On Sexuality, Target, the Church, and True Courage

If there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout human history, it’s that human beings have a great propensity toward fearing that which is different.

And if there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout Church history, it’s that Christians are really good at justifying and legitimizing that prejudice by claiming it is God’s will.

The fact we are so quick to ascribe to God our own discrimination and bigotry is cause enough for mourning and repentance. But watching the pain, destruction, and death it causes as it is played out in real life is a million times worse.

Laws regarding transgender people – and specifically their use of public restrooms – have been all over the headlines the past couple of weeks. And the Christian response to these laws and headlines have largely been predictable and awful.

Those who claim to follow Jesus have sadly flocked to sign petitions and join boycotts over bathroom policies — as of this writing, over a million people have pledged to not shop at Target because the store decided to be inclusive and tolerant. (Given the history of success of Christian boycotts, I guess we can expect Target to soon become the world’s #1 retailer.) Like all knee-jerk reactions, however, people decrying transgender rights – especially in the name of God – simply do not understand what they’re opposing.

The initial reaction most people have is something along these lines: guys have penises and girls have vaginas. Somebody who has a particular body part and claims to be the other gender is gross and weird; therefore, it is wrong and we should fight against “normalizing” such behavior.

It seems pretty cut and dry. I’ll readily admit: up until a few months ago, that was how I viewed the issue as well. Then, I did a crazy thing: I actually started listening to people’s stories. I heard and read their experiences. And suddenly, “transgender” was not an “issue” any longer – this became about people.

It’s so easy to be against an idea. It’s infinitely more difficult to be against a person.

The Church does a phenomenal job of holding these sorts of discussions at arms’ length, of ensuring we don’t personalize them too much. It’s a lot like how the military trains soldiers, actually: dehumanize the enemy, and you have a lot easier time taking them out. For instance, it’s so comfortable to sit back in our privilege and say gay people shouldn’t be allowed to express their love through marriage; it’s a hell of lot harder to sit across from a gay couple, listen to their story, see the love they have for one another, and tell them they don’t deserve to be able to marry one another.

The same is true with transgender rights now as well. Dudes “pretending” to be chicks (or vice versa) instead of what they “really” are is gross, and therefore is wrong. Nobody should do it. But once you shut up and start listening to people and their stories, things begin to look a lot different.

(Side note: when it comes to discussing the transgender journey, we need to drop phrases like “pretending” and what somebody “really” is out of our vocabulary. Stat.)

After hearing and being affected by people’s stories, I went and checked out the science that explains what many of them are experiencing. Guess what? There is an actual, scientific difference between sex, which is biological, and gender identity, which is how people identify themselves. Biological sex and gender identity develop separately from one another in the womb. Hormones affect the development of reproductive organs in a fetus at different times and in different ways than they affect the development of gender identity in the brain. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the two end up in the same place. Every once in awhile, they don’t – and as a result, someone’s sex doesn’t match their gender.

(Another sidenote: this is known as gender dysphoria — and not every transgender person experiences it, but it is a useful place to begin our discussion and understanding.)

If we can understand this, it might stop us from the crude, snide, and mocking comments that have infuriatingly become the norm in the discussion on the “Christian” side of things.

In fact, we could say that gender dysphoria is no different than, say, depression — there isn’t something “wrong” with someone; this is simply something that happens to people. It should not be stereotyped or crudely joked about.

Which makes it all the more maddening and shameful that Christians are doing just that. I had multiple Christian friends over the past week or so share an article from a Christian satire site which mockingly intones, “Target Announces Senior Discount For Anyone Who Self-Identifies As Age 60 Or Older.” Not only does this article betray the author’s lack of understanding, and completely misrepresent the transgender community by inferring that they simply choose which sex to be for personal gain, it invites us to have a laugh at the expense of an oppressed and hurting group of people.

The more I saw this shared on Facebook the more sad I became.

I have wrestled with this topic for a couple years now, ever since meeting and talking to two transgender women in our church (both of whom were born biologically male), and I have come to this point in my own understanding: I see nowhere in Scripture proclaiming that being transgender is a sin. And I certainly do not see anywhere in Scripture that says using a bathroom based on your gender identity is a sin. Oh, sure, there’s the verse from Deuteronomy that says women can’t wear men’s clothes — but not only are we not under the Law any longer (let’s put this verse up alongside the ones about not wearing clothes with more than one kind of fabric or the ones about having to put tassels at the corners of your clothing and see which ones we want to pick and choose), folks who quote this verse don’t ever examine the purpose for this law or the cultural considerations that went into codifying it thousands of years ago.

