The Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins is the director of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Office of Public Witness , which advocates the social witness perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly.
Rev. Hawkins came to his role after serving for twenty years as the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina. He has served as a leader for the Moral Monday Movement since its start in 2013, and has engaged in multiple actions of civil disobedience protesting the actions to curtail voting rights, healthcare and a living wage.
Rev. Hawkins is the latest faith-motivated advocate for healthcare justice to participate in Faith in Healthcare’s Five-Question Interview:
1. What do you consider the most important healthcare-related work for you and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.?
Our advocacy for universal care. We are very deliberate in saying that every American should have healthcare coverage, and it is indeed a right and not a privilege. People are going bankrupt over medical expenses, which should not be happening in this country. We should be modeling our healthcare system on the very successful European and other national models.
(Editor’s note: In 2008, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. General Assembly adopted a recommendation calling for advocacy and education that pursues “the goal of obtaining legislation that enacts single-payer, universal national health insurance as the program that best responds to the moral imperative of the gospel,” concluding that, “As followers of our Great Physician Jesus, we have a moral imperative to work to assure that everyone has full access to health care.”)
We conduct our advocacy in significant part by partnering with our ecumenical partners to take a strong stand on healthcare access here in our nation’s capital, where we talk to our members of Congress and their staff and encourage them to address the important policy issues.
- What motivates you to do your healthcare work?
Our faith. We see this as a Biblical mandate that people should have access to coverage and to care. We live in a land where every community has a hospital and doctors ready to serve people. But what is preventing people from getting the care they need is healthcare costs. People are still using the emergency room as their primary care source because of cost. This is a disgrace to the nation.
So when we examine scripture, and in particular the teachings of Christ, there is no other choice for us. In our most recent General Assembly, we committed ourselves to being a Matthew 25 church, where Jesus said, “I was sick, and you came to me.” It is part of our Biblical mandate that we are to care for the sick, to follow the model of the Good Samaritan who saw a wounded man and himself bound up his wounds. This is not an isolated interpretation of the Bible—it is core to our Christian belief.
- What are the biggest challenges you and your organization face?
Trying to clear this present political hurdle. Trying to convince legislators on both sides that we do not need to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but to strengthen it. That we need to make universal healthcare our future, and to be sure to cover things like dental care.
That is a significant challenge, especially when you consider there are many states that have still not signed on to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government is covering the vast majority of the early years, and studies show that the extra medical care will create jobs. I saw that struggle first-hand when I was a pastor in North Carolina, and that is when I became involved in the Moral Monday campaign—over the issue of healthcare. 500,000 North Carolinians would have been covered, and 2,800 lives would have been saved, but Medicaid was not expanded for partisan political reasons.
That is our challenge: convincing politicians this is not a partisan political issue but a justice issue, a human rights issue.
- What do you think the U.S. healthcare system should look like?
I’m for single-payer, universal healthcare, allowing all people to sign into Medicare. Whatever issues you have, you should be able to go to a clinic in your community—and especially greater access to the most vulnerable, the children and the elderly. We should all have a card that allows us to show up and get the care we need.
- What role do you see people of faith and faith communities playing in making the needed changes?
We need to continue to do things like Ecumenical Advocacy Days, where we train Christians in advocacy and bring them to Washington to make their voices heard. And we need to do the same thing in state capitals. Clergy need to show up with their stoles and collars on, because we want the spiritual connection to be clear, to let it be known that this is a faith movement, and it is our faith motivating us to push for change.
Sometimes, there is a disconnect in the faith community where folks say, “That is political; that is not spiritual.” But this is spiritual, it is part of the Christian walk. You can’t isolate your faith from what is happening in the lives of everyday people.
All four Gospels agree that Jesus was a preacher, a teacher, and a healer. And this is the model for the church. We do preaching, obviously: it is the climax of the church week; the proclamation of the good news of the Gospel. We do teaching: Christian education, Sunday school, vacation bible school, confirmation class—all are central to the lives of every congregation.
It is the healing that we need to explore to a greater degree. We do healing ministries where we meet emergency needs of families by things like soup kitchens; we even pay people’s rent sometimes. We have a long history of charitable activities in the church.
But Jesus also did advocacy. He challenged the system. He said there were problems of the system. He told the Pharisees. “You pay your tithes of mint and cumin, but you neglect the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” The need is too great for individual churches to meet; therefore, we need to be advocates for justice.
This interview has been condensed.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
- The problem with the anti-Medicare for All argument that we should keep our current health insurance? Few of us do now. From Axios, an analysis estimating that at least two million Americans lose or transfer to new commercial health insurance plans—every month.
- Big Pharma Goliath Finally Facing Its Slingshot? The once-invincible Capitol Hill power of Big Pharma lobbyists is taking a beating, Patients for Affordable Drugs points out: Last week, progress was made in Congress on legislation to curb drug company price gouging and abuse of the patent system, among other reforms.
- Economist on Medicare for All: “The only plan that will control health care costs while finally achieving universal coverage.” Gerald Friedman, economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst and the director of the Hopbrook Institute, writes in USA Today that half-measures that protect private insurance companies won’t get it done.