Health Care, Christianity and American Politics

faithbased_healthcareI’m angry. And I’m angry because I’m frustrated. As I write this, certain friends, members of my family, and people I know from church are in desperate need of medical care and they can’t get it. They can’t afford it themselves, and they have no insurance. They can’t afford insurance, and their employers (for the ones who have jobs) keep them in perpetual part-time or temporary status because the companies can’t afford to provide it. So these people are stuck in wait-mode. For months and years at a time. Sometimes in severe discomfort and pain, sometimes left in states of semi-disability, sometimes in life-threatening conditions, and the rest of the time left in just lingering fear that they might get sick or be in an accident.

Also as I write this, Washington DC is in the middle of a so-called Health Care Summit between the White House and leaders of Congress, and frankly, I think it’s little more than theater. The government seems to be hopelessly grid-locked in ineffectiveness. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or remain unaffiliated, as Christians what should our goal be? What should we do for those suffering among us? And what would our Lord do?

It’s hardly even necessary to ask “What would Jesus do?”. We all know it well enough. Jesus never preached about balanced budgets, or even lower taxes. He never mentioned market-based capitalism or the right to make a fair profit. What he did say was “I was hungry, and you did — or did not — feed me. I was sick, and you visited me — or not” — along with the appropriate blessing or curse: “Come, you blessed of my Father, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you,” or “Depart from me, you cursed people, into everlasting fire” (Mat 25:31-46). That’s some scary stuff.

I’ve heard conservative religious people say that it is not the government’s responsibility to care for the sick, the poor and the elderly among us. They say that’s the Church’s job. Sure. But so far I’ve seen too little church involvement in dealing with this in real life — aside, perhaps, from preaching about how congregants should vote in the next election. Maybe as individuals we should pool our money, our tithes and offerings, to care for those who need help in our communities. Maybe in our churches we should create benevolence funds to help pay for prescriptions and food for those who worship with us. Too often we look the other way even when it involves people who may sit in the pew next to us, let alone people in our community who don’t go to our church. We — each of us, all of us — need to do something.

But even if we do pool our excess resources, most of us are living paycheck to paycheck ourselves. We can barely afford our own bills (well, aside from our Blackberry or iPhone plans and our morning Starbuck’s fix). Large scale help just ain’t happening that way. And since most of us pay taxes, it DOES then fall to the government to “promote the general welfare” (as our Constitution states). We get a voice and a vote, if even a small one, in how our money is spent. Sorry, but in my opinion, this is one area where the interests of the church and state SHOULD mix.

I’m an American. I’m even a capitalist. I believe in the “American dream” and in every one’s opportunity (and responsibility) to live it. But I am first and foremost a Christian. I give my time and my money where I can. But I can’t personally afford to pay for my friend’s needed MRI scan. I cannot foot the bill for that chemo treatment, or that back surgery. And my local church’s budget would be spent in a day to cover a neighbor’s hospital stay. But it seems no matter how little money I may have, my government has no problem taking its pound of flesh from me. I can’t escape the automatic tax deductions from my paycheck. So that gives me the right to demand that my government use my money in a way consistent with my values. My voice and my protest may gain little; my elected officials may ignore my wishes (and they often do). But if nothing else, I can insist that my representatives do SOMETHING to help those crying for help.

This means YOU, Congresswoman Mary Fallon. This means YOU, Senator Tom Coburn and Senator Jim Inhoffe. You all claim to be Christian — especially as you call for school prayer, banning gay marriage, and protecting my right to own a gun. Stand up now for your faith, and put our treasury to work for the desperate needs in our community. Do something good in the name of your faith, now if never again. Break the grid-lock, stop the stalling and stone-walling. Instead, break the chains of oppression, proclaim deliverance to the captives, and set at liberty them that are bruised.

I’m not a fire-and-brimstone kind of prophet, but the cries of hurting people reach the Throne of God. And you and I — as individuals, as the Church, and as Americans — will be judged for what we do next.

Jesus Loves You. Here’s a Condom.