The best anyone has ever done explaining to me why being transgender is a sin is this: gender is fixed at birth and transgender people are choosing to not be who God made them, therefore they are sinning. Even that philosophy is rich with irony, though: transgender people would say all they are trying to do is to embrace their gender identity and to be who God made them to be.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that somewhere in some hidden book of the Bible God clearly said that accepting your gender identity was wrong and being transgender was a sin. (Again: nowhere have I found where the Bible says this.) But what if it did? Would that make the jokes and the mockery and insults – the awful, horrific insults – shared in the name of Jesus any more okay? Would that make it okay to call transgender people monsters? Sexual predators? Deviants? To tell them that God detests them?

I cannot force myself to believe that response is the way of Jesus or the dream of God for this world.

To make matters worse, we hide our bigotry and fear behind a banner of supposed child safety. Christians sadly make the claim, either implicitly or in many cases explicitly, that “transgender” = “child predator” or “rapist.” I want us to pause and really let the hurtful nature of this argument sink in for a moment.

There has been no increase in public safety issues in cities with anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. On top of that, a coalition of 250 organizations who work with sexual abuse survivors are begging people to stop using that argument. It is nothing but fear-mongering divorced from reality. Besides, we all know how much criminals care about the law. (I find it ironic that the same people who say we can’t pass gun control because criminals would get guns anyway fail to see the same argument here that criminals will enter restrooms whether it’s legal or not.)

Beyond that, it’s pretty clear opponents of anti-discrimination laws haven’t really thought this thing through anyways. For instance, I can’t understand why somebody would want to force a person like Brae Carnes, who was born biologically male but identifies as a woman, to use the men’s restroom:

10411106_10155301843295055_4780457150311000009_n

And I can’t understand why somebody would want to force Michael Hughes, who was born biologically female but identifies as a man, to use the woman’s restroom:

B_yqV2aVEAAVTjS

(Irony alert: opponents of anti-discrimination laws would undoubtedly try to stop Michael from using the women’s restroom, when it was their own bigotry that forced him into the women’s room to start with.)

Brae deserves to use the women’s room. Michael deserves to use the men’s room. And infinitely more than that, both of them deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Sadly, a lot of Christians these days appear to be incapable of such a simple, foundational thing.

What makes this all even worse is watching Christians congratulate themselves for these sorts of responses. I’ve seen so many replies that essentially pat someone on the back for their “courage” (this seems to be the word du jour) in taking an anti-transgender or anti-gay stance — and not just for taking that stance, but for belittling, attacking, and demeaning other human beings.

That’s not courage. There’s nothing courageous about hate.

Standing “against culture” by attacking and mocking a group of hurting people isn’t courageous. And before you say, “disagreeing with somebody doesn’t mean you hate them,” what we’ve witnessed from Christians the past couple weeks goes far, far beyond a simple disagreement. It goes straight to an utter lack of compassion, a lack of desire to even listen or know or understand, and a complete disregard for somebody else’s dignity and humanity.

You know what is courageous? Standing up for love. Standing up for equality. Standing beside people whose suicide rate is ten times the general population because of the shit that gets dumped on them – including and especially from “Christians” – and loving them. Helping them. Welcoming them. Accepting them.

Young people who are transgender are oftentimes bullied to the point they end up hating themselves so much they try to kill themselves. (So yeah, tell me again how teenage boys just say they’re transgender so they can get into the girls’ locker room — it sounds like a real party to be transgender.) You know what takes real courage? Coming out as transgender. That’s courage. Christians should be leading the way in protecting those on a transgender journey. Instead, we’re oftentimes the ones causing the most pain.

Look, it’s simple: one of the foundational themes of Scripture is a choice between life and death. That choice is presented a host of times throughout the pages of this story. In the Torah, God lays out the choice: “Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil… I have presented you with life and death… therefore, choose life.” Through the prophet Jeremiah hundreds of years later, God lays out the same choice: “And here is what you are to tell this people: ‘Adonai says: “Look! I am presenting you with the way of life and the way of death.'” The book of Hebrew Proverbs is full of contrasts between choosing life and choosing death. We are specifically told that our words carry the power of life and death. The story of a Tree of Life and a Tree of Death in the Garden, and the death which Adam and Eve chose, is reimagined through the lens of Jesus all throughout the New Testament. This choice of bringing life or bringing death is a central tenet of our faith narrative and who we are as a people.

How incredibly sad, then, that we have willingly and zealously chosen the way of death – bringing death both figuratively and literally, and too often physically – when it comes to gay and transgender people.

