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.