Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on America's Moral Underpinnings and Health Care Reform by Owen Norment

I’m a member and currently co-chair, along with a retired pediatrician, of a Charlottesville-area group called Clergy and Laity United for Justice and Peace. We try to do some things—sponsor occasional events, write some letters, make some public statements in support of public policy initiatives that we take to be vital to the common good. Recently we’ve been much engaged with the issue of health care reform.
Good health is a basic necessity that ought to be sustained by enlightened public policy. Yet availability of adequate health care is badly in disarray in the United States, with millions of our citizens having only minimal access to needed medical treatment. Complex though the details of reform may be—and they are complex, and acknowledging that there are many practical and political hurdles to overcome, it is essential that we consider such reform in the broader context of the foundational values of our society

Just and equal access to health care is an essential human right. We have therefore a moral obligation to correct injustices in our current system. The core values of our society, values that define who we are, underwrite this obligation. Values inherent in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures stand at the headwaters of the American moral tradition. These ancient texts envision values rooted in a good order of creation and in the social bonding of an inclusive community, wherein love for neighbor is a corollary of love for God, and wherein therefore we are mutually obligated to extend human care to the dispossessed and marginalized neighbors among us. Such humane values are broadly shared among other spiritual and moral traditions as well.

Biblical faith is not merely individualistic and otherworldly, but has implications for real-world social justice, here and now, as well. The Hebrew prophets cry out urgently and repeatedly for this. Likewise Jesus speaks often of God’s reigning compassion not just beyond us but already among us.

This basic moral mandate of love for neighbor must be made effective through practical structures of justice. We must not be distracted from the urgency of this deep-rooted mandate by misunderstandings of what is really at stake or by the hard work of ironing out legislative complexity. Therefore I and others in the group I represent endorse the efforts of President Obama and the Congress to enact comprehensive health care reform legislation, including a viable public option.

        --Owen Norment is a retired Presbyterian minister and Professor Emeritus of Religion at Hampden-Sydney College. He now lives in Charlottesville.

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