A Christian Response to the Healthcare Bill

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.

9 thoughts on “A Christian Response to the Healthcare Bill

  1. Hi there,
    I think you write a great response in lieu of the recent finalization and passing of the Health Care Bill, which a lot of republican swaying people would probably call it a “crisis”. I feel bill will do more harm than good to America. For that we agree. I don’t like what is happening either.

    However, I do have to disagree with your statement “the Church in America has completely and utterly failed to do her job.” This is simply not true. I am willing to recognize that you most likely are stating this large failure as hyperbole and not actually stating that the church has failed in all areas in all places for all people in America. But since the word “complete” encompasses just about everything when dealing with the actions of the subject, I feel that my assumption is quite justified and for that I must say that you are wrong. The church has not “completely and utterly failed to do her job”.

    The church is not without her shortcomings. I was recently part of a church who, during a church member’s meeting, were very excited that they increased their financial giving to the community by one percent. I don’t know the exactly numbers but it was somewhere around 15% to 16% in the past year. One could argue that they are doing too much for themselves. Who knows? But I am blessed to see that they are taking their growth and their income and making an increase to try to reach the city they are apart. This church is located in Boston, a city that is considered by many to be unreached to the true gospel. It is also one of the most expensive places to live or own land. I’d say that Jesus’ church is still working there, if that 1% increase were to save a single soul, then I’d say that God’s work is done. You can’t measure the work of God on charts, so I don’t feel that measuring it with dollars or building sizes is fair either. On a universal scale, there are many churches that spend a lot of money on the church within: activities, utilities, repair, new buildings, office supplies, etc. yet this doesn’t justify a clam that a church is not doing their job simply because <50% of their income is going back into the church. With so much talk about money, what must a church do to truly meet the needs of the community? More programs, blankets or soup kitchens? Or a bunch of well-educated, theologically trained people of all backgrounds saving the city mission regulars and also those lost CEOs?

    When talking about politics and political leaders, you seem to think that government is the substitution for the Church, you said “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 their government?” I think here you have stated a false dilemma. It isn’t so simple, and almost nobody really places their hope in the government. Nobody actually reveres President Obama as much as one would God, Jesus, or the true idea of the Church unbridled. What we see in society is a skeptical outlook on the government almost consistently, and any attempt to see Obama as a man of “change” in a messianic light would be met with apprehension to any logical thinking democrat. That type of person is a mere caricature of the true state of the American when viewing his government. People are just too skeptical of other people and cannot trust their grandma let alone a person most have never met. The situation is not “either the church is pure, or the government will replace it”, more accurately, it’s “either the church is pure, or man will make God into his own image to best replace the character of Christ”. People will always be man centered, and by that I mean he will only trust himself in the end. Man himself replaces the church and not the government. It will happen even if the church is working to her full capacity, there are just some people who will willingly reject God despite seeing every evidence of his impending destruction.

    With your view on abortion, I struggle to see what the Church is doing wrong. As Americans, we can provide the few examples where extremists have bombed clinics or zealous sharp-shooters who pick off doctors in their homes while they eat dinner with their kids. To associate this with the Church in a generalization is a gross misrepresentation of what biblical Christians are actually doing against abortion. In response to your view, saying “no” is perhaps the only thing some churches can do. Abortions happen within the church, and that’s not going to stop unless a consistency of “no” has been reached within the evangelical community. Abortion cannot ever be considered “what’s done is done”, it can only be described euphemistically as a modern holocaust, thousands of people dying against their will. It is hardly done. While we can’t stop the hands of doctors, saying “no” and speaking against abortion or any issue that is contradicting the Bible is the first, and sometimes, only thing a person can do on a consistent day-to-day basis. To me reading one proverb is better than reading none. Just saying “no” is doing something, its better than saying nothing at all. I’d rather spend hours of time researching to get one opportunity to tell one person that two-letter word than to say nothing and remain silent. That’s what the church needs. On the other hand, what I think best represents the church are the courageous souls like Elaine Russo from Daybreak in Boston, who develops relationships with people who are trying to abort. She has saved countless lives, and won many people to Christ. This is a blessing from God, and it is happening in the harshest of environments. It’s no walk in the park.

