Recently on ABC’s The View, Star Parker and Michael Moore had an instructive exchange. To justify state-regulated universal healthcare, Moore sought to marshal support from Jesus: Jesus claimed that if you care for the poorest among us, you do this to Him. According to Moore, this proves that Jesus would be for universal healthcare. Star Parker’s response was stunningly accurate: Jesus never intended such action to be forced on people by the state. Such acts were to be voluntary and from a freely given heart of compassion.
Parker, not Moore, was right. Two central features of Jesus’ ethical views imply that Jesus urged compassionate care for the poor but not by the state. In short, he would never have supported universal healthcare.
(1) Jesus and his apostles taught that the state and church have separate spheres of authority, each with its own job to do. The state exists to guard negative rights, not provide positive ones. A negative right is a right to be protected from discrimination in trying to secure some good. It places a duty on others and the state to make sure one is not being unjustly hindered. A positive right is a right to be provided with some good. It places a duty on others and the state to give something to someone. A careful study of Jesus and New Testament teaching proves beyond reasonable doubt that he took the state to be the guardian of negative rights, not the provider of positive ones.
(2) Jesus was angered at moral teaching that emphasized outward conformity to rules without moral action flowing from a heart of compassion and virtue, even if such conformity produced good results. Now the state cannot show compassion in the arena of economic justice, because a necessary condition for compassion is that it is freely given and not coerced. The state forces people to conform to rules. It takes their money and gives it to others. But this is not the sort of compassion of which Jesus taught. Star Parker was right: To count as pleasing to God, an act of caring from the poor must be voluntary not coerced. The church can show compassion regarding the needy, but not the state. Moore’s Jesus looks more like Ted Kennedy than the Jesus who actually lived.