Engage Your Government
A collaborative article by CMDA members
Today's Christian Doctor - Winter 2016
By the time you read these words, America will have finally chosen a new president after seemingly endless years of primary races, campaigning, debates and grudge matches pitting candidate against candidate. Chances are, whether you voted for the eventual winner or not, you shoulder at least some measure of concern for the future of our country. (And, if you’re being honest, you’re probably wishing you could wash your hands of the entire thing.)
Nevertheless, as Christians in healthcare, our concern should be even greater as we face the uncertainty of the state of affairs in healthcare. New legislation crops up on an almost daily basis that puts you and your practice at risk, and there’s no question the last two years have been the most challenging years we have ever seen on the public policy front. More is expected on the horizon, and it very well may determine the future of Christians in healthcare.
It’s concerning, to say the least. But the Scriptures extol, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV 2011). God’s Word also reminds us we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for Christ and reach our neighbors with our Savior’s love.
That’s why we continue to seek His peace and will for the future as we compassionately engage our government to transform our culture and our world for Christ. From right of conscience to pro-life issues and physician-assisted suicide, CMDA is at the forefront of today’s discussion. We remain on the front lines of this cultural struggle with our government, and we stand ready to serve as your “voice” on crucial issues affecting all of us.
But we can’t, and certainly don’t, do it alone. We rely on the ongoing support and engagement of CMDA members who decided they could no longer sit on the sidelines. Healthcare professionals who felt God’s call to be voices of righteousness in our courtrooms and legal system. Healthcare professionals who are standing up for what is right and just. The following stories are from CMDA members just like you who are responding to God’s command and engaging our government.
Engaging with Leaders
by Drs. David and Janet Kim
In his open letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon, Jeremiah advises the people to “…seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7, NKJV). One must wonder if young men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego heard this letter, because in their lives they certainly lived this command out. The English word “peace” in this verse translates in the Jewish to “shalom,” and I think Jeremiah gives us present-day “captives” of our culture a succinct but powerful instruction on how to engage our culture and our government. Or, to borrow the imagery, it’s a way to prove that the “fruit and vegetables” we as Christians are eating are better than the “rich food” being offered by our culture.
But how do we do that in healthcare? We are the founders of Beacon Christian Community Health Center, a federally supported and faith-based community health center serving the uninsured and underserved in Staten Island, New York. As physicians, we spend our days caring for and loving our patients with a wholeperson, relationship-based, Christ-focused model of care. Our relationship with God translates into how we care for our patients, and it translates in such a way that people can’t help but stop and take notice. As our efforts are making a difference in our community, this approach to healthcare has garnered a bit of local attention. In the same way Daniel showed his results through his experiment with the Babylonian court official in Daniel 1, we have begun justifying our own “fruit and vegetables” experiment of comprehensively addressing our patients’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
And now God is allowing us to use that practical impact of our whole-person approach to address important issues facing healthcare. We both serve as state directors with the American Academy of Medical Ethics (a DBA of CMDA) and are actively involved in the fight against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in New York. Doing the missional work we do in our community has given us “the right to speak” in certain arenas, and we have found open doors to engage with local leaders, legislators and even federal policymakers about these issues. We have had opportunities to sit on our state primary care association’s Board of Directors; lovingly address emotionally affected supporters of physician-assisted suicide, abortion and transgender policy in Albany and beyond; and even engage with other national leaders in Washington, D.C. on the clear qualitative and quantitative advantages of a future national faith-sensitive approach to healthcare. We are “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NKJV) as best as we are able to, because in the bigger picture, we know how desperately we all need to be led to the ultimate healing that only comes through the blood of Jesus Christ.
But engagement isn’t just about lobbying politicians and writing pieces about bad legislation, although these things are important. Engagement ultimately means we are in real relationships with these leaders, genuinely seeking their shalom and the shalom of the communities we all live and work in, and then showing them we genuinely care about them specifically as well as the people in our communities.
We never asked to engage with culture and government; to be honest, we didn’t think about it when we started Beacon and it’s the last thing we would ever want to willingly do. It’s hard to put oneself out there, and the pressure and criticism have been withering at times. But God literally dropped these opportunities into our lap because, in our obedience to His calling, someone heard about what we do and wants to learn more about why we do it. It has made us awestruck and extremely humbled, thinking we are seeing our poor attempts to live out Matthew 5:16 played out as Scripture predicts: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (NKJV).
If Daniel and his three friends were able to live out Jeremiah 29:7 in their context and become influencers within the kingdom that had enslaved them, we can do no less in the culture and government that “enslaves” us by truly loving our enemies and letting our light shine to bring shalom in the areas of darkness in our country—be they in our government offices, our hospital floors, our doctors’ exam rooms or our health professional schools.
Being Salt and Light to Engage
by Thomas Walton Eppes, Jr., MD
"All politics is local."
This famous quote from Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, very concisely tells us where to start as we attempt to add salt and light at the dinner table of our government and culture.
Whether we like it or not, we as Christian healthcare professionals are at the head of the table as leaders in our local communities, churches, schools, children’s programs and more. No one is more qualified in healthcare than healthcare professionals, period. We educate patients in the exam room on a daily basis. We are needed to educate school boards for nutrition and fitness education. We are needed to educate church parishioners about health and ethical issues such as end of life, terminal care, abortion, etc. Our local government needs us for public health. You name it, our influence and guidance is needed.
And our legislators need us. The vast majority of legislators know little to nothing of the myriad healthcare issues they confront each session. Each of us should communicate with them, shine a light on the issues and offer to help in any way we can. Support them financially to be elected if you find them close to your beliefs. (Remember, the only person who totally agrees with you is you.) Finally, nothing impresses a lawmaker more than a visit to the Capitol, whether it is your state building or the federal buildings in Washington, D.C. My experience is these lawmakers work extremely hard, and they are motivated for your success in the laws they write. No law will ever be perfect, and lawmaking is like making sausage. It’s not a pretty site. That is why they need your “salt” and light of input, wisdom and knowledge.
Why should Christian healthcare professionals get tainted in such a messy process? We cannot be salt and light, as we are called to be in Matthew 5:13-16, unless we are determined to be engaged and get involved. Things will never change if we are not involved. Your state and local societies are great starting points, so go to a state or national meeting or attend a reference committee and listen to what is discussed. The potential impact on your practice both immediately and over a lifetime will be quickly evident.
Standing at the podium is not for everyone. If that’s not your calling, then you can certainly write, email, meet and contribute to the debates. Support your colleagues who give their time to engage with the government, cover for them and value what they do.
Throughout your career, it is stunning what legislation can do to make your professional life either miserable or fulfilling. And there’s no doubt the fight will hit you and your practice at some point. So actively start being prepared and participate in the battle now, because you can be part of the process in countless ways. God has given us the tools we need to shine a light on the issues, and we can be the salt to make it not just palatable but tasty. But you have to get involved first. It’s up to you!
Christian healthcare professionals, including you, are now operating in a world that doesn’t value our strongly held religious beliefs. And it’s a world that is more determined than ever to put us out of healthcare completely. Are you ready to take action and engage our government? CMDA has a variety of resources available including media training each year to prepare you to speak to the media, well researched ethics statements, books to learn how to respond with compassion and more. To get involved, visit www.cmda.org/issues.