The Affordable Care Act -- more popularly known as Obamacare -- and Jesus may seem like they have a few things in common.
The legislation aims to widen health coverage to all Americans, particularly perhaps "the least of these." It prohibits insurance companies from canceling coverage if people get sick. It guarantees coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. And it extends parental coverage to a commonly uninsured group: young people under the age of 26.
All things that perhaps seem compatible with a Savior who kept company with society's marginalized and literally healed the sick. This is the same guy, after all, who famously told people when they did good to the least of these, it was if they had done that good to Jesus himself.
But despite any surface similarities, Christians have locked into sometimes inflammatory disagreement over how Jesus would weigh in. It is not uncommon even to see people on BOTH conservative and liberal poles asserting that THEIR position is THE Christian position.
Some Christians think it's obvious Jesus would be against Obamacare.
There are several points of resistance. For starters, some fear Obamacare will be used to fund abortion procedures or birth control. While churches are exempt from the mandate, the law is supposed to accommodate religious nonprofits who don't want to pay for managing abortion or birth control drugs and procedures. But some suggest this accommodation is just a technicality on the books that will still result in funding these procedures.
Last year, this fear led megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren to tweet that he'd rather go to jail than give in to Obamacare.
Beyond right to life concerns, Cal Thomas -- a conservative American syndicated columnist -- fears Obamacare will diminish the quality of care some terminal patients receive. It may lead to the government deciding who lives and who dies, he warns.
Finance expert and notable Christian Dave Ramsey says while he understands the nobility and the moral imperative behind the idea of the bill, the math just doesn't add up.
And Carl Raschke, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, cuts right to spiritual rationale. He says Jesus was against purely political or economic solutions. "Writing checks won't solve social problems," He told CNN's religion blog, "One has to get involved. If we see someone in need, we just don't throw a dollar at him or her. You get to know them, you offer yourself and ask what you can do for them."
In the same CNN post, Tom Prichard, Lutheran president of the Minnesota Family Council, is referenced agreeing. According to Pritchard, it comes down to who you trust -- the government or God and his people.
Still, some Christians think it's obvious Jesus would be FOR Obamacare.
Christian blogger Christian Piatt won't benefit from the Affordable Care Act, but despite its flaws, he still supports it:
"As a Christian, I think it's a matter of justice. To suggest that my personal right to have more choices supersedes the right of every person to have access to even basic health care is an un-Christ-like attitude. And although there certainly are other means of achieving this (single payer being one), no one else has dared to push a serious agenda of reform until now. So until you present me with a legitimate alternative that yields the results my faith demands, I'll stick with ACA."
Fellow Christian and blogger David J. Dunn goes one step further:
"Do you see the political hypocrisy? The Christian Right votes for candidates who are anti-abortion and anti-gay (at least on paper) because it believes we must pass laws to protect marriage and protect life (at least embryonic life), but it is unwilling to apply the same principle to 'Obamacare.' Infants in the womb have a right to life, but apparently adults do not have a right to life-saving medical care."
Religious scholar Steven Kraftchick envokes Jesus in his agreement. He believes Jesus followed in the steps of the Jewish prophets who preached that the health of a society could be measured by how well they cared for their orphans and widows."A move toward universal health care would be fitting with the prophetic traditions," Kraftchick told CNN's religion blog. "When you read the New Testament and look at the signs of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, it's always connected to being physically healed."
Finally, Governor of Ohio John Kasich references popular folklore about St.Peter greeting people in the afterlife to drive the same point home: "When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."
So what would Jesus do then?
Many on both sides seem to agree that Jesus would help the vulnerable; they just disagree on the best route for getting to that end. Should the government bear the poor's burden or should the church? So we return to the question of alignment: If Jesus wandered today's world, how might he have advised us to respond to the Affordable Care Act?
I wonder whether Jesus is well served when projected onto either political agenda. Whether it does him justice to push him out onto the poles and pretend he could only find ideas worthy of endorsement in one side which he would dub wholly good while dismissing the other as wholly evil.
I wonder if when we attach Jesus to campaigns and angrily demean our opponents, we risk painting to observers a Savior who cares for the unborn, but dismisses the poor in need of life-saving health care. Or who cares for the poor, but doesn't care about the unborn.
And I hope not because I tend to think Jesus was more nuanced than that. That he would search the human heart more carefully than we do. That instead of broad-brushing those around either pole, making snap black and white judgments about the "total validity" or "total invalidity" of either, that he would find in both sides of this argument the same thing he would find in the Christians who champion them. Some things that are noble and compassionate and some things that are cloudy or self-serving.
The strength and weaknesses of imperfect human beings reflected in their approaches to policy.
Whatever position followers of God shore up around, then, I'd just like to suggest we might be wise to remember Jesus' deepest concern seemed to be for the condition of leaders' hearts as they pursued the law. To suggest we try to hold our opinions in one raised, vigilante hand perhaps, but to hold his example of humility and his words about loving our enemies, praying for persecutors, and blessing peacemakers in the other.
To remember, maybe most importantly, that even when nailed to a cross, Jesus never lowered himself to arrogance.
And to gently insist that if we defeat policies that favor the vulnerable on either side, we must not go back to our pews in passive or arrogant celebration. But that we must go back bearing an ongoing commitment to address the voids that inspired them. That we must take seriously our call to find alternative solutions that ensure the needs of the poor and vulnerable are met.
It is bad form to fight policy in the name of life and then follow it with apathy that allows great need to go unconfronted, just as it is bad form to project our beliefs violently onto the world in the name of ideology.
We must never pretend we can preserve the cause of good by acting lazily or badly. Good requires investment not just for today, but for the long haul. And belief in good rarely translates if it is not couched in good manners and behavior as well.