Commentary: They Shall Beat their Swords into Healthcare

Witness For JusticeThey shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
(Isaiah 2:4, NRSV)

Last week, the United Church of Christ along with the Illinois Conference, Chicago’s Trinity UCC announced 6,000 families in Chicago will have $5.3 million dollars of medical debt forgiven. This incredible moment of biblical jubilee was made possible thanks to the generosity of several local churches as well as sources outside the denomination.

The fact that this act of mercy was necessary highlights the ever-growing need for health care justice. Today, 30 million Americans live without health insurance, and another 40 million are under-insured or have bogus health coverage. One in six Americans have health care debt, and studies show that African-American, Native American, and Alaskan Native women die at a rate three times higher than white women of pregnancy-related causes. Last week, news broke that racial bias was identified in a widely used algorithm that determines when a patient needs care.

Our health care system is fundamentally broken and needs reform. However, so long as profits are valued over people’s lives and healthcare is viewed as a commodity, the system will not change. We cannot accept that as inevitable. We must advocate for changes in federal spending that reflect our values.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times helps us to see what is possible. Lindsay Koshgarian from the National Priorities Project, along with the Poor People’s Campaign and #PeopleOverPentagon movements, identified ways to cut between $200 and $350 billion in Pentagon spending each year. Their message? Investing so much in a war economy does not, in fact, make us safer and instead constitutes an immoral choice in the face of the millions who suffer from poor healthcare, education, and a lack of basic needs.

As people of faith, we must speak out in new and creative ways. Although we cannot un-spend the $5 trillion dollars we have paid for war over the past 18 years, we can change the future by working toward a more faithful budget and electing candidates who call for such a change. As Christians, we are called not only to bring God’s mercy into this world—but also to change the system. Micah 6:8 reminds us both to love mercy and act justly. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech at Riverside Church put it this way:

“…We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Let’s get to work beating swords into healthcare.

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