Once again, the Church has chosen bedroom (and now bathroom) issues as a hill to die on. When will we move on from our obsession with sex and truly just love people? We’ve gotten really, really good at saying, “I love you, but…” I love you, but this is a sin you have to change before I will fully love you. I love you, but you can’t have the same rights as I do. I love you, but I cannot accept who you are. I love you, but only if you conform to my preconceived notions.

I’m so ready to instead just say, “I love you.” Period. Or, perhaps, “I love you, whether…” I love you, whether you identify as a male or female. I love you, whether you choose to transition or not. I love you, whether your biological sex matches your gender identity or not. I love you, and that means I will walk with you in this struggle as far as you want me to. I love you, and I support your fight for equality and a life free of bullying and abuse and pain. I love you and accept you and there is no “but.”

And to those of us who claim Jesus, I’m begging you: choose life. Bring life. Stop talking, stop hurting people, stop mocking, and listen. Learn. And love.

Render Unto Caesar

In case you hadn’t heard the news yet, Louie Giglio will not be praying at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony this week. The firestorm over this man and something he said a couple decades ago is astounding in its ability to get people riled up.

Giglio is an evangelical pastor from Atlanta, and he is on the forefront of the fight against human trafficking and the sex slave trade. This has brought him a lot of positive attention, and for good reason — it is an excellent cause and he and his church are doing amazing things to aid in the fight against those horrific crimes. In fact, that attention is why Giglio was invited to pray at the inauguration in the first place.

However, some groups began researching Giglio and unearthed a sermon that he taught more than 15 years ago about homosexuality. It was described as “anti-gay” and so the groups began pressuring Obama to revoke Giglio’s invitation. Eventually, Giglio and Obama announced, separately, that they had mutually decided Giglio’s presence at the event would not be beneficial. Giglio’s withdrawal has now created its own firestorm. Everyone is up in arms at everyone else. The familiar battle lines are drawn: secular progressives versus religious conservatives. It’s a tired battle we’ve seen play out far too many times over the past fifty years.

It’s one that I wonder why we even fight. From either side of the issue.

Look, the groups who were pressuring Obama to give Giglio the boot were being asinine. The guy is giving a sixty second prayer of blessing, not a sermon. Giglio isn’t involved in any scandals, no extramarital affairs, no drugs, nothing. The guy’s clean. The fact that they had to go back more than 15 years to find anything on him should tell you something. The fact that an evangelical pastor gave a sermon labeling homosexuality a sin (and thus somehow qualifying as “vehemently anti-gay”) in the early or mid-90s shouldn’t surprise anybody, either. What is surprising is that something someone said nearly two decades ago is being held against them now.

I have things I said five or ten years ago that I hope aren’t held against me, let alone fifteen or twenty.

But on the other side of the coin, Christians are acting just as foolishly, if not more so. Complaints that the first amendment is being shredded abound; cries of persecution and an anti-religion agenda dot the landscape. It’s as if Christians got together and said to those in opposition to Giglio, “Oh, you want to overreact? We’ll show you overreact!” Contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment does not guarantee anyone the right to pray at an inauguration ceremony. And even if, in some strange land, this amounted to “persecution,” aren’t we supposed to turn the other cheek? To pray for those who persecute us? To show them the love of Christ?

If we truly represent Jesus, then apparently he’s a whiny little kid with a martyr complex.

There is a much larger issue, however, that this whole brouhaha has served to highlight in my mind: why Christians should be incredibly wary about casting their lots with anything or anyone political in the first place.

Instead of getting angry, I pray this is a reminder to us of why mixing the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Politics will never be able to save us. We will never be able to pass enough laws to make people holy or make them love God. We will never change people from the inside out with the machinations of Washington. So why do we try?

It’s alluring, that’s for sure. It’s nice to think that taking up political causes like pacifism or welfare programs or the rights of unborn children would actually solve the problem of death and poverty and abortion. It’s nice to think activism (or, in this day and age, slacktivism) would actually bring about the kingdom of God. But it won’t. It won’t because politics doesn’t change hearts, it only applies surface-level solutions to immensely deep problems. It won’t because politics is tainted by human corruption, greed, and power.

If politics could actually save us, Jesus would have been born in Rome and spent his 33 years involved in the Senate or as an Emperor.

Instead, he spent his 33 years largely hanging around a backwoods agrarian community. Spending time with people. Doing the slow and unalluring work of loving people.

