CNN goes long to say little about clergy and Obamacare

In Ecclesiastes 12:12b, we read: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

Alas, the same might be said for this story from CNN’s Belief Blog, which spends an eye-popping 2,746 words to tell us something truly astonishing: some Protestant pastors don’t want to talk about aspects of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, also popularly known as “Obamacare,” from the pulpit.

All righty, then. Next!

Well, there is a tad more to the story: CNN reports that while some pastors — at least one — are happy to discuss the granting of access to health insurance to many individuals who could not get coverage before, such pulpit pounding is rare:

The Rev. Timothy McDonald gripped the pulpit with both hands, locked eyes with the shouting worshippers, and decided to speak the unspeakable.

The bespectacled Baptist minister was not confessing to a scandalous love affair or the theft of church funds. He brought up another taboo: the millions of poor Americans who won’t get health insurance beginning in January because their states refused to accept Obamacare.

McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger.

“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside. Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”

McDonald’s congregation cheered, but his is a voice crying in the wilderness. He’s willing to condemn state leaders whose refusal to accept Obamacare has left nearly 5 million poor Americans without health coverage. But few of the most famous pastors in the Bible Belt will join him.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Here we have one of the most controversial questions of the day, on a subject that is grabbing daily, if not hourly, headlines, fraught with complications on all sides, and some preachers — how dare they? — won’t be caught on camera or in an e-mail expressing an opinion about a public policy drama that hasn’t fully played out as yet.

One has to get 727 words into the text before coming to a highly logical explanation why many in the “Bible Belt,” as CNN deems it, might be skittish about jumping into the topic:

The silence is not hard to understand. Obamacare is a polarizing political issue in the Bible Belt. A pastor who publicly weighs in on the subject could divide his or her congregation or risk their job. And some prominent pastors like Osteen are popular in part because they do not alienate fans by taking political stands.

It seems strange: Many news outlets will happily pummel a pastor who gets up in the pulpit and preaches on a “political” issue-of-the-day, if said issue perhaps runs against the tastes and/or interests of the leaders of said news outlet. But here we have CNN, no novice in the journalism biz, practically indicting preachers who back away from controversy. Indeed, the CNN report turns to a systematic theologian known for his antipathy to some churches and their theology to make the point:

Conservative pastors who urge their colleagues to avoid politics are hypocrites, says James Cone, a prominent theologian who has spent much of his career writing books condemning white churches for what he says is their indifference to social justice.

“When their own interests are involved, they are very much involved in politics,” Cone says. “Same-sex marriage and abortion – they have no trouble politically opposing them.”

Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, says a nation is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable members. But there is an entrenched hostility to poor people in America that goes unchallenged by some white, conservative Christians, he says.

“When poor people get food stamps, they get mad,” Cone says. “When the rich and corporations get tax breaks and pay no taxes, they don’t say anything.”

Cone, as some readers may recall, last gained national prominence when his 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power was cited in 2008 as an influence on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a former pastor of then-candidate Barack Obama.

After trudging through CNN’s “slough of despond” over preachers who just won’t preach about the ACA, just before word 1,900, we find a megachurch preacher who not only has his own concerns about helping the poor, but realizes that a sermon on healthcare might just induce comas in his congregation:

Bob Coy, pastor of Calvary Chapel megachurch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wondered aloud about what he could, and should, say.

Florida, which has the second highest number of people without health insurance behind Texas, has not accepted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

Coy says he hasn’t spoken publicly about poor people missing health coverage in Florida. But he has called the governor to get more information.

“I’m not an activist guy. I don’t tell the government what to do. I am a church guy. I teach the Bible.”

CNN touches many, many bases in trying to craft a story that actually boils down, in my view, to very little.

Yes, there’s a gap in many states’ insurance options that have previously left some poor people without health insurance coverage. And, yes, some states have decided not to set up individual exchanges to provide coverage, leaving that to the federal government. But do preachers have an obligation to take this point into the pulpit? Yes, say some, and no, say others. If you’re following along, that summary took all of 61 words (after the colon in the first sentence), and that’s a lot less than 2,746.

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About Mark Kellner

Mark Kellner has been interested in religion since his pre-teen years, and has written about religious news actively since 1983. His work regularly appears in Adventist World and Adventist Review magazines, where he is news editor, and in The Washington Times, where he has contributed since 1991, most recently writing about trends in religion. He and his wife reside in the Maryland suburbs, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    At this point, it obviously doesn’t matter whether you go through a state exchange or a federal exchange. Either way, you probably won’t be able to get in, it will give your information to random strangers if you do get on, the insurance information you receive will be incorrect, the insurance companies can’t trust any of the information you give them, and you probably won’t be able to afford any of the insurance anyway. And even if you find out you’re eligible for the new expanded Medicaid, you probably won’t be able to sign up for that, either.

    So even if you were a big big fan of government-mandated universal healthcare, and even if you believed it was an imperative for some reason that the government provide charity instead of churches or individuals or groups doing it, why would you want to preach about it in any way? I suppose it would make a great example of how worldly plans gae aft agley, but that’s the Gospel According to Bobbie Burns.

  • truthisfree4u

    “You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord,” said the apostle Paul.

    That’s what I’m there to hear–not politics, and certainly not Obamacare.

  • Rev_Aggie_98

    I am not so sure it is a lot of words that say nothing as it is poorly organized. Blake did seem to be working very hard to make sure people of differing views concerning the healthcare law had a voice, but it is loosely organized by sub heading with little to connect it together.

    Also, it was a bit short sighted in covering a very important reason some pastors will not preach about ACA/Obamacare – the theology of proclamation. Differing theological groups have different beliefs concerning the role of the sermon. Confessional Lutherans for example see the sermon as solely for the proclamation of the Law and Gospel based on the Scripture Text for the day – not a time to talk about politics. We will talk politics else where.


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