Rev. Jim Rigby : Why is Universal Health Care ‘Un-American?’

Rev. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, speaks at Austin rally for health care reform, Saturday, Oct. 29. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich.

By Rev. Jim Rigby / The Rag Blog / September 2, 2009

Last week supporters of health-care reform gathered around the country, including in Austin, Texas, where 2,000 people crowded into a downtown church, to hear speakers talk about different aspects of the issue. Asked to speak about the ethical dimensions of health care, I tried to go beyond short-term political strategizing and ask more basic questions. This is an edited version of what I said.

Is anyone else here having trouble with the fact that we are even having this conversation? Is anyone else having trouble believing this topic is really controversial? I have been asked to talk about the ethical dimension of health care. Here’s one way to frame such a discussion:

If an infant is born to poor parents, would we be more ethical to give medicine to that child so he or she does not die prematurely of preventable diseases, or would we be more ethical if we let the child die screaming in his or her parent’s arms so we can keep more of our money?

Or, let’s say someone who worked for Enron, and now is penniless, contracted bone cancer. I’ve been asked to discuss whether we are more ethical if we provide such people medicine that lessens their pain. Or would we be more ethical to let them scream through the night in unbearable agony so we can pay lower taxes?”

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it.

But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Some of the other speakers today have been asked to address what is possible in the current political climate. I have been asked to speak of our dreams. Let me ask a question. How many of you get really excited about tweaking the insurance system so we just get robbed a little less? (silence) How many of you want universal health care? (sustained applause)

I realize that insurance reform is all that’s on the table right now, and it can be important to choose the lesser of evils when that alone is within our power in the moment. But we also need to remember our dream. I believe the American dream is not about material success, not about being having the strongest military. The American dream is that every person might have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s amazing to hear Christians who talk about the right to life as though it ends at birth. They believe every egg has a right to hatch, but as soon as you’re born, it’s dog eat dog. We may disagree on when life begins, but if the right to life means anything it means that every person (anyone who has finished the gestation period) has a right to life. And if there is a right to life there must be a right to the necessities of life. Like health care.

I believe the American dream was not about property rights, but human rights. Consider the words of this national hymn:

“O beautiful for patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Doesn’t that sound like someone cared about the poor? There are those who consider paying taxes an affront, but listen to these words:

“O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

“Mercy more than life” — have you ever noticed those words before? Supporting universal health care does not make you socialist or even a liberal, it makes you a human being. And it makes you an ambassador for the American dream which, in the mind of Thomas Paine, was a dream for every human being, not just Americans.

As we struggle to get health care to all people, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils, but remember your dream — the true American dream, a human dream. Whatever we win through reform is just a first step toward a day when every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

[The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. He can be reached at]

Please see Austin: Thousands Rally for Healthcare; Teabaggers Call for Secession by James Retherford / The Rag Blog / September 1, 2009

Thanks to Robert Jensen / The Rag Blog

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11 Responses to Rev. Jim Rigby : Why is Universal Health Care ‘Un-American?’

  1. Paul says:

    Back in 2008, this Whole Foods, CEO John Mackey (how old is this kid?), was caught posting negative comments (trash talk) about a competitor on Yahoo Finance message boards in an effort to push down the stock price. So now I am suppose to take this loser seriously? Please, snore, snore.

    It’s funny we hear Republicans say that they do not want “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions but they have no problem with “private sector” “faceless bureaucrats” daily declining medical coverage and financially ruining good hard working people (honestly where can they go with a pre-condition). And who says that the “private sector” is always right, do we forget failures like Long-Term Capital, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron, Tyco, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Of course the federal government will destroy heathcare by getting involved, Oh but wait, Medicare and Medicaid and our military men and women and the Senate and Congress get the best heathcare in the world, and oh, that’s right, its run by our federal government. I can understand why some may think that the federal government will fail, if you look at the past eight years as a current history, with failures like the financial meltdown and Katrina but the facts is they can and if we support them they will succeed.

    How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings, endears them to anyone. Especially when the organizations that are telling them where to go and what to do and say are Republicans political operatives, not real grassroots. How does shouting someone down or chasing them out like a “lynch mob” advanced the debate, it does not. So I think the American people will see through all of this and know, like the teabagger, the birthers, these lynch mobs types AKA “screamers” are just the same, people who have to resort to these tactics because they have no leadership to articulate what they real want. It’s easy to pickup a bus load of people who hate, and that’s all I been seeing, they hate and can’t debate. Too bad.

