Monday, August 24, 2009

Thinking Like Christians about Health Care

Brother Rowe Wren recently wrote to say, “I would like your thoughts on…the present Health Care Bill.” In my travels around the Conference, I have heard much discussion on this pressing issue before our nation.

I personally find the bill being debated and proposed to be fearfully complicated but it is an attempt to solve a complicated and expensive problem. Yet we must not be deterred by the complexity. Above all, we are enjoined to think about this issue, and any others, like Christians. (If you are interested in a thoughtful response to health care by some of the leaders of our church, then log into

I’m not sure that I have special light to spread on this subject other than my own attempts to think about this issue in a Christian way. Here, for what they are worth, are some of my responses:

  1. I hear that most Americans are “happy with their health insurance.” I sure am. Our church provides our elders with the most generous of health care programs. Our Conference heavily subsidizes the health insurance of our retired elders. I am deeply grateful for such support. However, we can’t leave it at that. The most underserved group in our society, when it comes to health care, are poor children. Alabama leads the nation in the number of children who are untouched by medical care, making us also a leader in childhood malnutrition and illness. As the church, Jesus has given us responsibility for the “least of these.” Saying that “I am happy with my health care” is not saying enough. Our concern should not be to protect our entitlements but rather our Jesus-assigned concern is, “Am I happy with my neighbor’s health care?”
  2. Scripture tells us that we are “not to bear false witness.” It is tough enough to have a national debate over an issue of this complexity without deliberate misinformation being put out on the airways to muddy the conversation and spread unwarranted fear.
  3. I am so disappointed by our state’s Senators and Representatives, most of whom have contributed nothing to this debate and show a callous disregard for the welfare of their poorest constituents. Let’s urge our elected officials to get in the debate and craft good legislation. We have the most expensive health care system in the world that leaves out millions because, while it is not government run, it is dominated by the insurance companies. I’m glad that our elected representatives have health care; thousands of their constituents don’t.

  4. I fully trust the American Medical Association and our doctors to worry about health care and they say we need dramatic reform. Methodists should care about those who can’t get health care as the much as the AMA is concerned. I visit church after church were the congregation is having to pull together and provide funds (thank goodness!) for people in their congregation or community who have suffered catastrophic financial loss due to huge medical bills. Some of our health care professionals volunteer every year to go work in medical missions where Christians are trying to help those who are left out of our health care system. Why? We think about these issues with scripture, with Luke 10 where, in one of Jesus’ favorite stories, the Samaritan says, “take care of the wounded man and when I return I will repay you whatever it costs.

It would be great for every pastor and church to explore how your congregation can prayerfully, thoughtfully respond to this issue. Surely we can do better than the likes of TV’s Glen Beck and Joe Scarborough. Of course, they have no desire to think about this issue with Jesus, and it shows. But we do! Read Luke 10:25-35! Then, “go and do likewise.

Rowe, I hope this is helpful.

Will Willimon


Anonymous said...

Another excellent, thoughtful post. I look forward to sharing some of these thoughts with my congregations.

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

Excellent Post. Furthermore: pulpits need to take on the issue of health-care. In my mind it is very difficult for Christians to remain mute or to oppose the issue of bettering health-care. I have yet to read a scripture that says let them suffer and ignore those that need to be healed. We must also demand truth and speak out against the propaganda machine that is trying to prevent aiding the least of thees. I highlight one specific propaganda issue of death panels on my blog:

I have just begun my conference health plan (not-alamaba)and was notified earlier today that it would not be covering any preexisting conditions for me or my family for the first year of the insurance due to a computer error with my former employer,the department of defense, and their insurance provider. Even United Methodist Insurance providers could be improved by health-care-reform.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bishop Willamon, for your thoughtful response and reminder of what it means to approach a question from a Christian perspective.

Becca Clark, Troy Annual Conference

Anonymous said...

