John Pavlovitz isn’t the only Triangle minister who thinks Sen. John McCain’s recent brain cancer diagnosis is the perfect opportunity to push for universal health care.
But they might not use the same words.
Pavlovitz, who heads up the teen ministry for North Raleigh Community Church Downtown, wrote on his blog last week that using McCain’s diagnosis to talk about the fact that not all Americans have equal access to health care “isn’t disrespectful, it isn’t in poor taste, and it isn’t political opportunism – it’s the godd--- point. The personal hell that John McCain and his loved ones are walking through right now is the point of it all.”
Pavlovitz, whose blog has nearly 11,000 followers, went on to say that McCain deserves to have every resource at his disposal as he fights his cancer, and so does everyone else.
While some clergy avoid wading publicly into national policy debates, churches have long been involved in the discussion and development of health care. Many hospitals in North Carolina and across the country were built by churches or other faith-based groups.
“For us, health care is a justice issue,” said Aleta Payne, deputy executive director of the N.C. Council of Churches, which has had a policy on its books since 1992 calling for universal health care and led a campaign in recent years to press the state legislature to expand Medicaid in the state.
“There is a biblical call to love one another, to see the face of God in one another. Inherent in that is making sure that everybody has health care,” Payne said. “It’s a basic need.”
Most Christian denominations consider it a commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” as Jesus instructed according to the Gospel of Mark.
For the Rev. Deborah Fox, the theological became personal last year when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to retire from Episcopal Campus Ministry in Raleigh to undergo treatment.
Early in her ministry, Fox said, she worked with a nonprofit group that gave emergency aid to the poor. She knew people who died or suffered with illness because they could not afford health care.
After her first chemotherapy treatment at Duke University Medical Center, Fox said, she cried as she reached her car, thinking of those she had known who were not as fortunate as she.
“As Christians, we believe that we are to love our neighbor as ourself,” she said. “That has to be lived. I think that is the very basis of the church. I don’t think it can get any simpler than that.”
The Rev. Chad Rimmer, a Lutheran theologian and former pastor and missionary, said his work in Europe and Africa exposed him to other health care systems where, he said, the thrust of the conversation is around getting people access to treatment. In this country, he said, “It’s about economics first. This is contrary to a Christian social ethic. We should be able to create the economy around health care to serve people’s health needs, not vice versa.”
The church must take a stand, Rimmer said, and help reframe the conversation so that it is not focused on partisan differences and political maneuvering, but on a common goal of “caring for the dignity and well-being of our neighbors.”
The Rev. Mark Davidson, pastor of Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, said supporting universal health care also falls under the religious responsibility to uphold the common good.
Not all pastors or church members feel comfortable taking on such issues publicly, he said.
“There’s a dividing line,” he said. “Either your faith leads you to political action, where you are involved in those issues and you bring the values of your faith to those issues, or you believe that faith is a private matter and does not belong in the public square. In the Presbyterian tradition, we believe that it leads you to the public square. We have a moral responsibility to express our faith for the good of our neighbors.”
Davidson said he agreed with Pavlovitz’s point about McCain, whose health care is covered by an insurance package U.S. lawmakers crafted for themselves.
“Sen. McCain is a patriot, an American public servant,” Davidson said. “He is being cared for. And if he is being cared for, so should everyone else.”