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As an Anglican priest and a professor of theology it is not surprising to me that several folks have been sincerely interested in and, in some cases, sincerely perplexed by my recent, frequent and vocal support for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders as the Democratic party nominee in the race for President of the United States of America. Sanders, a political and social progressive is not usually associated with what people think of as the candidate of choice for a ‘religious’ person. Yet, while I certainly do not agree with all of his policies [but, who agrees with anyone 100% of the time?], and in some cases even oppose his positions [I’m pro-life] I, as a follower of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ find that Bernie’s commitment to universal healthcare, education, the environment, and a host of other issues best express what it means to be for humanity in the sacrificial way of the cross. I’ll list one reason that I support Bernie Sanders and the above issues which are so central to his platform. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive defense or explanation but rather a simple and concise case for the issue of healthcare in America and the position advocated by Bernie Sanders.

Healthcare Ought to Be Considered a Service and Not a Product

I and many, many others support a radical revolution in healthcare in the United States of America. Many of us are firmly committed to support this trajectory in American healthcare until the day we die. Those of us in this camp consider the current healthcare ‘business’ to be a systemic evil which, even under the Affordable Care Act, does not solve the problem of healthcare injustice and inequality in this nation. While Bernie’s plan to introduce a single payer system of universal healthcare into the United States may seem radical and bold to many, it really isn’t all that revolutionary or new. In many other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, this system works and has worked for decades, bringing quality healthcare to all, and transforming healthcare from a product that is bought and sold into a service that blesses the entire country. As a student in Scotland, my wife and I benefited greatly from the excellent service of the NHS, the national healthcare system in Scotland. My wife and I registered at the local hospital in St. Andrews upon arriving in the UK. We simply filled out a 3×5 card with our addresses, birth-dates, names and contact information, and we were granted instant access to full coverage and world-class care. Additionally, we received medication at no cost, because, in Scotland, even the medication is covered.

Prior to coming to Scotland, and after my wife graduated, we were in between health plans. At that time there was a freeze on the healthcare ‘connector’ in the US and no-one could sign up for healthcare. Because of this when we went to pick up a desperately needed prescription we were unable to afford the $500 price-tag. We opted instead, with the permission of our doctor (whose appointments cost us additional thousands of dollars) to order (legally) an older, outdated but affordable medication from Canada which ended up causing a severe allergic reaction (presumably the reason the medication was generally speaking out of use in the States). Fast-forward to our return to the United States after completing my Ph.D. Living in Boston, adjuncting at Gordon Conwell and leading worship at Park Street church I made a total of $22,000 for a family of three. Thankfully, Massachusetts had and still has excellent emergency healthcare for those living under the poverty line called MassHealth. The only problem with this system is that you must remain perpetually poor to receive it. As I considered taking a job in a warehouse which was walking distance from where I was living, in addition to my teaching and worship gig while searching for full time employment in my field [education], I realized that I would make, with those three jobs a total of $35,000. Then, I would be off of MassHealth and able to buy my own insurance through the healthcare marketplace. Only, this was not necessarily good news. We’d end up spending half of our income on a basic healthcare plan, with high deductibles, that was inferior to the excellent care we were receiving at no cost under MassHealth. It would perhaps be worth it if our total income was reasonable, say, $80,000. But when the totality of your income is a max of $35,000, this means that it is financially more wise to remain poor until you find a job that pays a suitable wage and hopefully includes health insurance, which is a miserable place to be.

Then, finally, thanks be to God, I got hired at my current job with excellent pay and benefits. The crisis was over. Or was it? It seemed over until we received our first bill of thousands of dollars that the insurance company billed to us because they determined we didn’t need the treatment that our doctors had ordered and which we so desperately needed. Finally, after ten different tries by our physician who argued vigorously on our behalf for the need of the treatment, the insurance company acquiesced and covered the treatment. Victory!….until we received yet another bill, which even though the hospital was in-network, was not going to be covered by insurance. Over six thousand dollars later, the family with full health insurance coverage was still getting steamrolled by the systemic evil of corporate America under the disguise of the healthcare ‘service’ industry. We recently discovered that the cost of a medication that we require is $500 Canadian dollars, while here in the United States it costs a whopping $13,000 USD. To me this is a massive, systemic evil that perpetuates financial, spiritual and physical poverty.

