Christians and the ACA Continued

Last week I had a post up about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and specifically whether or not pastors should be speaking about it. That post ran long, so this is basically part 2.

I’ll be up front and state that I support the ACA. I don’t think it is a great law, especially with all the exemptions, and I fear it will be implemented poorly, but I have to support the idea behind it. If anything, I think the law doesn’t go far enough. I’d have preferred a true universal single payer system. I am fairly alone in the Evangelical community in my support for this. A lot of people have doubts and concerns about it, and I think that’s fair, but I’m not sure their criticism is based on the Bible.

Not the Government’s Job

From the article:

Wages says the Bible teaches that the care of orphans, widows and the sick are given to the church, not to the government. Early Christians were the first to create hospitals, orphanages and hospices.

“I have an issue with the government coming in to get money through me – through taxes – to take care of people, when my argument is that I should be free to give to charities or to my church in order to take care of the sick and destitute,” he says.

Wages says he has no doubt that lack of health insurance is a monumental problem, and that many people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. Yet there is no New Testament example of Jesus trying to shape public policy on behalf of the poor.

“I do not see any biblical precedent where Jesus ever went to Herod or Pilate and said you should be taking care of the poor,” Wages says. “Jesus told his disciples to take care of the poor and the apostles said the same thing to the early church.”

This is probably the most common line I hear about why we shouldn’t support healthcare for the poor. It’s not the government’s job, it’s the churches.

Frist, does the Bible prohibit the government providing healthcare? No. We are simply told to take care of them. Where the Bible is silent, we should remain silent. Forget the long laundry list of things that would be prohibited due to not being mentioned in the Bible, we’d also be required to be against Medicare and Medicaid, and I’ve never heard those arguments before.

Second, the writers of the Bible couldn’t have imagined the power Christians would have today. The early Christians were an upstart maligned sect of a minority religion who weren’t considered citizens of an empire ruled by a Caesar. This is why we don’t have Jesus arguing for public policy. Forget for a moment that modern medicine didn’t exist 2,000 years ago, but try to figure how such a small powerless group could have even gone about making the change to have care provided from the empire. Today, however, the President puts his hand on the Bible to be sworn in. The congress opens its sessions with a prayer. The majorities of Americans attend a Christian church and believe in God. We have to read the Bible in the context it was written and realize we have far more power to do far more good than Paul could have fathomed.

Third, while early Christians were very active in care, we modern ones have failed. I’ve seen multiple new hospitals and urgent care centers built in the general area where I live. None have them been Christian based. Old city centers are filled with Frist Pres and Methodist General, but even with all the new urgent cares that pop up in old shopping centers over the past 5 years, I’ve never seen a Baptist Urgent Medicine. But you hear this all the time, Christians should care for the sick and needy, but we just don’t. There probably isn’t a financially feasible way to care for all the uninsured, but that is moot as there certainly isn’t the will.

Finally, related to the last two points, how much do you give? We hear the common line of leave it to charity, but how much do people who express this actually give? I certainly don’t give extra money to some Christian charity that helps with peoples’ healthcare, I’ve never even heard of one. My guess is that most people aren’t out giving more than to their church and that very few volunteer to provide free medical services. My understanding of the ACA is that unless you are extremely rich or frequent tanning beds, you will not pay extra ‘through taxes’ to help provide people with insurance. If your taxes do go up, you always have the opportunity to gain charitable deduction by giving away more money to organizations that care for the poor.

God’s concern for the poor

Wages’ position is impractical and unbiblical, says Ronald Sider, a longtime advocate for the poor and author of “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.”

Churches and charities don’t have enough resources to take care of an estimated 48 million Americans who don’t have health care. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s fury over economic oppression of the poor, which Christians should regard as scandalous, he says.

“If you are not sharing God’s concern for the poor, it raises huge questions about whether you are a Christian at all,” he says about pastors who say nothing about the uninsured poor.

“As God’s spokespersons, you ought to be talking about God’s concern for the poor as much as God. In the richest nation in world history, it’s contradictory to have millions without health insurance.”

While I think it is too harsh and a jump to judgment to say someone isn’t a Christian, I agree with the rest of the sentiment. Again, maybe there are a lot of Evangelicals out there that care, but there just are not very many who show it. We are called to go the other mile and to give someone our jacket and I like people believe that, but when it is time to step up we get this:

“Government programs sometimes encourage dependency, unintentionally break down family structures, and become unsustainable financially,” Moore says.

This is probably true, but not to the extent that some people fear. My question is, so what? Christ didn’t ask us to determine how much someone needs and then to provide only that; he didn’t command us to judge how worthy they were of assistance; and there is certainly no mention of the question of why the person is in need.

Final Thought

I think this quote perfectly summarizes the American Evangelical Christianity:

… a memorable quote from the late Brazilian Roman Catholic Bishop Dom Helder Camara, who said: “When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist.”

Christians and the ACA

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:

States and Medicare 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):

Bible Belt Map

Church Attendance Map

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.