    I think that people should understand that the whole of Christianity, though not perfect, doesn’t teach or write books to simply teach the “health and the wealth”. I think this is just an outdate caricature of yester-year. I do agree that some of these people still popular, and their books sell in Walmart and such. But this doesn’t mean that they are the voice of Christianity by any means. Sometimes you do need to dig deeper to find the books that actually matter the Christian walk (outside of the bible), yet this applies to almost everything in life. Your supermarket isn’t going to have the best tasting coffee in the world. The novels you read in school can, but is certainly not trying to be the best cross-section of novels ever written. The music a person listens to took some work to find. A lot of real fans of music try to find new music, and it doesn’t just fall into their lap when they’re tuning into the radio. Nobody expects these things to happen without digging at least a little bit. I certainly don’t expect many great Christian books to be on the shelves of a Barnes and Noble. Maybe I’ll find one, but I don’t expect it. What Christianity, the publishers, or these speculative “higher-ups” are not doing is censoring anything of the writing that truly enlightens the believer. Nobody is promoting any wrong, unbiblical stereo-type in any sense, not just books. I think we can clearly say that the “health and wealth gospel” is an outdated mess, just like the seeker-sensitive movement is just not the big thing anymore. The latter wasn’t even embraced by everyone, thought it did some good, that movement can’t even be said to have been a proper view of American Christianity. Any attempt to pin a mega-church with the “Health and Wealth” group only seeks to undermine the actual works of the large building off the highway exit. I haven’t been in that church either.
    When was the last time you saw someone who smelled bad and was homeless turned away at the door or a church doing a main service? I can say, as working for two years in a parking-lot ministry, I’ve seen quite a bit walk into the door of my small church. To give you an example, our church is called “Open Door Baptist Church”. This might not seem like a big deal to many people anywhere in America, but in the North-East, especially in Boston, it means simply, “Gays and Lesbians: Welcome”. And sometimes there are gay couples who park and walk into the church expecting an enlightening service. What they find is the Holy Spirit convicting them. They run for the door. I remember a particular instance when I went to greet two women walking in, and they jumped when I said hello. They didn’t know what they were getting into, but I knew that they weren’t going to be there more than 5 minutes into the service. And the ushers aren’t stupid, they knew, the pastor knew because he saw them walk out. None of these people were ever turned them away at the door. None of them were ever told them, “Sorry this is the wrong place, we know it says that on our sign, but you’re a sinner, we can’t have you here”. I believe it’s time to recognize that any rejection of “different” or “inappropriate” guests in a church is an exception to the general state of evangelical Christianity in American and must be regarded as such.

    I also think that the amount of money the country as given to Haiti is a simple testament to the fact that church has not failed. That the church is willing to help and the pew-sitter is willing to give a little to help others says a lot. The church needs credit for this generosity. America needs to be seen as the trend-setter for giving to causes like that. This is just not possible without God.

    In conclusion I must clearly state that the Church and Christians are not our enemies. Sure there are problems and I don’t pretend to be blind to those things. Yet to substitute the view of the Church as being “doomed” or has “utterly failed” is a generalization that should offend every evangelical Christian in America. That viewpoint only serves to take one stereo-type of how everything is “A-Okay” and replace it with an equally wrong view of “Everything’s going to hell”. I think changes need to be made, I think people need to repent, but I hardly think that it’s appropriate to state claims, though in some cases valid, in condescension of the church without actually offering some life-line, some ray of hope, something that can be done to rectify the situation. Okay, the church, in a lot of things, is doing it wrong… What should we do right now? What is the next step? Sometimes the answer, “no” can very well be that step, the one of many small hammers that breaks down the walls of sin.

    Thanks for your time,
    Brian Erwin

    1. Brian,

      Three things. First, I hope you don’t mind, but I edited your comment for ease of reading. I went through and provided spaces between paragraphs, just to break it up a bit; I didn’t touch any of your wording.

      Secondly, do understand that I am writing this from the context of someone in the Bible Belt, where Christian culture is distinctly different than it is up in the Northeast. What may have been a problem in the Northeast decades ago can still be problems here; for instance, would it cause a controversy if a black church wanted to work with your church (assuming you believe the same things)? If so, maybe I’m overgeneralizing the differences between a Southern-style Christianity and a Northeast view of Christianity. However, if you can’t imagine that being an issue in your community, I think you may begin to realize that Southern-style Christianity still has quite a bit of culture to overcome, and that’s mainly what I was speaking against. Even so, there are individual churches that help those in need, but I am speaking of the Church as a whole. I think you’re dealing with “church” while I’m dealing with “Church.”

      Third, it’s quite late and I have class at 8 in the morning, so I’m off to bed. I’ll respond with more detail later, especially on the points you brought up that I do agree with.

    2. I view the Church as one big body – thus, if the entire body is healthy, but the left hand has an infection, the entire body is at risk. So when I come after the “Church,” I am doing it on the whole while fully understanding that there are churches out there that do all that they can for the Gospel. However, if we’re honest with ourselves I think we have to come to the realization that Christianity, as a whole, is failing.

      What I meant by “health and wealth” wasn’t in reference to the Kenneth Copelands of the world, but rather that Christianity in America has always had its own version. It’s not as elaborate as the actual “health and wealth” teachings, but rather is more of a mindset that the Church is here for “me.” It’s the mentality that we go to the Church to be blessed by multiple ministries while having to put little effort into helping with the Church. Not all churches suffer from this, but it does seem to be quite a problem as a whole.

