Friday, October 11, 2013

Special to Cottonmouth: Faith and the Role of Government

In recent public statements, both Gov. Phil Bryant and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn have raised the issue of religion and how it affects their work in the public offices they hold.  Gov. Bryant told a group of school kids that Christianity “shapes his world view.” He went on to say that his Christian faith leads him to oppose abortion and support the display of nativity scenes on government property.  He has also opposed any and all efforts to create health care exchanges and has opposed Medicaid health insurance expansion.

Speaker Gunn said he opposes expansion of Medicaid health insurance coverage for the poor because, he argues, that his reading of the Bible indicates that “It is not the government’s job to take care of its citizens” and that “people should not look to the government for their provision, their dependence or their joy.”

I read these opinions and thought how different they are from how Christianity and the Bible inform my own world view. For the religious community, caring for the poor and the sick is a timeless obligation. And while clearly the church and the non-profit community have a role to play in fulfilling that obligation, I believe that the government, as a human institution created under the authority of God, also has a role to play. When we consider the expansion of Medicaid in Mississippi, for example, we are looking at an opportunity to fulfill Christ’s declaration that “these signs shall follow them that believe . . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark, 16:17-18)  Certainly we cannot be like Jesus “healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people,” (Mathew, 4:23), but we can facilitate healing by offering health care to the hundreds of thousands of poor Mississippians who are currently uninsured through the expansion of the Medicaid program and a state-based health insurance exchange.

If, in fact, the government has no role to play in caring for its citizens, we would not sanction federal aid for hurricane victims. The federally subsidized flood insurance program would be totally privatized.  We would abandon the federal school lunch program. There would be no need for the Mississippi departments of health or mental health. We would shut down Meals on Wheels and the federal unemployment insurance program. Medicare and Medicaid would be eliminated. All federal assistance for the creation of small businesses would be repealed. Obviously the people of this state and this country, through their elected representatives, have decided that these government programs serve important social welfare needs.

Certainly the Speaker and the Governor should look to their faith to help guide the important decisions they make. However, neither they nor any other humans are infallible. There are many people of great faith who believe that Christ clearly calls on us to serve people in need, and this government “of the people, by the people, for the people” gives us one more way to do so.

For many Christians, caring for the poor, the sick the needy is a duty that comes from God. For that reason, God’s people should not stand aside when we have the opportunity to extend health insurance to thousands of low-income working Mississippians through the Medicaid program and a state-based health insurance exchange.

Cecil Brown
Mississippi House of Representatives
Jackson, MS

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