Had Jesus been born today, there’s little doubt in my mind that he would not run for President – or if he did, he certainly couldn’t win the primary in either major party.

The prayer at the inauguration seems meant to make us as a nation feel better anyhow. It’s like keeping “In God We Trust” on our money, when so many of us don’t. It’s a way for us to to ensure we don’t incur God’s wrath, and hopefully incur his blessing — a superstitious method of religion. It reminds me of the story in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel when Israel lost a military battle. They regrouped back at camp and asked, “Why did God let us lose? I know – it’s because we didn’t have the Ark of the Covenent with us! Grab it and let’s go back out and fight!” The Ark of the Covenant was a holy artifact that represented God’s presence. The Israelites thought they were doing a good thing, inviting God to be present with them on the battlefield. Instead, God allowed them to lose the battle again — and allowed their Ark to be taken away.

Apparently, God doesn’t do superstition too well.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, the prayer at an inauguration will be offered by a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Wiccan, or by multiple people to ensure an array of religions is represented. When this happens, Christians will undoubtedly throw another temper tantrum, not understanding that they are being used by politicians. At some point after that, the prayer will probably be done away with entirely and Christians will bemoan the loss of God’s influence – not realizing the loss of one of our modern-day Arks might give us the opportunity to refocus on what really matters.

Something the Bible makes quite clear is this: nations will rise, and nations will fall. Kings and Presidents and countries and governments will come and go. Many have crumbled and many more will, and it does not matter. Some day, America will fall from “greatness” (with all the debatable baggage that term brings with it), just like all the superpowers that came before us. Why? Because politics is only a temporary “fix” to the human condition. It can only hold things together for so long.

The kingdom of God does not require a strong America to exist and thrive, so why do we? The kingdom of God does not require a token prayer at a political ceremony, so why do we? The fate of God does not rest on the direction of one nation – ours or anybody else’s. So maybe instead of pouring our passions into political bandaids and directing our misplaced anger toward politicians, maybe we ought to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and get on with the kingdom business of slow, purposeful, sacrificial love.

The Healthcare Debate

I’m usually reticent to discuss politics on this blog because of my belief in the separation of Kingdoms. However, the healthcare reform bill that passed and was signed into law today is a major cultural moment that deserves comment and has awakened political passions in many that usually could care less about politics.

The idea of healthcare reform is an admirable goal in and of itself. There are few, if any, who believe our current system is perfect, or even as good as it gets. Among those throughout the different philosophical spectra, however, that is more or less where the similarities end.

Along with 60-75% of Americans, I was, and remain strongly opposed to the healthcare reform that is now — for now — the law of the land. The reasons are legion, and I will share some with you in this blog, but the main reason is this: it does absolutely nothing to address the root of the healthcare problems that exist in our country today.

For an initial price tag of roughly one trillion dollars (which will undoubtedly balloon to immensely more than that – when was the last time any federal government program came in under budget?), half of which will be paid for by extra taxes that will be more far-reaching than most people realize or understand, we will still face exploding healthcare costs while giving up many pieces of our freedom.

Consider, for example, some of these examples from Investor’s Business Daily:

  • Are you young, healthy, and don’t want to purchase health insurance? Tough. You now have to purchase insurance or pay $750 every year for the “privilege” of not having it.
  • Are you starting a business with just 50 employees or more and, needing to minimize startup costs, decide like many small businesses to forgo health coverage? Tough. As a business owner, you will be required to offer insurance to your employees or face an annual fine of up to $3,000 per employee. (These first two examples are from Section 1501 of the bill.)
  • Perhaps you’re young and healthy, but still desire to purchase health insurance – only you’d like to go with a low-cost catastrophic coverage. Tough. Maybe you’re an employer and wish to offer some lower-cost higher deductible plans to your employees. Tough. No insurance company in the small-group market will be able to offer plans with individual deductibles higher than $2,000, or family deductibles higher than $4,000. (Section 1513)
  • If you’d like to purchase a lower-cost policy that doesn’t cover preventative care, tough. Every plan offered now must include preventative care coverage, whether the customer wants it or not – a feature which will increase the cost of the plans. (Section 2712)
  • Along those same lines, every insurance plan must now by law cover ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, behavioral health treatment, prescription drugs, rehab services and devices, chronic disease management, and pediatric services. You’re a single guy without children? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for pediatric coverage. You’re a woman who can no longer have children? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for maternity coverage. You don’t drink or smoke at all? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for drug and substance abuse treatment coverage. (Section 1302)
  • If you are a health insurer and wish to raise your rates to cover the increased cost in all of these new laws, you have to submit paperwork to the Department of Health and Human Services justifying any rate increase and then hope they approve it. If they deny you the rate increase, you’re on your own to try to deal with the shortfall. (Section 1003)
  • The federal government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on pharmaceutical companies. The total of this tax for the first year is estimated to be $2.55 billion, rising to $4.2 billion in the year 2018. The tax will be based on the percentage of pharmaceuticals your company provides to Americans — for example, if you provide 10% of the pharmaceutical products, you will be charged a tax of 10% of that $2.55 billion. (Section 9008)
  • Additionally, the federal government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on medical device makers, totaling another $2 billion. (Section 1405)
  • And finally, the government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on insurance companies, and this one weighs in at a whopping $8 billion to begin with. By 2018, this tax will raise to total $14.3 billion.

