Today 800, 000 government employees got an unpaid vacation and countless more get the unpaid part while still reporting for work. All under the auspice of fairness.
At 12:01AM on October 1, 2013, the United States government shut down largely because of an inability of House Republicans and Senate Democrats to reach an agreement about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yes, the healthcare act that was voted on, signed into law by the president, and upheld by the United States Supreme Court is still a point of contention for some in Congress. So much so that they are willing to shut down the government in order to make a point. This government shut-down will result in 800, 000 federal employees being furloughed, with tens of thousands more, including air traffic controllers, prison guards, and border patrol officers being forced to work without pay. Because of fairness.
The cost of this to the American economy is nearly $1 billion a week. In an already struggling economy, this is a painful blow. Because of fairness.
Each time that the House has sent a budget to the Senate for approval, it has included amendments addressing the Affordable Care Act, which means that each budget has been rejected by the Senate. Because of fairness.
In a speech on the House floor on Monday, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “This is not about me. It’s not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness.” He also stated, “The House has voted to keep the government open, but we also want basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare.”
I do not doubt the sincerity of Rep. Boehner’s words, but fairness is a difficult concept to suss out in situations like this.
In one of my all-time favorite movies, in response to his grandson’s complaints that the book wasn’t being fair, the late Peter Falk delivered the line, “Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”
Most of us have probably at one time or another in our lives have either been told or have said some variation on that theme. Life isn’t fair.
And this is where much of the conversation happening in Washington, D.C. breaks down for me. With the idea that somehow there can be a fair resolution to all of this.
For Beoehner and a number of other Americans, it is unfair to mandate that all citizens carry health insurance. Because they see the role of government as limited, the idea that the government can force Americans to pay for something that they may not want flies in the face of how they believe the system should work. Fairness for this group includes allowing people to make their own decisions about how to fund their healthcare decisions.
For President Obama and many more, the issue of fairness lies in the availability of healthcare for a larger number of American citizens. Currently about 60 million people in our country are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should allow about a third of these people to receive health care benefits without being turned away. For those who support Obamacare, fairness dictates that more people be able to receive medical treatment regardless of their medical history or income level.
Because opinions are rarely all right or all wrong, there are elements of truth to both sides. Forcing Americans to pay for something that they don’t want seems fundamentally unfair in a free nation. Of course, denying medical care because someone has a pre-existing condition also seems unfair in a compassionate nation.
If we continue looking for a fair resolution to this divide, I fear we may never find it. Fairness is subjective and if we are unable to look beyond our own expectations of what is fair as we see it, we will inevitably continue in this deadlock.
But as people of faith, I believe we have a responsibility toward more than fairness. We are not bound by that which we see as fair or unfair, but rather by humility and deference. The Scripture gives no thought to fairness, but instead to caring for those who are in a lesser position. Romans 13 addresses how we are to interact with the government. Paul writes that we are to obey the authorities. But he goes beyond simply telling us to honor those in authority over us. In verse 10 of chapter 13, Paul writes, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
As Christians, our guide is not that which is fair. Certainly we can have discussions about these things, but when we are choosing our actions, let us not say, “Is this fair?” but rather, “Is this loving?”
Choosing to be loving may not stop the shut down of our government, but when we choose love over fairness, we allow our compassion our neighbors and for those who have less than us to remain wide open.