Colbert I. King
Colbert I. King
Opinion Writer

Obamacare — a question of morality

There was a lot of bloviating about the Affordable Care Act on the talk shows last weekend. The Obamacare critics’ chief focus was the open-enrollment fiasco, the un-kept presidential promise and the millions of cancellation notices. Overlaying the palaver was the unrestrained glee of health-reform opponents.

The same weekend, in a section of our nation’s capital where pompous politicians and self-important opinion-makers seldom venture, the Affordable Care Act was the subject of thanks and praise at the First Baptist Church at Randolph Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW.

Colbert I. King

King writes a column -- sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics -- that runs on Saturdays.

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The talk-show criticism and the pulpit defense crystallized the Obamacare debate. Drawn into sharp relief is the struggle taking place in this country between doing what is right and good and an unashamed indulgence in the immorality of indifference.

The issue couldn’t be put more simply.

Forty-nine million Americans do not have health insurance. For many of them, the ability to deal with their illnesses and injuries depends on their ability to pay. Lacking the money, some of them just go without the care they need. Better to put food on the table for the kids than to check out that awful pain in the gut. Can’t afford to do both.

Which helps explain why the Affordable Care Act is viewed more kindly by the congregation at First Baptist Church, located a few miles from the shadow of the Capitol, than by those within the governmental structure.

First Baptist celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, having been founded in Southwest Washington by freed slaves in 1863 .

The church’s broad ministry includes parts of the city where good health care is an unaffordable luxury.

The Rev. Frank D. Tucker, who has been First Baptist’s pastor for nearly 38 years, used Sunday morning’s service to address Obamacare in terms its critics do not.

He announced that First Baptist, working with the city’s health-care exchange, DC Health Link, would host a health insurance enrollment fair on Saturday. He issued an emotional call to his congregation, young and old, to enroll in the program, resorting to language associated with the battle to win the right to vote.

Tucker noted the decades of unsuccessful efforts by several presidents to extend medical care to all Americans, including those living in dire circumstances beyond their control. Not sugar-coating the problems that President Obama has encountered in bringing about health-care reform, Tucker hammered at the obligation of the uninsured to enroll in the insurance program that Obama and other health-reform advocates have worked so hard to create. The Obama administration and its congressional supporters, Tucker observed, have been opposed every step of the way, taking a beating from people in Congress and around the country. Don’t let their sacrifices be in vain by sitting on your hands, he contended. Get enrolled, he declared.

And Tucker wasn’t even Sunday morning’s featured speaker. That honor fell to William P. DeVeaux, the presiding bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s second district, which covers the nation’s capital. DeVeaux’s presence, however, made Tucker’s appeal more compelling because DeVeaux’s message drew heavily on the scriptural command to serve others. It reinforced Tucker’s appeal to give all Americans the health security they deserve.

Tucker, DeVeaux and other members of the cloth are those whom the opponents of health-care reform are up against.

Gaining access to no-cost preventive services to stay healthy, which Obamacare provides, is not a sign of indifference. Neither is giving senior citizens discounts on their prescription drugs, or allowing young adults to get health insurance on their parents’ plan, or ending insurance company abuses. Those steps represent the caring actions of government.

In his apostolic exhortation this week, Pope Francis said he begged “the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Referring to the “excluded and marginalized,” the pontiff said that “it is vital that government leaders . . . take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”

That, too, is where the health-reform resisters come up short. Their horizons are too narrow to notice or care about people who lead lives stunted by lack of opportunity. Stunted lives leave the critics unmoved.

And that’s why, when the bloviators take to the airways, preachers like the Rev. Tucker, Bishop DeVeaux and Pope Francis take to the pulpit.

They know that indifference to the needs of others is, indeed, immoral.

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