Guess who the pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and insurance companies are going to pass the cost of all those extra taxes down to? That’s right: you and me. This is a completely wrongheaded move by the government that will only exasperate the main problem (the cost of health care) instead of working to fix it.

Let me be as clear as I can here: this bill will cause the cost of health insurance and health care in America to skyrocket even more quickly than it already was.

Additionally, there are a bunch of hidden taxes tucked away in the bill that will only become known over the coming months and years because nobody is bothering to find them all. Everybody knows now that if you make more than $200,000 or your family makes more than $250,000 a year (including small business owners!), your tax rate just got ratcheted up. But you may not know, for instance, one that just got reported on today: a new federal tax on tanning salon services — to the tune of 10%. And if the federal government can tax tanning beds an extra 10%, you can bet there’s a bunch of other taxes in there.

The plan also expands Medicare and Medicaid eligibility — while at the same time cutting funding to those programs by half a trillion dollars. Because of this, and because of deeper philosophical states’ rights issues, 14 states are already suing the federal government over this new reform. Virginia led the way as the first state, and they are joined by others such as Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington, and my neighbor to the south, Colorado. As you can clearly see, this lawsuit is not a partisan issue. It is being brought be Republicans and Democrats alike, and many more states are threatening to add their names to the suit as well. More than 40 states have already passed laws or have introduced bills that would exempt their citizens from the health reform legislation, setting up a massive federal/states rights legal showdown.

According to a brand new CBS News poll released today, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker who pushed this through the House, sports an 11% job approval rating. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader who pushed it through the Senate, has an even more dismal 8% approval rating. For party leaders to have that low of approval ratings is almost unheard of. Congress as a whole has gained the approval of a whopping 11% of Americans as well.

The Republican Party has responded to the anger and passion driving Americans’ rejection of this legislation and the Democrats who got it passed by launching a new “40 seats in 40 hours” campaign – giving Americans 40 hours to donate money that will be given to House candidates for the 2010 midterm elections. The campaign was launched at a new URL, firenancypelosi.com – as in, if the Republicans pick up 40 House seats in November, Nancy Pelosi will no longer be Speaker.

Americans have responded in a near-record-breaking display: $1.25 million and counting. People who have never gotten involved in politics before are sending in stories of how the passage of this law has prompted them to action. They are sending a clear message: we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.

Even inside the disaster which is the reform bill, however, there were admirable pieces. Diamonds in the very, very rough, if you will. For instance, I don’t think anybody can argue with the part which bans insurance companies from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions. And the idea of allowing states to set up insurance exchanges for people between jobs to buy into is a good one (unfortunately, this legislation mandates them and regulates what those exchanges will look like from Washington).

A Better Way Forward
If the main problem with health care in America is its cost (and I think you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise), then what can be done to improve it? Certainly nothing in this bill. Instead, I would propose the following fixes:

  • Make insurance portable. This has to be the primary goal of any legislation that is serious about fixing our healthcare system. As long as health insurance is expected to be provided by employers, we will continue to have all sorts of issues of the sort we are experiencing today. Instead, we need to get back to people purchasing their own private insurance plans so people have constant and continual coverage regardless of their job situation. It’s what we do with car insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, life insurance, and nearly every other kind of insurance we purchase. And it’s what we need to do with health insurance.
  • To make that an affordable option, we need to remove some government regulations instead of expanding them. The name of the game is to increase the size of the risk pool as much as possible. For instance, we need to allow people to be able to purchase insurance across state lines, setting up regional risk pools rather than smaller localized pools. We need to allow insurance companies and states to partner together in creative ways, without federal regulations, to come up with innovative solutions that will benefit everyone. And we need to allow people to customize and personalize their insurance plans, not offer the one-size-fits-all plan like is present in Obamacare – when it is quite obvious that one size does not fit all.
  • Tort reform. This should be a no-brainer – a simple way to lower healthcare costs by a minimum of $50-100 billion that doesn’t cost anything.