Jesus loves you. Have a condom.Weird situation at church yesterday. A group of us were sitting around talking, waiting for our weekly men’s group to begin, and there was this plastic bucket sitting on the table in front of me, filled with condoms. All kinds of condoms. Colored, textured, lubricated, plain. Not your father’s typical church supplies. As part of our outreach (to use a little Christianese), we’ve opened our building as a site for free HIV testing twice a week, and despite the adamant message of the abstinence-only crowd, a condom is the best defense against HIV. But in MY church?! ¹

Yeah, I get bent out of shape easily sometimes. And I threw one of my “you can’t be serious” looks at the pastor. But he was dead serious. And since I knew I was on a journey of “radical acceptance” and opening myself up to allow God to use his Church in ways he wants (even if it raises some eyebrows), I was eager for the theological justification. Too bad I didn’t get it. The pastor’s position was simple. While as believers, we maintain a Biblical standard for purity in intimate relations — marriage and fidelity — we still need to love people enough to help them stay safe even if they don’t live up to our standards. Nutshell theology. Good for the soul, but not really satisfying to my analytical mind. So as I picked through the bucket, marveling at the assortment of glow-in-the-dark colors, I started wrestling with the arguments and implications. Another mind-stretching experience.

Would Jesus be handing out condoms at the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association? According to my pastor, of course he would. But I could already hear the protests of my conservative evangelical friends and colleagues, rolling in disgust in their pews. Isn’t this tantamount to condoning sin? I don’t know. But what does Jesus think?

Did Jesus ever overlook a moral shortcoming in order to save a life? Images of scenes from ancient Middle East started flooding my mind. Isn’t this the same argument about working on the Sabbath? Isn’t it better to allow people to rub grains of wheat in their hands in order to satisfy their hunger, even though Sabbath laws forbid it? Or, could pulling your ox out of a pit in sheer mercy and compassion justify overriding the Sabbath restriction against it? And David, before he became king, entering the tabernacle and stealing the holy bread there to feed his hungry men — doing what was unlawful. Jesus justified him, applauded him. Here was a man who understood the heart (and priorities) of God. (Lk 6:1-5; Lk 14:5)

Didn’t a tablecloth containing all kinds of forbidden meat lower from heaven to Peter in a vision, with a command to eat and call nothing unclean that God has made clean?  Because it’s about people, not rules.  (Acts 10:10-15)

That scene of the Samaritan woman at the well also presses itself into my mind. She’d been married five times, and was currently living with a man not her husband. Yet because Jesus spends time talking with her (a scandalous action back then), God’s salvation was brought to her entire village (John 4). And he never once rebuffed her for her disreputable lifestyle. That other woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned by the righteous people of the day … Jesus steps in and saves her life. In this case, he does correct her: “go and sin no more.” But he doesn’t look at her offense. He focuses on saving her life. The correction comes later, when she was in a more receptive position (John 8:3-12).

And that famous parable of the Good Samaritan who takes care of the man, beaten, robbed and left on the side of the road to die by the holy people of his day. Are we, the Church, not the Priest and the Levite who walked by, not wanting to dirty ourselves even to save a life? We’d rather preach to him, tell him God loves him, all the while pointing out his faults in an effort to change him. But we won’t kneel down in the dirt with him to offer him the help he actually needs at that moment. Who ultimately was the good neighbor? Jesus’ words: the one who showed mercy. “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:30-37).

Condoms, oddly enough, are never mentioned in the Bible. I can’t find any single passage in Scripture that specifically states that doing something which might appear to condone sin is acceptable if done out of love. But there are plenty of examples where Jesus himself does this. Love overrides Law. It is the “Ox on the Sabbath” principle.

Am I completely comfortable with this? Not yet. It may be a little while longer before you see me at the Rodeo passing out condoms, telling people Jesus loves them. It’s still a little too far from my traditional, conservative upbringing to adjust so quickly. But I am completely convinced that this is the kind of attitude and thinking we need to embrace if we’re going to be a light in the 21st century. It’s what Jesus would do. The world seems to be falling apart, people are dying. They need God, and we the Church have failed to deliver. This is the kind of out-of-the-box action that demonstrates who we really are. This is the message people need to hear. God loves you. We love you. Our greatest desire is for you to have an intimate relationship with God. In the meantime, be safe. Here’s a condom.

¹ Just to clarify, the condoms were not in the sanctuary and are put away during services. They were in the fellowship area of the church where the HIV testing was going on, and HIV testing sites are required by law to have condoms available.