Well, OK, you've diagnosed the problem and noted that Christians ought to be concerned about their neighbor's well-being. The fifth Commandment (You shall not murder) obligates us to this.

But, I'm a little wearied by the automatic reaction, "How will the government solve this for me?" I'm not at all certain, for instance, that the parable of the good samaritan is obeyed by us when we vote to forcefully extract healthcare from the insurance companies and lay it on the shoulders of an over-stretched federal government. Collectively taxing the wealthy and distributing it to those who need it more actually requires very little of me. It seems we Christians have used government programs like this to falsely soothe our consciences and do even less to love our neighbors in need.

So also, what if the rich don't want to give their money to this problem? What if they would like to contribute their money towards the solution of some other problem? You have a 7th Commandment issue here that needs a little more attention (You shall not steal). Who am I to forcefully take my neighbors money claiming I know better who to give it to?

This is just my attempt to counter the slightly heavy-handed claim that thinking about a problem from a "Christian" perspective necessarily requires me to support expanded federal involvement.

All the best,

Rev. Jared Melius

David said...

Thank you for your insight. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement that our concern should be the healthcare of our neighbors. I tire of fear-mongering arguments that our healthcare will be rationed and that we may have to wait for procedures or to see a doctor based on the severity of our need. We are already rationing healthcare, but currently the decision on who gets care is based on wealth, leaving the poor without proper care, regardless of their need. I would caution you that the AMA does not speak for doctors, (almost 4 of 5 doctors are not members.) Personally, I believe that we desperately need healthcare reform, but only if that reform is meaningful. Any reform that does not address tort reform and the abuses of the insurance industry will be crippled from the onset.

Our church was challenged this week with the opportunity to help a member of our mission who needed surgery for chronic bleeding but could not come up with the large amount of money she needed up front for the doctor. It struck me that her medical problem was the same as described of the woman in Matthew 9:20-22 who was healed when she touched the “hem of his garment” or perhaps more accurately the tassels on the corner of his clothing. The tassels were placed there under instruction of Mosaic law so the Jewish man “may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.” Num.15:40.

A woman with the same issue of blood today came to seek a touch from the Church, the presence of Christ in the world today. May we indeed be the “hem of his garment” that the world would see us as a reminder of God’s commands. May we be holy, set apart, and not follow the ideals of the world. May we think about the “least of these” and the problem of healthcare reform through the light of God’s commands. Then the Church can continue to be God’s healing presence in a dark world.

Pastor Rabbi Ron said...

I find it interesting - as a resident of Scotland (with an American Passport from my New Yorker Mother) who have a Nationalized Health Service - to ponder these issues and to read comments on such.

I wonder whether Such a system could actually work in the US... Health seems to be a big money spinner for the states... And a big business for the companies involved.

Although we in the UK sometimes bemoan our health system - there is a level of equality that comes from it. We may not be cutting edge all the time, but we treat all patients equally - I wonder if this is much more 'Christian' in its outworking. Yet, even with this, it is prone to malpractice and exploitation...

Yours in Christ.

Jay Miklovic said...

I appreciate this post.

The fact that we need gov't health care, or even health insurance at all for that matter is in some sense an indictment on the church. If the millions of professing Christians in this country took seriously the commands of scripture (I recognize this as an indictment upon myself too), there would be no healthcare crisis.

My great fear is that the gov't has to pick up the slack for the church, and in the end the people in gov't who solve the problem get glory as opposed to Christ. At the same time, we ought not just let the least suffer in order to get God glory. That would be oxymoronic.

It is such a difficult issue for me as a Christian to take a stance on. I want to see the least of these cared for, and I want to see Christ and His bride glorified. Clearly the healthcare systems in Europe have not increased the people of the continent's love for God since it has been implemented, regardless of the success of treating the diseases of the least.

As someone on the more 'conservative/fundamental' end of the UMC, I am really torn on this one. This is certainly an topic that deserves a truthful, healthy, and respectful debate.

Good post, good discussion so far.

The Red Kite said...


