Friday, June 29, 2012

Healthcare and the Church

My bishop wrote a pretty decent article about Lutherans and health care.  He ends with the comment, "We are pro-healing and pro-health care."  I cannot disagree.  The Church indeed is called to healing and called to the care and concern for neighbor, including our neighbor's health.  Our theology leads us right squarely to that conclusion.

But the question my bishop doesn't address theologically is the health care law passed by our country and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court yesterday.  He says, "Requiring insurance for those who require medical care (all of us) spreads the cost out. Is it the right thing to do? Some Lutherans believe so. Some do not."  Later, he comments, "We acknowledge that there are diverse viewpoints within the Church. We celebrate that diversity." 

Well and good.  Those statements are, in the words of Luther himself, "most certainly true."

However, the devil is in the details, as one would say.

What does Lutheran theology teach about compassion, charity, and giving?  That is the ultimate question when it comes to the Church's role in society. 

Now, I am not trying to turn this into a political discussion.  The U.S. Congress can do what it wants within the limits of the Consititution.  If it deems that people should be compelled to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, that is their choice.  My concern is whether or not such a thing should be affirmed by the Lutheran Church.

As I see it, it should not.  Why?

It goes back to the Lutheran understanding of giving.  As Lutherans, we believe salvation has been given to us as a gift with no strings attached.  This is the ultimate meaning of grace.  Because of grace, we are no longer under the discipline of the law (Galatians).  This means, all things are lawful for us (Corinthians).  We are free to choose to do as we please with our time, talents and treasures.  No longer are we bound by the Old Testament understanding of the tithe.  No longer are we required to give to the Church as an obligation.  No longer do we need to feel compelled to give to anything.  We are completely and totally free from that requirement of the law.

So why give?  If it's not required, why give to the Church, to charity, to social organizations, or to anything for that matter?

We give not because we have to, but because we find it a joy to return to the Lord what He first gave to us.  We give because Christ saw our need and gave to us; therefore we imitate Him as we see our neighbors' needs and give to them.  We give because we are stirred by the love of God in our hearts not because the fear of God or the fear of punishment.  That's the Lutheran understanding of giving.  Plain and simple.

Now, let's apply this theology to the centerpoint of the health care law passed by our Congress and signed by our President.  Does it follow this theology?

Not hardly.  In fact, it's completely the opposite of Lutheran theology.  It compels one to use one's money.  It punishes if money isn't spent in that fashion.  It's completely and totally legalistic and not based upon grace based living.  As such, this portion of the law isn't Lutheran, and neither do I believe, Christian.

What I find most intriguing about the support given by some Lutherans to this provision is that those same Lutherans who celebrate this compulsory act in the goal of attaining universal health care, would rail against a congregation requiring its membership to tithe.

While Lutherans are indeed supportive of health care and healing for all, our theology does not support compulsory giving towards it. 


Kathy said...

This is a very good post, maybe your best I have read so far.

Your analysis is excellent.

I could add my own thoughts, but I think you have said it all.

Kathy said...

Do you believe in signs? In August 2009, a tornado came through Minneapolis and turned the cross on a church up-side-down. Now, almost 3 years later, the finances of a church are up-side-down. Obamacare was passed. Today D.C. is in the Dark.

Anonymous said...

In Australia we find the USA Christian response to health care confusing......
Wouldn't you want to make sure everyone receives health care whether they can afford it or not???
Or are Christians putting ahead a personal (not even salvation) idealogy ahead of ensuring they are helping their neighbour???

Kevin Haug said...

Greetings to my Austrailian reader! It's really true that these things go around the world, isn't it.

Good questions you asked there of those of us who are Christians here in the U.S.

First, a little bit of background about Christianity here in the U.S.: it's really, really diverse, and it's sadly also used by our political parties to further their political agendas.

Perhaps you have heard about the "Religious Right"? These folks, as much as their motives may be pure have been duped by the right side of the political spectrum in our country. They ignore the Bible's teachings about care and concern for the poor, the widows and the orphans and somehow believe that lower taxes and less government is somehow taught by Jesus. Haven't exactly found that in scriptures.

This group of Christians is loud and grabs many headlines in its response to health care in the U.S., but they are far from the only Christians who make their voices known. There is another group of Christians who have aligned themselves with the political left and have embraced much of the health care legislation enacted by our government. Some even argue the "reforms" of this bill did not go far enough, and they are continuing to push for a single payer system.

As to my own personal position on this issue:

#1. I believe everyone should receive health care regardless of whether or not they can afford it. This actually does take place in the U.S. right now as no one is turned away from care.

#2. One must also ask what is the best way to help one's neighbor. Some neighbors are quite content to mooch off of the generosity of others and take advantage of Christian compassion. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs." Does health care fall into such a category?

Paul wrote something much closer to my own practice, "Bear one another's burdens (boulders in the Greek), but all must carry their own loads (knapsacks in the Greek)."

Care of one's neighbor concerns helping him or her bear a burden he or she cannot carry on her own. If one is perfectly capable of bearing such a load--and chooses not to, then we are under no compulsion to do so.

The real question is how does one truly know if another needs help or not? If it isn't obvious, then I believe we should err on the side of compassion, but if it is obvious our neighbor isn't even motivated to try, then the most compassionate thing we can do at that point is say, "No."