Clerics getting “into the weeds” on health care reform

Lisa Miller of Newsweek on the role moderate and progressive religious leaders are playing in the health care debate:

…[T]wo aspects of this new faith-and-politics marriage are worrisome. The first is that proximity to power can be corrupting. This is the theme of Blinded by Might, the 1999 book Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson wrote about their years with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. More recently the George W. Bush administration was frequently accused of shrouding political fights in religious rhetoric—and of manipulating its conservative Christian base to further its own political ends. There is no reason why the left should be immune to this same temptation. “The word for that is ‘idolatry,’ ” says former Missouri senator Jack Danforth, whose 2006 book Faith and Politics: How the ‘Moral Values’ Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together is a polite excoriation of the culture wars. “It’s when you make God in your image rather than the other way around. It’s the thing we all have to guard against.”

The second is whether health-care reform is the really the perfect vehicle for a full-scale social-justice campaign—since “right” answers are so obscure. “Particularly on the issue of health care, and legislation of health care, and how it’s paid for, and what the consequences are, and future generations—it’s just so complex,” says Danforth. “Some issues are clearer than others. If you’re speaking out against genocide, that’s a much clearer case. As I see it, there’s only one possible position for people of faith to take. When it comes to economic policy and health-care policy, where there are numerous people with numerous ideas, it’s very hard to say, ‘This is the religious position.’ ” In light of these complexities, Danforth urges clerics to speak out for what they believe in but to do so with an appropriate measure of humility and not to claim to be speaking for God.

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