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Where is the Church? A reflection on the healthcare crisis, christianity and organized religion

December 14, 2008

I was reflecting today on the sheer magnitude of the health care crisis that America finds itself in. Data from a 2006 survey of Americans show that 43.6 million are without healthcare; although that number increased to 47 million in 2007. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reported good news in 2008 that the number of uninsured was down to 45.7 million. What? Good news? That number is still unacceptable. The problem of health care access is so large that many organizations like the CDC and the NIH have devoted entire task forces to the problem. The reason insurance and health care access are an issue? Cost. The U.S. spends more money per capita than any other industrialized nation on health care, yet our infant mortality and life expectancies are not impressive. The truth is many people can’t afford health care or health insurance. Let me provide just one anecdotal example. I have good friends who own a marketing business. They have always provided benefits to their employees, feeling like this was a moral obligation in a small business setting. The second year they provided this benefit to their staff of less than 15 their rates increased 42%. In year three, the rates increased another 30%. They are now seriously considering dropping this benefit. I am sure many of you out there can relate to this story or fill in with one of your own.

My question today is… Where is the Church? Yes, you know… those people called by God to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, care for the widows and orphans (James 1: 27, Matthew 25:37-46, Isaiah 58:7, Romans 12: 17-20). These are the same ones who fixed the first major health care crisis in America with the building of hospitals to care for the sick and dying. Where is the Church now? What has changed so much in the last 200 years that the Church has left health care to businesses and bureaucracy? Many evangelicals are busy yelling about Gay marriage and abortion, but they fail to involve themselves in one of the biggest moral issues of our time. Why is this the case? I am perplexed by the fact that Churches do not employ nurses to help oversee the health of congregations or that congregations themselves do not sponsor health care clinics that offer immunizations, blood pressure screenings and basic diabetes, asthma, or emergency preparedness education. Further, I am perplexed by the amount of spending on buildings, books, audiovisual equipment, yet when a member of a congregation is ill in the hospital there is often little discussion of assisting in medical expenses. Where are the crisis funds for members and, more importantly, non members? How can the Church shine its light to the world when they care more about how clean their carpet is than whether the people living on the street behind the church can obtain a yearly mammogram screening? Why do we send teams half way around the world to do good and forget the people down the street?

The church is called to care for everyone, not just their own, and it seems we are not doing that very well. I look at my beautiful children and wonder how I can teach them true servant-hood amidst the current social crises that the Church has almost fully ignored? Do not hear me wrong. Are buildings important? Yes, in as much as they serve for a place for people to meet, care for others and sometimes worship. Worship however does not happen on just a set time on certain days of the week. Worship is how we live our lives every day. Likewise, I understand the complexities of a society that has too many rules that limit effective use of those trained in healthcare and too many people ready to litigate for financial gain. Why should these two hurdles stop us (church members) though? Are we not wise enough to provide access to health care in maneuvering these road blocks? Why do we leave such problems up to the government to solve? (we know how good they are at solving problems) How serious are we about doing the work of Jesus? Jesus spent the majority of his ministry healing (Matthew 4:23, 8:7, 8:13, 8:14, 9:1, 9:12, 9:22, 9:35, 10:1….). I wonder when or even if the Church will call itself out to do the same?

Links of interest:

Centers for Disease Control and Uninsured – http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Uninsured/

National Coalition on Health Care – http://www.nchc.org/facts/cost.shtml

Health Affairs and Cost spending – http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/23/3/10

Cover the Uninsured –

http://covertheuninsured.org/factsheets/

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