As I often do, I recently received a request from a journalist to comment on current affairs as a theological expert. This journalist asked me to comment from a Christian perspective on President Trump’s legal effort urging the Supreme Court of the United States to declare the Affordable Care Act (“Obama Care”) unconstitutional. She is writing an article about what Christians think about this hot button issue. Here is what I said:
“Dear Kelly [Not her real name],
Your project is interesting from a political/journalism perspective. As a theologian and an expert in Christian theology and history, I rarely find that people understand the course of Christian history or the present shape of Christian faith and practice. In some ways, it is so much more complicated and in others so much simpler than the average journalist thinks. I think I can help you best by clarifying things for you.
Your question needs clarification in several ways. Your investigation seeks to discover “a Christian perspective on this action” (Trump supporting the Supreme Court overturning the ACA). First, there can be a huge difference between the political opinions of self-identified Christians and a viewpoint justified by thoughtful reflection on the original and normative sources that define what Christian faith is and what it demands of those who would be Christian. Consider an analogy: There are differences between what the “person on the street” thinks counts as a constitutionally guaranteed right and what the United States Constitution actually says or what the Supreme Court interprets it to say.
Second: I am a Christian theologian. My job is to reflect on how the original/normative sources define Christianity. Those sources are the life, teaching, deeds, and what happened to Jesus Christ and what his first followers (aka the Apostles) taught about Jesus’s significance. In fulfilling that role, I am not in the least interested in current political issues. Some self-identified Christians and some self-identified Christian clergy and theologians, like to present themselves as experts on public policy, and, like doctors or actors or literature professors who think their expertise in one area makes them experts on complicated public policy issues, they speak confidently about things of which they have little comprehension. They smash together things that ought to be distinguished clearly before they are carefully related.
Christian faith (the original!) must be distinguished from any political program, right, left or center, ancient, modern, or future. Christian faith is about GOD as known by and through Jesus. Anyone who makes God or Christ a means to any other end, has already abandoned the right order of faith. In biblical language, this switch is called idolatry. In my role as a theologian I am equally hard on people of the right or left or center when I sense that they are attempting to use faith for political ends. Politicians can’t help themselves: that is what they do. Roosters crow and politicians lie.
There is another distinction that must be made. Christianity demands that those who want to follow the way of Jesus love God above all other things and love their neighbors as themselves. In other words, Christianity makes heavy ethical/moral demands of its adherents. But we cannot transfer Christian ethics and morality directly to the public sphere. Christianity and the Christian way must be adopted freely and knowingly. But politics is a debate about what public policies can and must be enforced through coercion for the common good. Christianity wishes to persuade, not coerce. Hence there can be no one-to-one translation of Christian morality into political policy. Let me say that again: not possible! Not possible because there is an absolute contradiction between free choice and coercion.
Let me make one more point about this distinction. Christian morality is about what we ought to do in freely embraced obedience to God; it’s about what is right. And doing right is a Christian act only if one does that action because it is right—even if one sees that it is also good and helpful and wise. Politics and public policy are so much messier! It has to be realistic about how weak, irrational, and selfish human beings are. It has to take into account all sorts of competing interests and values. Again, no easy one-to-one transfer!
Christians have different opinions about all sorts of things: tastes of all kinds, financial strategies, child rearing, health practices, and educational values. Christianity does not provide cut and dried answers to our scientific, sociological, psychological, and personal questions. Nor does Christianity give a direct answer to public policy questions like the one you pose. Christianity assumes that believers will use their God-given reason to work out as best they can answers to these questions. For sure, Christianity envisions an ideal community. But that ideal community, I want to remind you again, must be freely chosen by people who love God and their neighbors from their hearts! That is never going to happen in this world. Never!
Hence like everybody else Christians must use reason in their efforts to think out realistic public policies. Aiming for a perfect society in this world is irrational because it would require one of two things (1) transforming all human beings into good angels or (2) massive coercion. Angels we are not, and using coercion to realize the perfect society is a contradiction in terms! Hence reason demands that public policy avoid utopianism for Christian reasons (no angels and no coercion) and enlightened self-interested reasons. Christians think about this problem on the same ground as everyone else. And even if all Christians cherish the same ideals, they often come to different conclusions about how best to embody approximations of those ideals in a secular society of imperfect people.
Specifically on the Affordable Care Act: Christian morality requires love of God and love of neighbor. But no one believes we should try to coerce everyone to love God and their neighbors! Christianity envisions an ideal community–called in the New Testament “the kingdom of God”—where everyone loves God and each other. But how do you translate that ideal into a society where most people do not love God above all things or their neighbors as themselves?
Complicating matters greatly from a rational point of view in the debate over the ACA is our inability in a world where most people do not love God and their neighbors to reconcile competing political/social/moral values: specifically, freedom versus compassion. Freedom and compassion are Christian values. Christianity envisions a society where people freely love each other. Hence compassion and freedom are not ultimately irreconcilable ideals…but not in this world! For Christianity, all good acts must be done freely. How could you love or exercise compassion unfreely? But the ACA, as is all law, is enforced through government coercion. To oversimplify matters and not to accuse anyone of ill will, it’s seems that those who support the ACA tilt things toward the compassion side and those against it favor freedom.
Hence there is no clear cut Christian answer to the ACA question. The truly Christian answer would be the arrival of the kingdom of God! A rational Christian person might aim for the most realistic balance between compassion and freedom possible in a society like ours. And this formula is not simple! And Christians won’t agree on the proper balance.
Let me state my final answer to your question: There is no Christian answer to your question. Notice that I did not say there is no one Christian answer, but there is no Christian answer to this rational question as surely as there is no Christian answer to a math or chemistry problem. Given the competing values (freedom and compassion) in our society of less than perfect people, there no easy rational answer either. Don’t believe anyone who says there is.
I hope this helps.