  2. I guess by this logic, it’s ok for me to “pray” for a healing, but it’s wrong to expect the government to get involved in promoting my good health.

  3. dospesentas says:

    Isn’t it interesting how those who echew the ‘religous right’ and religon now take up the mantle of rightousness?

    How about some facts and specifics related to the proposed reforms and less ‘fluff’?

    When people try too hard to convince me (particularly without any related facts) I get real suspicious.

    Oh, and HOW DARE MACKEY EXPRESS HIS OPINION! Does he think this is a country with free speech? He needs to be taught a lesson.

  4. Pollyanna says:

    Uh, dospesentas, Rev. Rigby is an ORDAINED and EMPLOYED MINISTER — do you really think he “eschews” religion?? Which, btw, is NOT synonymous with the “religious right”!

    There are a great many religious people who adhere to a great many different faiths. Those who would limit G-d to their own experience and preferences are, imo, really missing the point!

  5. dospesentas says:

    The reference was to the ‘convienient’ use of religon when it suits the ’cause’ – particularly by those who often ridicule religous beliefs (or those who hold them). Of course Rigby has religous cred. He doesn’t however have any greater public policy cred. than you or I.

    More to my point: What specifics about the government health care reform proposal did YOU glean from the article (and the vast majority of the discussions on the subject here and on many other blogs? I’ll have to say I know more about tea baggers, birthers, evil black hearted Republicans, insurance company conspiracies, phoney ‘astroturf’ demonstrators, Hitler, Nazi’s, naughty food store owners and racism than the actual issue at hand, which is: Some sort of legislation promising to spend lots of money, expand a ‘dependent’ society, and ‘reform’ something related to healthcare.

  6. Pollyanna says:

    dospesentas — as you no doubt know, there are several differing bills in the House and Senate, and now the White House is (finally!) saying they will draft their own health care reform bill. The current fierce debate seems to be over what will wind up in those bills through the process of legislative amendment and compromise.

    Rigby’s adddress on the topic took on “ethical dimiensions of the issue” (that is, of health care), not the specifics of legislation.

    Addressing the ethics of social participation in health care and its limits has been made necessary by the frenzied attacks on “guv’mint” mounted by those who would, if given their real druthers, dismantle Social Security, Medicare, the VA, and all other remaining vestiges of the “communistic” New Deal.

    It matters not what the specifics might be if they cut into insurance or pharmaceutical company profits, and it matters not what lies and misrepresentations must be spread in order to preserve THEIR “American way of life”!

  7. dospesentas says:

    There are several bills but the meat and potatoes exist in HR 3200.

    ‘Ethical dimensions’ and ethics are the domain of the individual. One persons ethics may be far different than anothers (not saying either is right or wrong). What right do you, I or Rigby to pass judgment on what is acceptable ethics for another? Rigby’s free to pontificate on HIS ethics. He is not free to pass judgment on yours or mine. When many of these issues are relegated into religious terms they are often misquoted or twisted. Typically, Jesus’s teaching gets into the mix, ignoring the fact Jesus never advocated for the government or government programs (quite the contrary – tax collectors were considered sinners), his message was to the INDIVIDUAL and their personal conduct and personal beliefs.

    Here’s an ‘ethical’ delemma for you: How do you justify taking from some by force to give to others? While the Reverend is telling us, with his religious authority, what is ‘ethical’, he fails to include that Jesus (and most religions) don’t advocate a system like our government. A system that forcibly takes the product of your work and imprisons if you fail to comply. Frankly the practice limits our freedom and makes us slaves to the government.

    This (last time I checked) is a free CAPITALIST country. If a company makes profits it’s their right, if they are using lies and misrepresentations in that effort that violate the law, they should be penalized.

  8. dospesentas says:

    Oh, I forgot – Pollyana, you never answered my central question/point:
    “What specifics about the government health care reform proposal did YOU glean from the article”.

  9. Pollyanna says:

    Actually, my central point was that Rigby’s article doesn’t address or attempt to address specifics about “the government health care reform proposal”; furthermore, there is no such animal.

  10. Anonymous says:

    1. Capitalism is neither Constitutionally proscribed nor protected.
    2. The Constitution DOES allow for taking from some and giving to others (that could change under the reactionary Scalia influence) and Christ, as you may recall, instructed to render unto Ceasar, etc.
    3. Your comments reflect the sad state of the current marriage of the “religious” right wing to the corporate corrupters of our system, as well as the failure of real Christians to speak out about the kidnapping of their cause, and the abysmal failure of our educational system to instruct citizens on our government’s history and structure.

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