If we really are called to love our neighbor, this means not only being nice to them, but bearing their burdens, to use the words of Paul and Jesus. The burden-bearing love of Jesus does not result in a complacency in regard to the care of others, it issues forth in sacrifice for the sake of the other; it goes to every extreme to extend the love of God to the other because of the dignity and worth of all human beings made in the image of God. For the follower of Jesus, your money isn’t yours to hoard and to protect, it is yours to steward and invest. Yet, that investment can never be an investment in one’s own kingdom and castle while our neighbors sleep in a ditch, or loose their house over a medical bill, or go to bed with an empty stomach. The love of Christ compels me to join with those—many of whom have no religious basis for their support of universal healthcare—in re-imagining and revolutionizing healthcare in America. It is most definitely not ‘free’ healthcare. Rather, the cost is derived from a large mass of people—eventually the majority—committing to be for each other, instead of for themselves. While I respect others who see this as a private affair, the fact of the matter is, the revolution in healthcare that is required is so radical and so extensive that it has not and will not occur unless we completely overhaul the system and approach. We don’t need a mere reform, we need a revolution. We need a completely socialized healthcare service that honors our citizens and cares for all. Bernie is fighting for this, and to be honest it will likely take more than one president to make any substantial progress in this area. It might take seven! But, the sooner we pursue this change as a nation, together, the sooner America will become a more just and compassionate, Christlike society.

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6 comments

  1. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with more pressing and severe moral issues, such as abortion? I think I completely agree with your stance on healthcare, but murdering babies seems to be a more pressing issue than healthcare. It seems that if I vote for Bernie I may indeed be helping the healthcare system, but also continually supporting a person who advocates the murder of babies. With that in mind, it is worth it to elect a leader who would want this. What are your thoughts.

    1. I agree that abortion is itself a terrible injustice, and I would prefer that this were Bernie’s stance. However, I don’t think it is as simple as using that as the one criteria for whether or not I vote for a candidate. The general stance of Bernie Sanders includes an overarching commitment to an economic approach that I fundamentally agree with and think will be beneficial to justice in health care, education, social security, ecological, racial issues etc. While I wish that included every point of policy that I would choose, that is almost never the case. I think it is sometimes possible to work from change within. In other words, working for a move toward a reformation of the democratic party and economically progressive independents from within the movement with which I otherwise agree [I’m more of an independent, though registered as democrat now in support of Bernie]. The change of culture and policy in this country is a long battle, and I am committed to it. I fear that many evangelicals default to rejecting democratic and progressive policies which otherwise cohere with the Gospel, because of the issue of abortion, which is usually supported by progressives. Yet, it is not at all certain that for many Republicans it isn’t a sincere belief, but rather part of a bundling of issues to gain the ‘evangelical’ voter block. What if, in time, a pro-life position could be bundled with the more progressive political program, as at some points in this country’s history, was the case? To me that would be far better than free market, unrestricted, moves to eliminate government programs that many sorely need. In my view, we should be working to tell the story of life from within our spheres, and the most progress toward decreasing abortions that we can make now is by winsomely and ceaselessly proclaiming the dignity and worth of all life. I choose to do that from within a generally progressive political vantage point because I believe that the rest of Bernie’s message is needed to such a degree in this country that it over-takes my opposition to his position on the issue of abortion. To sum it up, I used to vote as a one or two issue voter, but I think that perpetuating the status quo in foreign policy, healthcare, education, etc is itself a serious systemic evil. Though I totally understand and respect those who are convinced of other political approaches and genuinely wish to see the common good pursued in creative and powerful ways.

      1. I think what you said here was well put:

        “I fear that many evangelicals default to rejecting democratic and progressive policies which otherwise cohere with the Gospel, because of the issue of abortion, which is usually supported by progressives. Yet, it is not at all certain that for many Republicans it isn’t a sincere belief, but rather part of a bundling of issues to gain the ‘evangelical’ voter block. What if, in time, a pro-life position could be bundled with the more progressive political program, as at some points in this country’s history, was the case?”

