In my faith tradition, we have a story about Jesus’ baptism. At this point in his life, Jesus has not started his ministry – no sick people have been healed, no one has walked on water, five thousand people have yet to be fed with loaves and fishes. Before any of his work challenging the brutal economic and military oppression of his people by the Roman Empire, Jesus goes to his cousin, John, and is baptized in the Jordan River. The heavens open up and the voice of God says: “This is my child, with whom I am well pleased.”
As a child, I thought that the voice of God was warning everybody: “Yo – this is my kid, don’t mess with him. This kid is gonna do some impressive stuff. Watch out.” Now my understanding of God is different, my understanding of oppression is different, and my own hope in the redemptive message of this story is greater. Today, my faith guides me to hear God calling each human a beautiful, valuable creation. Before a career is chosen, an income earned, an insurance status achieved, each person has worth.
I used to imagine a voice thundering: “This is my child.” Now I hear a voice cracking with pride and love: “This is my child.”
Many Christian communities retell this story and recreate this ritual with their members. My church practices infant baptism and when we baptize a baby, we remind ourselves that each child is beloved, not only by us, but by something greater than us, and that we are responsible for caring for each other.
I am not asking you to share my faith, but I invite you to share this vision of life, which holds that all people are equal, that each person is valuable, and that society is responsible for all. And I encourage you to consider what moral values or political ideals may come from that vision of life.
I have been thinking about what it means that King v. Burwell (the latest Supreme Court case upholding the ACA) and Obergefell v. Hodge (the Supreme Court enabling marriage equality) were released in the same week. I can’t help but think that each of these rulings would be unnecessary if our country truly considered each of its citizens and residents valuable, deserving of respect, dignity, and fullness of life.
The ability to marry whom you choose is a right for everyone, but I question the way that wealth, health care access, and societal validity is extended to married people, and whether the ability to care for our loved ones, utilize government services, acquire and share financial resources, and receive respect ought to lie with a marriage license issued by the state.
Similarly, the court held up the Affordable Care Act, which adds ounces of gasoline to the tank of a health care system that is sputtering. Why should I be thankful for a few more miles on an outdated, gas-guzzling jalopy when we know there is a model that allows us to care for each other efficiently? Each person deserves quality health care and right now, our system leaves out too many. We are not caring for each other when so many of us are still uninsured or underinsured, despite the measures of the ACA.
For anyone concerned about mixing religion with medicine, do not worry. I am not taking up Jesus’ prescription for blindness, which involved a paste of spit and dirt and a nice bath. The stories in my faith tradition inspire and require me to find connections with this world and the people in it, to work towards justice, and to act mercifully. I find myself in a time, place, and career where justice and mercy have been forgotten in lieu of profits and power.
“This is my child,” the voice is still saying. Let us remember the innate worth of each person and better care for one another. A good start is Medicare for All: health care for everyone regardless of income, employment, or marriage status.
Emily Kirchner is a medical student at the Temple University School of Medicine.