical duty. The religious left has, of course, fallen in behind him.


Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a leftist Christian advocacy group, visited Lou Dobbs Tonight on Monday. He said of health care:

“…right now, we have a system that is fundamentally broken. So many people are hurting, they’re left out, left behind, even if they have insurance, they can’t afford good health. The system, the broken has to be fixed. How to best fix it, I think, should be what we focus on, in a sane, reasonable, healthy, and I think, yes, a moral debate.”

In all honesty, as Christians, health care in this country is an issue we  struggle with. As followers of Jesus, we want to move towards what is broken in this world and bring healing and wholeness. If the Church in the United States was doing its job, the question of how to help the sick may have already been answered. We know not everyone who professes Christianity tithes 10% of their incomes or gives beyond that–and this is a criticism of ourselves just as much as it is of evangelicals as a whole. So, then, as long as people are getting the health care they need, does it matter where or how?

The answer, we think, is yes. As Christians, we are called to give, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to comfort the suffering. But nowhere are Christians called to force others to give. If someone has decided in their heart not to be generous with their money, that is between them and God. It is not for us, not for the church, and not for the government to step in and force them to be generous. God loves a cheerful giver, not a coerced one. God did not say “give, and if you don’t, I will take 10% of your paycheck.”

Photo of a Collection Plate

If I can only assuage my conscience by taking from my neighbor to give to the poor, I am not acting morally, I am acting with jealousy and cowardice.  Yet this is what Wallis wants the government to do — act as his vision of a moral enforcer. One might note that this is exactly the tactic Wallis decries loud and long from anti-abortion activists. But what is consistency, in the face of continued political clout and notoriety?

Now, Jim Wallis says he’s not endorsing a government-run health care plan specifically. He says he’s only advocating for moral responsibility and civil debate. Unfortunately, Wallis tends to speak out of both side of his mouth on the issue. For example, he has written a blog post defining what he thinks are the “three moral issues” of health care. One of those, he says, is “full access.” When you read deeper, what he means is every person being able to get whatever treatment they want, at all times. Tell me, Reverend, if not the government, then exactly what vehicle do you propose to achieve this “moral” imperative? Wallis may say that “there is not a religious mandate or God-ordained system of health care or insurance,” but he sure seems to call for a specific one with his next breath. This is par for the course for Wallis, who one moment says he’s not on any side politically (Wallis is a registered Democrat), and the next protesting Republican bills and helping to raise money for Democrats.

Wallis also blogs about the need for “truth-telling” in the health care reform debate. Unfortunately, he himself plays fast and loose with the truth. He claims that “in recent weeks, conservative radio ads have claimed that health-care reform will kill the elderly (it won’t), that it will include federal funding for abortion (it doesn’t), and that it is a socialist takeover of the health-care system (it isn’t).” There’s just one problem – each claim is a distortion of actual claims made by conservatives.

“Death panels” may have been the most inflammatory wording possible, but it’s also not saying these panels will literally kill old people, only that they will ration and deny care based on things like age and a vaguely-defined “quality of life.”  As we’ve seen with the VA, this is not an unfounded fear. Wallis says he is sure that health care reform won’t include funding for abortion, but the only proof he offers is, as he said Monday night, “The president has said that he doesn’t want federal funds to pay for abortions.” (That’s a standard from which he no doubt would have run screaming during the Bush years.) How, then, he can explain why every amendment offered to exclude abortion funding from health-care bills has been denied and turned down by Democrats? And lastly, conservatives aren’t saying that this health care bill itself is a socialist takeover, but that it’s a backdoor such a scheme. These bills have been put forth and sponsored by people who’ve publicly expressed a desire to move this country to a single-payer system. To point this out is not disinformation, but rather a healthy skepticism of motives.

Wallis is right about one thing, though – the health care system is broken in many ways. The thing is, it’s not just the health care system that is fundamentally broken. Everything in this world is fundamentally broken, including the government. The broken has to be fixed, yes, but slapping the band-aid of “Don’t Worry, The Government Will Fix It” on the gaping, bleeding wound of health care will not produce the results we’re hoping for. When we rely on earthly saviors, we put our hope in an illusion.

If Reverend Wallis truly wants to help the poor, he is more than welcome to do so working through his Sojourners organization, or any other charities. If he does, we hope more Christians emulate him. But only a truly perverse intellect could shill for a President who wants to remove incentives for individuals to give their own money to charity, and who wants to use the coercive power of government to take your money and spend it where he will, and call that moral.

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