In looking at the healthcare bill that was recently passed, I am left with one overriding conclusion; the Church in America has completely and utterly failed to do her job. This statement, however, is quite open-ended. So let me elaborate with a follow-up:
Though I hate what the current administration is doing, we must realize that their advancements are only occurring because the Church has failed America; rather than living as the Church and taking care of the needy, we instead chose to retreat into our million-dollar sanctuaries. If a needy world can’t turn to the followers of the one true God, what choice are they left with other than to turn to the government?
Though I am very much against nationalized healthcare, especially when taxpayer money will most likely be used for abortions, I don’t want to take the time writing against it. What’s done is done, every argument that could be made against nationalized healthcare has been made. The courts will see to the legality of this bill and, in my opinion, the people will speak out against the bill in the form of elections this coming November. But what if, when elected, the Republicans rescind the bill? Or, what if tomorrow Obama and half of the Democratic Party woke up and thought, “No, wait, this is wrong”? Those who will be covered by this healthcare bill would then be left without the chance to get proper healthcare.
From a purely human perspective, I would argue that I have no obligation to help get better healthcare for a stranger. I have no obligation to see to a stranger’s needs; while I can do it, it’s not necessarily immoral for me to see to the needs of my own family and then my own immediate community, but then stop there. Thus, the healthcare bill is wrong because it takes a non-obligation and attempts to make it an obligation.
The problem, however, is that as a Christian I am held to a higher moral code. What would generally be supererogatory actions become obligations for Christians. The Christian obligation to his fellow human is more than “do not kill,” but instead as Christians we are to look after the needs of others. However, as a whole the Christian Church has not been doing this in America; so what are the poor, the disadvantaged, and the crippled supposed to do?
We see the government providing welfare, healthcare, and a whole host of other services because the Church has failed to offer these services. This is incredibly sad because it compounds the problem of the poor; it creates a new type of slave class while offering these services out of practicality rather than out of love. Christian service is the highest form of service, for it is done in both service to God and to man; government service is one of the lowest forms of service, for it is done out of legal obligation and without self-sacrificial love.
Rather than taking care of those who need it, we’ve developed a “health and wealth” Gospel in the American Church. I don’t mean the TV evangelists that we see knocking people down with their hands. Though that is “health and wealth,” that is an extreme version of it. Sadly, most evangelical churches have adopted a lighter view of health and wealth. For instance, go to a church with over 1,000 members and notice how big they are on promoting their ministries: They have ministries for youth, ministries for singles, ministries for mothers, ministries for men, ministries for elderly, and so on. Every ministry is something that the congregation can take from, but very few ministries offer service related items. It’s hard enough to get people to volunteer for nursery service, let alone helping to serve the community.
The problem with these multiple ministries is that it’s made the Church – what is supposed to function and operate like a family – into nothing more than a religious social club, who’s membership is easy to join (with a suggested membership due of 10% of your income).
Our own “health and wealth” may not be a version of, “If you follow God you’ll get rich,” but it does teach that the Christian life is about personal peace and prosperity. So long as I can take care of my family, I’m set. So long as there’s something in it for me at church, I’ll go. Our health and wealth may not be extreme, but it does betray the selfishness and narcissism within our Christian communities.
This isn’t to say that churches aren’t attempting to help the poor. There are many that will hold ministries to inner-city youth and, on the special occasions, bus those youth into the church for special events, free of charge for the youth. Some churches have a homeless ministry where their members go to where the homeless are and offer them breakfast, or some will be so bold as to bus the homeless to the church and lead them into fellowship hall, give them a meal and then their own service. These ministries are good and it’s good that churches are doing these ministries. But are these ministries enough? Do they fully encompass the essence of what it means to live like a Christian?
I would contend that these ministries, though good, are inadequate. The reason is that it’s “ministry at arms length.” We’ll help the inner-city black people…in the inner city. We’ll help the Spanish-speaking populace…by giving them their own church. We’ll help the homeless…so long as they don’t try to come into the main service. All the while, the church continues to take part in the “great white flight” into the suburbs. That’s not to say a church is wrong for moving to the white, middle-class, suburbs. White, middle-class people need Jesus too. But let’s face the facts; it’s easier for someone with a decent living to make the trek into the city than it is for someone who struggles with money (and may not have a car) to drive out of the city.
And this really does bring me to my point; do you wonder how President Obama won on a message of “Hope” and “Change”? It’s because Christians couldn’t come up with a better response. That’s not to say that we don’t have a better response. The core of the Christian message and all that comes with it is exponentially better than anything any politician (or any human) could ever come up with. But as Christians we failed to live a message of hope and change. With the churches leaving the inner-city in droves, the light of the Gospel, which is the foundation of all hope, began to leave the inner-cities as well. In light of this, who else are the poor supposed to turn to? If the poor college student could rely on his local church to help him with tuition or housing, would he need to petition the government for aid? If the working-class family without insurance could go to their Christian doctor free of charge (or have the church pick up the tab), would there be a need for government-run healthcare? Certainly politicians would still exist who would want the government to usurp the rights of individuals, but how could they get elected? No one would elect them because there would be no need to elect them.
Now, none of this is to say that we shouldn’t fight against socialized medicine, but we have to offer something better that isn’t government mandated. We have to offer our lives in the form of service in return for fighting against healthcare. It’s not enough to fight against government intrusion in social issues, we also have to engage these issues and do a better job of it than the government could ever hope to do. It’s not enough to rail against abortion, we also have to be willing to help mothers who are pregnant while their pregnant and after they have their child (life is precious at all stages, not just in the womb). We should always rally against injustices and we should become angry over them. I fear what would have become of the world is William Wilberforce decided to avoid politics and just live a life that reflected his anti-slavery sentiment. But this is also the same man who wrote A Practical View of Christianity, which offered a Christian alternative to slavery. While he rallied support in Parliament to eradicate slavery in the British Empire, he was also working to create a Christian alternative for the soon to be free slaves.
Are conservative Christians willing to stand up and face the fact that we can’t just be an ideology of “no”? Though we should say no to tyrannical movements by the government, “no” is not enough; we also have to say, “No, and here’s our alternative.” We have to begin to live like the Church was meant to live, we have to take care of our own members first and then our community second. We need to go to our poorer areas and serve those in the community. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “Jesus loves you,” sometimes you have to prove it with your actions, and when we fail en masse to do so, what choice to the poor and destitute have but to turn to the government.