        As I learn, grow, and mature in Christ, I find myself being more interested in the policies concerning healthcare, economics, racial issues, etc. that democrats create. Indeed, sometimes it seems that their policies are more Christ-like (i.e., your previous post about healthcare). In fact, I, too, benefitted from “Obama Care” because I was not in a position in which I could afford healthcare, yet was able to receive it.

        I find myself struggling, however, to support such a candidate because of abortion. Now, I know you mentioned this when you said:

        “I used to vote as a one or two issue voter, but I think that perpetuating the status quo in foreign policy, healthcare, education, etc is itself a serious systemic evil.”

        I agree. It seems that we should hammer out, so to speak, and focus primarily on some of the basic essentials of life while we fight against other injustices. If one does not even have life, why would health care, education, or any of those things matter? Granted, there are people alive who suffer and deal with such things, but they have “life privilege” to worry about healthcare, education, and, most of all, to have an opportunity to come to know Christ. The murdered unborn do not.

        I think if we are going to speak of privilege in this country, we need to speak of “life privilege”. In the same way white people (or those who can “be” white) gain an advantage in numerous areas, so too do living people gain an advantage in numerous areas, the greatest of all being the opportunity to know Christ.

        I say we fight this battle hard and not budge on it because it seems to be one that is undeniably clear there is one solution: stop abortion. In regards to healthcare or education, there are many options and each option impacts other options, so we have time and opportunity to work these out in a Christ-like way, but babies do NOT have any opportunity whatsoever.

        Life is so basic a necessity that God has promised to punish those who shed innocent blood with the only covenant with the entirety of creation that still stands today in the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:4-6):

        “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

        “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
        by man shall his blood be shed,
        for God made man in his own image.”

  2. I definitely completely understand the impulse to experience hesitation at supporting a candidate who is not pro-life. Yet, I wonder if pro-life is simply relegated to the one issue of abortion. Does the sanctity of life not also belong, based on the inherent worth of every human being, to the entirety of caring for human persons, i.e. providing just healthcare, and considering a right and not a product? After all, we consider K-12 education a right, and libraries, and fire and police services, but not healthcare? Couple that sentiment with statistic that show that something like 40% of abortions are a result of poverty and healthcare costs[see for an excellent explanation of this http://www.danieldavidallen.com/blog/2015/11/27/why-people-against-abortion-should-vote-for-bernie%5D and then it becomes the case that much can be done by attacking poverty, to actually decrease the number of abortions that woman elect to have. If 40% of abortions could be reduced by more just economic policies, that actually is the position that decreases abortion more than the current, unsuccessful attempt to reverse Roe v Wade. I’m not saying it shouldn’t also be illegal, but that strategically, one can be pro-life and vote democrat. Voting for a candidate solely because they are pro-life, also comes with the baggage of recognizing that they almost certainly will not be able to overturn the supreme court. But voting for Bernie, would be more likely to reduce the number of abortions, possibly by as much as 40%. Couple that with a strong witness for the reality of life at conception from within the progressive movement, and you make a massive dent in the fight for life, while also achieving more just economic policies. I know that is not conventionally how folks think. Yet, to me, just because we are used to thinking about things a certain way, in a certain paradigm, doesn’t make it right, best, or the only possible solution. Sometimes we need a massive paradigm shift and that’s what Bernie is about.

  3. Keep in mind that a vote for any candidate in a small way makes you responsible for all their policies and actions.. Perhaps not responsible in the sense that God will hold you accountable for it, but nonetheless responsible for it inasmuch as a vote for the person allowed any given policy to happen. With that in mind, a vote for Bernie,who is pro choice, in a small way makes the voter responsible for the innocent blood shed by those unborn children. The issues of economics, immigration, social justice, and everything else pale in comparison to the murder of millions of babies. This NEEDS to be the primary focus of any Christian voter.

    1. I’m happy to support people’s right to be a one-issue voter. However, I don’t agree that one issue is the only criteria for voting for Christians, hence the article. There is another way toward actually making progress in the pro-life movement rather than buying into the polarized American economic system that bundles ‘pro-life- causes with the Republican party thus by default making that party the ‘life’ party.

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