Those three steps should be the bedrock of any healthcare reform plan. For my part, I’ll be honest with you: I rarely, if ever, endorse one political party over another. I’m a registered independent, and in the big scheme of things could honestly care less who you vote for when it comes down to it. But because of this healthcare reform law, I am now going to be hoping the Republicans win back the House in 2010 and the Senate and White House in 2012 so this absurdity of a law can be repealed and we can start over with a little common sense in the move toward healthcare reform.

The Healthcare Debate

I’m usually reticent to discuss politics on this blog because of my belief in the separation of Kingdoms. However, the healthcare reform bill that passed and was signed into law today is a major cultural moment that deserves comment and has awakened political passions in many that usually could care less about politics.

The idea of healthcare reform is an admirable goal in and of itself. There are few, if any, who believe our current system is perfect, or even as good as it gets. Among those throughout the different philosophical spectra, however, that is more or less where the similarities end.

Along with 60-75% of Americans, I was, and remain strongly opposed to the healthcare reform that is now — for now — the law of the land. The reasons are legion, and I will share some with you in this blog, but the main reason is this: it does absolutely nothing to address the root of the healthcare problems that exist in our country today.

For an initial price tag of roughly one trillion dollars (which will undoubtedly balloon to immensely more than that – when was the last time any federal government program came in under budget?), half of which will be paid for by extra taxes that will be more far-reaching than most people realize or understand, we will still face exploding healthcare costs while giving up many pieces of our freedom.

Consider, for example, some of these examples from Investor’s Business Daily:

  • Are you young, healthy, and don’t want to purchase health insurance? Tough. You now have to purchase insurance or pay $750 every year for the “privilege” of not having it.
  • Are you starting a business with just 50 employees or more and, needing to minimize startup costs, decide like many small businesses to forgo health coverage? Tough. As a business owner, you will be required to offer insurance to your employees or face an annual fine of up to $3,000 per employee. (These first two examples are from Section 1501 of the bill.)
  • Perhaps you’re young and healthy, but still desire to purchase health insurance – only you’d like to go with a low-cost catastrophic coverage. Tough. Maybe you’re an employer and wish to offer some lower-cost higher deductible plans to your employees. Tough. No insurance company in the small-group market will be able to offer plans with individual deductibles higher than $2,000, or family deductibles higher than $4,000. (Section 1513)
  • If you’d like to purchase a lower-cost policy that doesn’t cover preventative care, tough. Every plan offered now must include preventative care coverage, whether the customer wants it or not – a feature which will increase the cost of the plans. (Section 2712)
  • Along those same lines, every insurance plan must now by law cover ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, behavioral health treatment, prescription drugs, rehab services and devices, chronic disease management, and pediatric services. You’re a single guy without children? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for pediatric coverage. You’re a woman who can no longer have children? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for maternity coverage. You don’t drink or smoke at all? Tough. You will now be forced to pay for drug and substance abuse treatment coverage. (Section 1302)
  • If you are a health insurer and wish to raise your rates to cover the increased cost in all of these new laws, you have to submit paperwork to the Department of Health and Human Services justifying any rate increase and then hope they approve it. If they deny you the rate increase, you’re on your own to try to deal with the shortfall. (Section 1003)
  • The federal government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on pharmaceutical companies. The total of this tax for the first year is estimated to be $2.55 billion, rising to $4.2 billion in the year 2018. The tax will be based on the percentage of pharmaceuticals your company provides to Americans — for example, if you provide 10% of the pharmaceutical products, you will be charged a tax of 10% of that $2.55 billion. (Section 9008)
  • Additionally, the federal government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on medical device makers, totaling another $2 billion. (Section 1405)
  • And finally, the government will now enact an additional “fee” or tax on insurance companies, and this one weighs in at a whopping $8 billion to begin with. By 2018, this tax will raise to total $14.3 billion.

Guess who the pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and insurance companies are going to pass the cost of all those extra taxes down to? That’s right: you and me. This is a completely wrongheaded move by the government that will only exasperate the main problem (the cost of health care) instead of working to fix it.

Let me be as clear as I can here: this bill will cause the cost of health insurance and health care in America to skyrocket even more quickly than it already was.