I am from the UK. Reading some of the comments coming out of America, like Jared's on here, I would say that Christ has not yet arrived in the USA, and shows little sign of doing so any time soon.

You Yanks take the biscuit.....selfish bastards.

Christian Prophet said...

The problem is not compassion. But government lack of compassion. Obama is trying to sell his government takeover of health care by calling it moral and Christian. Exactly the opposite is true. See:

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

No need to read the blog listed above by Christian Prophet. I think I may be sick. A synopsis would be this: Obama is bad. God Bless America. Mathew 95: 21 blue 32 hut hut. Jesus loves America.

The author skips the Gospel's undeniable call to Christian discipleship and care for the sick and the poor and skips to a horrible deconstruction of sacred scripture. God, take this anger from me...

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

Ok. I did some research. I couldn't figure out why it seemed like I was reading something from Mars that kept using Jesus name from the link in Christian Prophets Post. Turns out there is a para-Christian group that reads a book that uses similar theological terms and Biblical characters that isn't actually Christian. Thank You Jesus for the Catholics who explain this well. Here is the link.

ray said...

The umc church in 2007 recieved 6.29 bil from local congregations,5.1 bil went for local expenditures pastor salaries debt payment.If the church is so passionate about this why dont they talk with their pocket book.I am sure the baptist recieved much more than this the catholics, assembly of GOD etc.The church could give a percentage to the federal government to fund health care just like most tax payers will.I will if you will church.

Bob Bentley said...

I support the health reform act. The whole thing.

But that is only because we, the Body of Christ, have not only rendered unto Caesar, we have surrendered unto Caesar, things which belong to God, that is, providing care for His children. Maybe someday we can once again shoulder that call to love, but until we can and do, God's children are suffering and dying. Not just from lack of health care. But right now that is the issue before us. We must address it while we have the chance. And the government is our best hope right now. Isn't that sad?

I think Ray's idea would be an amazing witness to the world and a good start for the Church to re-assume our responsibility.

We also need to take a little walk with Jesus outside our building projects and into the places where people are not only unhappy with their health insurance, they have none. We might learn a few other things we do not know. Not knowing our neighbor's problems is not an excuse, it is an indictment.

Unknown said...

If more people would stop talking and start being active in government decisions making, there would be a mighty change. The problem is apathy...pray everyone would get off their lazy couches and make phone calls, write letters and attend town meetings. If you believe in health care reform, change, then it's going to be through action and not mere blogging. Pick up your phone and pen now...before reform gets waylaid by special interest.

ray said...

I am not sure the government is the conduit thru which the scripture commands us to love our neighbor.We are really good at finding our neighbors need ,then finding someone (other than the church)to fix it.Its seems to be more important to have the nicest building in the neighborhood and let the government help our neighbor .

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

Ray,here is the question: Can the church provide health-care (loving our neighbors) more efficiently than the government? Maybe when our sacred scripture was written the church was the only help people could get when they needed it. The Church is unable and not structured to provide modern day healthcare, even though scripturaly speaking we are still called to heal. How best can we heal the world in which we live today? I know that Methodists on average give 1% of their annual income to the church, with no denominations giving more than 3 or 4%. How do you suppose the church will pay for health care and healing of the sick? The government had the advantage of being able to levy taxes. The church does not.

In the book of Acts, we learned of the first Christians sharing all that they had and no one being in want or need. You can call it socialism or whatever you want, but I am a Christian first, and I must heal the sick and shelter the homeless, and share what God has entrusted to me, and do so to the best of my ability. If that means working within man made structures to do so I don't think God would mind. Think of this: Does your Church use a non-profit status to skip paying taxes? Most churches take advantage of this, so that they have more resources to share the Gospel and transform the world. If you are rallying against health-care, you should also be proclaiming that, we should also get rid of social security, roads and highways, and the military, so that the Church can show God's love by protecting everyone, taking care of all the old people, and making roads for easier transportation of the Gospel.