      But that’s my point – as a whole, the American Church is failing. Certainly individual churches are overcoming the challenges of the modern world, but as a whole the Church simply isn’t doing her job. If it were, why do we still have all these social ills? There are millions upon millions of self-professed believers in America, so if they are truly believers and truly doing their jobs as Christians, why do the problems for the poor keep increasing?

  2. Let me start by saying I’m a political conservation and a christian myself, and in no way support the healthcare bill. I’m also a bit of a pessimist.

    That said, I would say the “Church,” and I use it as loosely as the ties (it seems) most “Christians” have with it, have dropped the ball. Big organizations set up to help the kids over in Sudan, or the people of Haiti, or soup kitchens for the hungry in downtown Detroit, but most “Christians” would walk by their struggling, sick or ornery neighbor. So yes, I think the “Church” has dropped the ball on being the good stewards and witnesses of Christ love that He showed.

    BUT, and there always is a but, we’re not here for social justices. Healthcare, goverment or Church instituted, is not a Christians calling. There’s some nifty little saying about man not living by bread alone. And while Christ didn’t charge a material fee, or put stipulations on His compassion, He did healings and showed compassion with a charge of changing.

    It’s a slick little slope, but too many Churches (I’m getting tired of the brackets) are too focused on being socially progressive that their missing the greater point and while yes, the general welfare of those in their care, or in their neighborhood, have a little higher standard of living thank to them (maybe in part?), to focus on that isn’t filling the People with what they need; the love and knowledge of Christ.

    So no, I rightly reject any and all notions that the Church is at fault of not taking care of the “welfare” of this nation, on a social level, and that we’ve dropped the ball in that regard. I’m not supporting a goverment healthcare system for a church supported one. A little legislation to keep the insurance companies from dropping or denying individuals, a little hard work on the part of populace (KEYWORD: WORK), and love from the Church to 1st) feed the populace the Word of Christ, and 2nd) feed the populace the bread of man.

    1. But how does this view align with the teachings of Christ? He stated, quite explicitly, that if we did not help the poor then He was not in us. In fact, the vast majority of Christ’s messages focused either on the coming Kingdom or on helping the poor now. It is after these two themes that the concept of salvation from our sins comes into focus. That is not to say that social justice trumps salvation from our sins, but rather that social work manifests itself after we have been saved. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and are to act accordingly. This means that we care for the poor.

      Taking care of the sick IS the role of the Church. Matthew 25 lays it out perfectly; how we treat the poor reflects our hearts for Christ.

      1. How we treat the poor is a consequence/reflection of having our hearts in line with Christ’s. Being social progressive for the sake of being socially progressive is … well, akin to saying “I’m a good person so that merit alone gets me into heaven”. The view is too narrowed and the means is no justification on the end. There’s a deeper issue: Superficiality – either taking care of the poor, for progressive’s sake, or appearing to [in this instance] take care of the poor for progressive’s/our ego’s sake. Remember, too, Christ said the poor will always be with you and he spoke abundantly on the poor in spirit. If FOCUS on feeding the mans flesh, yes he is thankful and you’re showing him some superficial mercy, and building yourself up, but you’re doing him no long-term justice. Feed his, your neighbors and [perhaps?] your own soul, and when your heart is in the right place, these other things – like mercy and compassion and taking charge of the welfare of those that cannot take care of themselves – falls in place. Their flesh is second to His Spirit.

      2. And in re-reading this, I think we’re saying the same thing, but there’s an issue on the means and the end we’re not agreeing on.

  3. I happen to agree with your second statement more. I’m willing to go as far as saying that there are many churches who have dropped the ball, for that I think Christ recognizes and the true Christians won’t stay there long.

    As for your first statement, I do think you over-generalized your view of the South. I think there are problems with arbitrary things between Christians like race that still plague a many places, not just the south. Yet if your statements specifically relate to those in the South, I think that needs to be made clear. As for the north, I don’t think it’s much different than many urban areas in the South. The only place I’ve lived in the South for any period of time was Charlotte, NC, which is a good example of how “northern” a southern city can be. Mind you, North Carolina was a blue state for this past election. And how about cities like Atlanta? Do the churches in that city suffer the same stigma of churches that simply need to grow up? If you journey up north and walk into a church, you’ll probably be surprised to find how “southern” is still seems to be. A lot of the literature and books that people read all over the country come from the southern states, and it influences people. For that I’ll say that the churches are different, but not night and day. All in all, I don’t think I’ve lived in the South long enough to pick up on some subtle problems that plague a good portion of those churches, yet I feel my statement still stands.

    As for your statement about the “Church” vs. “church”, I don’t particularly see a difference. I believe that I tend to lean more to the local “churches” in the context of my responses, because I fail to recognize that the “Church” does not always include my “church” for example. Plus I don’t buy into the “Church” in a universal sense as being a scripturally supportable view in comparison to the sole local “church” view. But that’s a discussion for another time.

    But hey, I tend to be a pessimist in many regards, but I need to keep telling myself that Christians, though they can be cruel are not our enemy.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts,

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