Additionally, there are a bunch of hidden taxes tucked away in the bill that will only become known over the coming months and years because nobody is bothering to find them all. Everybody knows now that if you make more than $200,000 or your family makes more than $250,000 a year (including small business owners!), your tax rate just got ratcheted up. But you may not know, for instance, one that just got reported on today: a new federal tax on tanning salon services — to the tune of 10%. And if the federal government can tax tanning beds an extra 10%, you can bet there’s a bunch of other taxes in there.

The plan also expands Medicare and Medicaid eligibility — while at the same time cutting funding to those programs by half a trillion dollars. Because of this, and because of deeper philosophical states’ rights issues, 14 states are already suing the federal government over this new reform. Virginia led the way as the first state, and they are joined by others such as Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington, and my neighbor to the south, Colorado. As you can clearly see, this lawsuit is not a partisan issue. It is being brought be Republicans and Democrats alike, and many more states are threatening to add their names to the suit as well. More than 40 states have already passed laws or have introduced bills that would exempt their citizens from the health reform legislation, setting up a massive federal/states rights legal showdown.

According to a brand new CBS News poll released today, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker who pushed this through the House, sports an 11% job approval rating. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader who pushed it through the Senate, has an even more dismal 8% approval rating. For party leaders to have that low of approval ratings is almost unheard of. Congress as a whole has gained the approval of a whopping 11% of Americans as well.

The Republican Party has responded to the anger and passion driving Americans’ rejection of this legislation and the Democrats who got it passed by launching a new “40 seats in 40 hours” campaign – giving Americans 40 hours to donate money that will be given to House candidates for the 2010 midterm elections. The campaign was launched at a new URL, firenancypelosi.com – as in, if the Republicans pick up 40 House seats in November, Nancy Pelosi will no longer be Speaker.

Americans have responded in a near-record-breaking display: $1.25 million and counting. People who have never gotten involved in politics before are sending in stories of how the passage of this law has prompted them to action. They are sending a clear message: we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.

Even inside the disaster which is the reform bill, however, there were admirable pieces. Diamonds in the very, very rough, if you will. For instance, I don’t think anybody can argue with the part which bans insurance companies from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions. And the idea of allowing states to set up insurance exchanges for people between jobs to buy into is a good one (unfortunately, this legislation mandates them and regulates what those exchanges will look like from Washington).

A Better Way Forward
If the main problem with health care in America is its cost (and I think you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise), then what can be done to improve it? Certainly nothing in this bill. Instead, I would propose the following fixes:

  • Make insurance portable. This has to be the primary goal of any legislation that is serious about fixing our healthcare system. As long as health insurance is expected to be provided by employers, we will continue to have all sorts of issues of the sort we are experiencing today. Instead, we need to get back to people purchasing their own private insurance plans so people have constant and continual coverage regardless of their job situation. It’s what we do with car insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, life insurance, and nearly every other kind of insurance we purchase. And it’s what we need to do with health insurance.
  • To make that an affordable option, we need to remove some government regulations instead of expanding them. The name of the game is to increase the size of the risk pool as much as possible. For instance, we need to allow people to be able to purchase insurance across state lines, setting up regional risk pools rather than smaller localized pools. We need to allow insurance companies and states to partner together in creative ways, without federal regulations, to come up with innovative solutions that will benefit everyone. And we need to allow people to customize and personalize their insurance plans, not offer the one-size-fits-all plan like is present in Obamacare – when it is quite obvious that one size does not fit all.
  • Tort reform. This should be a no-brainer – a simple way to lower healthcare costs by a minimum of $50-100 billion that doesn’t cost anything.

Those three steps should be the bedrock of any healthcare reform plan. For my part, I’ll be honest with you: I rarely, if ever, endorse one political party over another. I’m a registered independent, and in the big scheme of things could honestly care less who you vote for when it comes down to it. But because of this healthcare reform law, I am now going to be hoping the Republicans win back the House in 2010 and the Senate and White House in 2012 so this absurdity of a law can be repealed and we can start over with a little common sense in the move toward healthcare reform.

I Know I’m Not Exactly Big on Boycotts, But…

I have a confession to make: I’ve listened to Glenn Beck’s radio program about half a dozen times in my life.

Usually, I’d end up on it because ESPN radio, my usual radio home, was talking about hockey or curling or something equally meaningless. So I’d surf the dial. And I’m wondering if anyone else out there who has had the misfortune of listening to Beck has noticed a similar 180-degree turnaround in his stance toward conspiracies.

