Okay, my fellow Christians.
We should chat.
Last week the House of Representatives voted to repeal Obamacare, and a lot of you were actually celebrating this development even though estimates are that at least 24 million people will lose access to healthcare if this bill becomes law.
When pressed as to why the people of Jesus– people who are supposedly called to be lovers of mercy and filled with compassion– would support such a thing, the excuse comes down to a frequently recited line: “It’s the church’s job to care for the sick, not the government!”
I’ve heard this line a thousand times. You use it frequently and in a variety of circumstances.
I mean, when you’re called out for supporting the slashing of food stamps and programs to help the poorest among us, you say the same thing:
“That’s the job of the church!”
And, I get it. You are partly right– caring for the poor and sick is the job of the church!
In Matthew 25 Jesus taught that at the final judgement he will sentence some Christians to divine punishment because they did not care for the poor or welcome immigrants. We also see the early Christian church in the book of Acts embrace a system of redistributing wealth so that there would be “no poor among them.” When the disciples commissioned the Apostle Paul he recounted, “all they asked me to do was to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). And then of course, there’s James who claimed that if we do not help the poor the love of God is not in us.
So, yup, you’re right: Caring for the poor and sick is the job of the Church. It’s not optional.
This brings me to a question I have for all the Christians who say, “The Church, not the government, should care for the sick”:
How many people in your local community does your church provide comprehensive medical care for?
I ask you this because I want to know something: I want to know if you actually believe it when you say it’s the “job of the Church.”
So, tell me– how many people does your church provide health coverage for? Do you provide a comprehensive insurance plan to the people in your community who can’t afford it, or do you have a team of doctors on staff at your church who see patients throughout the week? If not, what is your plan to provide medical coverage for all the people in your local area who might lose it if Obamacare is actually repealed?
I could ask you the same thing about food stamps, and all the other programs for the poor which you claim is actually the “job of the Church.”
If you believe that’s the job of the Church, is your church doing it?
I ask for a few reasons.
First, I ask for a practical reason: I already know there’s a 99.9% chance your church doesn’t do this. Research from the Barna group has shown that only about 5% of Christians tithe, and that the majority of Christians give less than $500 a year to their church or a charity organization. I honestly have no idea how the church is supposed to provide medical care for the poor when, statistically speaking, most Christians give little to no money to their church or outside charities.
Second, I ask for a pastoral reason: If you say that “it’s the job of the Church to care for the sick” but your church doesn’t do it, doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? Because reality is, if you claim this but your church isn’t attempting to do it, you don’t really believe it. This is precisely what hypocrisy is: Saying you believe something when your actions show you don’t really believe it.
Thus, if your church isn’t attempting to care for the sick in your community, the reason is because you don’t actually believe that’s the role of the Church. If you believed it, you’d do it.
And, I hate to tell you this, but according to Matthew 24:51, hypocrites will be assigned to the place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The sin of hypocrisy is every bit as serious as blasphemy, idolatry, sexual sin, etc.
Furthermore, there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits a secular government from caring for the health and welfare of citizens. The fact that yes, it’s the job of the Church, doesn’t mean that everyone else– including government– is somehow forbidden from doing it, too.
The idea that a government “of the people” cannot provide for the poor and sick simply isn’t in the Bible.
Is caring for the sick the job of the Church?
It certainly is– but the average church doesn’t do it. Even if we did, the likelihood we could do it on the scale needed to address the current crisis is rather implausible.
Which brings me to my ultimate question: If caring for the sick and poor is the job of the Church, but the Church doesn’t do it, why do we get so upset when entities outside of the Church (like government) step in and do what we have refused to do?
In my opinion, we should be embarrassed, not angry.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.