We have to be good stewards and do the most with the resources we have. Insurance companies siphon off billions a year to enrich their stockholders and ceo's taking their money from everyone else and creating a larger gap between have and have nots thus making it harder and harder for most people to get and keep health-care. Furthermore, I have noticed it is very hard to tithe and pay medical bills. The insurance company can take your home, car, and means of livelihood, but the church can afford to cut back some of their ministries. Think I'll cut back on God's portion.

Can the government make this better? Can Christians help the government make it better?

Change causes fear; fear can be a sin because it causes us to keep from acting when we should. Sometimes it seems easier to do nothing, but doing nothing is where we commit our sin.

Christians must ask themselves if God wants things to stay the same, or if God want things to be better? If they could be better, we are called to action, in spite of fear.

ray said...

I do agree with some of your comments Rev Nate.However the umc local congregations gave a total of 6.29 billion in 2007 of which 5.1 billion went for pastors salaries, church expenditures and debt payment.Maybe its time all churches gave something back to the government to fund those things the scriptures ask of us since we put some of it on the backs of the government.Tax payers will be required to shoulder the burden and if they are like me continue to tithe,or will they?As far as insurance ceos siphoning of billions,what about politicians and the wasteful pet projects and gross overspending,they do a pretty good job of siphoning,but after all they are the government we expect that.Not sure of what the solution is just know we are our brothers keeper or are we ,maybe thats why they call the government "BIG BROTHER".Health care is needed and reform is coming but i don think a government single payor plan is on the table anymore.

Rev. Nathan Mills said...

I would be happy to pay my insurance premiums to the federal government if they would provide me with the same insurance I had while I served in the National Guard. I paid 180$ a month for my family with 1,000 dollar catastrophic cap and an 8$ dollar co pay on medication. My new insurance the through the church pays about 80% of everything for 480 a month for me 480 for the church. If my family or I are ever seriously injured or sick in the hospital I would have to spend the rest of my life paying for one incident.

If a single payer plan depended on tax bracket the poor would have more access to healthcare, and the church and other non-profs could help them purchase the coverage at their rate.

Putting all the cost on business is not the way to go and would likely cause job cuts; the dems need to know this. Though I do not make over 250,000 a year I am willing to pay extra taxes instead of premiums to a corporation, if that means that I can get it for cheaper and am not constantly getting screwed over by corporate loopholes. The current government is more for the people than the corporations. Single payer on a slide scale is the lesser of two evils, or the cheaper that is.

We put alot of effort into the insurance argument, but doctors, hospitals, and staff members have to have a cap on what they can make. No one is talking about the fact that healthcare cost has gone up like 7 percent per year. While wages stay stagnate. Part of this are the wages and profits that the profession brings in, and the the corporations that own the hospitals. I think that doctors should make a good deal of money more than I do, I think that they should be esteemed in our society for their care of the human being, but I don't think that they should be allowed to oppress the poor with the ungodly fees that are charged. Wesley didn't like doctors in his day, because of their oppression of the poor. Things arn't all that different thees days either. Social esteem must replace the the fantasy of richness in money and things when it comes to the ego of healthcare professionals and the corporations that run the hospitals.

Maybe the church should start non profit hospitals to compete with for profit corporations. You could still pay the doctors and staff competitive wages, but you wouldn't have to charge 50 bucks for a box of Kleenex if you had the misfortune of staying in the hospital.

ray said...

Rev Nate.Great piece you have in one post given great solutions and more possibilities for those who dont have health insurance.Better than any politician I have heard on either side of the isle.I have a friend who makes over 90k per year and wouldnt pay 400 month for health care but he has a 30k bass boat and a 39k 4x4 and thinks the govt should fund his health care,we must identify who cant afford it.Oh and his wife drives a Lexus.Some people have their priorities all out of order.If someone would propose your plan ,it would be a good compromise.I like the part where the church gets involved with ther pocket book.BRAVO REV NATE