See, the few times I caught him prior to his conspiracy conversion (Before Conspiracies, or BC), he would ridicule callers who tried to tell him they thought a government conspiracy was underway. He would tell everyone that there’s no way conspiracies could happen because they involve too many people and the government isn’t that good at keeping secrets and most of the theories out there were just nutso crazy made-up stuff anyway.

I actually kind of respected him for that stance. But then, something happened. I don’t know if it was Obama winning the election, or if it was the health care debate, or if his numbers were slipping and he needed a little extra pizazz, but suddenly Beck is all about conspiracies. He sees them everywhere – from ACORN to swine flu and everything in between.

His main conspiracy theory he seems to espouse over and over again (I say “seems” because, again, I’ve only caught his show a few times after his conversion, but it’s all I’ve heard him talk about and all other people who have listened to his show say he talks about) is this massive conspiracy to turn us all into socialists. The government is systematically dismantling our individual freedoms one by one until we’ll be a socialist country. It’s like the Tea Party on a million doses of steroids, and the Tea Party is bad enough already!

Well, the other day, Glenn Beck finally crossed the line as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t listen to his show (haven’t listened to it for a long time now), but I’ve read several articles about his latest rant. He got onto the subject of social justice, which made me interested because God is developing in me a heart for social justice – caring for the poor, the needy, the homeless, the outcasts of society. Giving money to organizations for malaria or AIDS or poverty relief. That sort of thing.

Well, apparently Glenn Beck doesn’t exactly have a heart for social justice, because he (I swear I am not making this up!) told his listeners to do a search on their church’s website and if they found the term “social justice” or “economic justice” anywhere on it to leave the church.

Just so there can be no doubt, here is the direct quote of what he said:

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.

What exactly are “social justice” and “economic justice” code words for, you might ask? Well, socialism and communism, of course.

Let me just say: if anybody ever explicitly tells you to leave your church they better have a damn good reason for you to do so. Leaving a church should be a big deal. Being part of a church involves commitment. And Beck’s “instructions” here reveal he has absolutely none.

At least two Christian groups have responded to Beck’s instructions: The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, as well as a group called Sojourners, have both directly responded to Beck and urged people to stop listening to his show. I know I’ve decried the use of boycotts on this site before, but this is one I could get on board with. Heh.

Social justice is very much a part of the heart of God. It is largely the reason God judged ancient Israel (Isaiah 1-3), at least partially if not largely the reason he judged Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16), and it was a main crux of the entire Mosaic Law. That evangelical churches have ignored the issue (or even attacked it) for so many years is to their detriment, not to be applauded and encouraged.

The new emerging center is finding it can embrace both social justice and share the gospel message — indeed, perhaps the most beautiful part of the emergent church movement is the realization that social justice is a large part of the gospel message.

Luckily, this trend toward embracing the cause of social justice seems to be spilling over into other expressions of Christian faith as well. Something the Christianity Today article linked above contained that I did not know about is that the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group, has just released a six-part small group video study entitled “Seek Social Justice.” The videos feature evangelical leaders like Chuck Colson, Al Mohler (from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Sean Litton (of International Justice Mission). We may just get this right after all. Well, not “right”, per se, but become a closer reflection of God’s heart. As long as we ignore folks like Glenn Beck.

War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.

War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.

The Separation of Kingdoms

I’ve long believed that the Kingdom of God and its purposes ought to remain separate and distinct from the earthly kingdom of politics, and I’ve explained why in two of my first blogs here at TWN: “Jesus and Me and Politics” and the followup “Why Jesus + Politics = Disaster.” As I wrote back then:

“I’m politically conservative. And I’m a Jesus follower. But – and this is the important part – I am not one because of the other… The church ought to be about the business of the Kingdom and let the government be about the business of the state.”

However, these two areas of my life remain two of my biggest passions (with the Kingdom of God being the biggest, obviously). So that’s what I write about here, and it’s always felt kind of awkward.

To remedy this, I am introducing a new blog I’m starting called “North By Northeast” where all my political posts will go. If you are interested in following politics, I encourage you to go check it out at northbyne.blogspot.com. The name represents what I believe our country needs – politically – to get out of the current mess we’re in: to move forward while shifting right-of-center. I have moved most of the political posts off of The Welcome Matt, with the exception of those that have to do with faith as well, and will reserve this blog for my thoughts on Scripture, faith, the emergent church, reaching culture, church planting, and other random life stuff. To kick off the transition, there’s a new post over on NxNE talking about Obama’s slipping poll numbers.

Thanks for being on this journey with me! I look forward to continuing to process stuff with you both here at The Welcome Matt and at North By Northeast.