There was a great article up last Friday over at the Belief Blog that touched on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage gap as well as how pastors should handle discussing it. The gap being a ridiculous situation where, in some states, people can make too much money to qualify for Medicare but not enough to qualify of subsidies for health insurance (see more here).
I guess more specifically the author is trying to call out ‘Bible Belt’ pastors because their states rejected the Medicaid expansion. First, though, as a Southerner and someone with academic and professional training in cartography, let me clarify; this is a map of the states that rejected the Medicaid expansion:
Half of the states and DC (dark green) are expanding coverage, 21 states essentially rejected and four states are considering expanding. Now, for comparison, two more maps, first, a map that Wikipedia deems as the Bible Belt and second, a map showing church attendance based on Gallop polling data (source):
So you have Arkansas and Kentucky expanding coverage while known Bible thumpers like Idaho, Main and Wisconsin rejecting expansion. Again, I get his point, that most of the most religious states rejected the expansion. Also, writing against the Bible Belt draws views and honestly I just get really nitpicky about things like maps, stats and facts. For example, as even Jon Stewart noted, a better overlay would be which states have Republican governor s. I’ll also note that Southern states are the poorest and had the most to gain from expansion but sadly the vast majority rejected coverage.
Pastors and Politics
Sorry for the digression, back to the article: a major theme is whether pastors should be talking about the coverage gap or the ACA in general. This is a really interesting topic that has been in the new recently. Not necessarily the ACA side, but rather churches discussing politics topics overall. There are a number of groups that say if churches are supporting specific political causes or politicians they should lose their tax-exempt status. By the letter of the law, I think they should, because the law explicitly prohibits certain non-profits from engaging in political activity. In reality, that is not what happens. Many pastors do speak out on political issues and the IRS has never challenged any churches’ exempt status.
The author seemed to be of the opinion that the pastors should be speaking out on the issues of healthcare. You have to wonder, though, what he would have said about speaking out against gay marriage. I think that is the frustrating thing about the discussion about pastors and church involvement in political issues. If it is a conservative cause, you see groups calling for the end of the exempt status, but no one would disagree with Martin Luther King, Jr. calling for racial equality. The problem becomes exacerbated then as conservatives double down with a bunker mentality as they claim the media or government or society is against them.
However, maybe there is a case to be made that you could support ‘justice’ politics over let’s say, ‘sin’ politics. That is you could support pastors discussing things that help the poor and need while avoiding promoting law that seek to prohibit sin. I think the coverage of the issues does a poor job of pointing this out, instead showing a fairly clear bias towards supporting so-called liberal ideas.
Conservatives are just as hypocritical, the article points out:
“When their own interests are involved, they are very much involved in politics,” Cone says.
And I think that is right. You have a number of conservative pastors who talk issues like gay marriage and the ‘sanctity of marriage’, but then turn around and say that the issue is a political one and something they don’t need to address.
“Sometimes pastors have to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”
My bigger concern is that the pastors are scared. They know the ACA is a political landmine that most of their congregants do not support. So they don’t speak up for the poor, because speaking for the poor seems to be liberal, and that can get you run out of the church. Maybe that is another post all together, but it seems ever since the fundamentalist controversy, conservatives and evangelicals are afraid to be associated with anything related to the social gospel.
Pastors shouldn’t be afraid. They should be calling out their congregants to love the world. That should include taking care of the poor, and we should be concerned for those without healthcare. I guess, in my mind, pastors should discuss political issues from the pulpit. They are, after all, our shepherds in life that are supposed to help guide us. Some issues are large and divisive and affect many people, and those are issues we shouldn’t shy away from. I think pastors should have the freedom to give what they believe is Biblical guidance.
Of course, pastors need to be cognizant of what they speak for or against. They need to remember that we can’t hold non-believers to the same standards as we hold ourselves; that we need less condemnation and more calls to action and love; and mostly that we need to look towards Christ and remember that most of his admonishment where for the religious.
To be continued…
The other main theme that comes out of the article is how Christians react to and view the ACA. That will be another post sometime next week.