Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Church Should Provide Healthcare Coverage, Not State": Two Statements Confronting This Claim of Many U.S. White Christians with Reality

As a way of prefacing the two articles to which I'm pointing you below, with excerpts, I want to remind you of several observations made by Frances FitzGerald in her book The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2017) (for previous discussions of this book, see here and here). First, there's this:

The most important change in American politics since the New Deal, the shift [of white Southerners to the Republican party] owed largely to the general southern reaction to the federal civil rights laws, but evangelicals — who made up two fifths of white southern voters — played a critical role, particularly from the late 1970s on (p. 330).

And then there's this:

The Southern evangelical shift from emancipation to a defense of slavery had consequences beyond the matter at hand. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, southern evangelicals had launched a variety of reform movements, among them the abolition of imprisonment for debt, the amelioration of prison conditions, and the expansion of suffrage. But the reform movements all lost momentum before reaching their goals. In defending slavery against hostile northern opinion, southerners began to regard the advocacy of any kind of reform as potentially threatening (p. 52).

FitzGerald goes on to explain that Southern evangelicals promoted a doctrine called the doctrine of the "spirituality of the church" advanced by Presbyterian thinkers but generally accepted by Southern evangelicals. This doctrine undergirded their rejection of social reform movements: the church belongs, they wanted to insist, to "an order of grace" that is removed from the political and socioeconomic worlds and the troubling moral questions those worlds raise. The "order of grace" is contrasted with the "order merely of justice" that the state inhabits (p. 52).

This doctrine resulted in a viewpoint among Southern evangelicals that the saving of souls — not the reform of morally abhorrent social institutions — should be the only and all-encompassing objective of Christian churches (p. 53). This focus created among white Southerners an "intensely individualistic, asocial religion"(p. 54).

All this by way of preface: there's a solid slice of white American Christians who identify as "pro-life," but are stalwartly opposed to the expansion of government programs providing healthcare coverage for citizens on the margins of society. There's a solid slice of white American Christians who are downright jubilant at the thought that millions of poor citizens may soon find themselves without healthcare coverage recently provided (and imperfectly) by the Affordable Care Act.

Those white American Christians are found in both evangelical and Catholic circles. Conservative white Catholics have increasingly adopted white evangelical rhetoric about how "the church should provide healthcare coverage, not the state." Tune in to any number of online discussions of the healthcare issue in the U.S. at both Catholic and evangelical blog sites, and  you'll find any number of "pro-life" white Christians, both Catholic and evangelical, exclaiming that the U.S. government is attacking churches by offering healthcare coverage to indigent citizens: it's the role of the church to offer such coverage, they'll claim.

Lying always just below the surface as white American Christians make this mendacious, insincere claim (since American churches do not provide healthcare coverage for citizens on the margins of society; if they had been doing so, there would not have been any need for the ACA) is the imagination of these white Christians that someone else will be affected by the loss of healthcare coverage.

Someone with a black or a brown face . . . . Not good white Christians like themselves, who deserve all the social support the government can afford them . . . . We would not be where we are now, with Donald Trump in the White House and the prospect of seeing millions of citizens having healthcare coverage ripped from them, without racism (see Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel on this point at The Nation today) — though the critically important role played by racism in this sordid social drama is often not acknowledged, especially by white Catholics and the U.S. Catholic bishops.

And now two recent statements about these matters to which I'd like to draw your attention: here's Benjamin Corey at his blog yesterday:

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?

And here's Preston Yancey in Washington Post this morning, a pro-life Christian whose son Jack was born with craniofacial microsomia, and has required extensive medical treatment and intervention to keep him alive:

I want to believe better of the pro-life community. I want to believe they care about Jack's long-term health and not just the fact that he was born. I want to call them pro-life, not antiabortion. But the conversations (or the silence) around health care makes us wonder. 
My baby almost died one night. I saved his life by placing a tracheotomy tube into him when all the others would not fit. That tube was bought using Medicaid. 
On a practical level, the church has not found the $40 an hour for PDN. It has not found the money for ASL classes. It has not found the money for therapies, breathing treatments, for stays in the pediatric intensive care unit. The state had found that money. The state, even in its deep flaws, has found the resources to give Jack a quality of life, not just a life. 

The church has not found the $40 an hour for PDN. It has not found the money for ASL classes. It has not found the money for therapies, breathing treatments, for stays in the pediatric intensive care unit. The state had found that money.  

This past Sunday, a guest of ours visiting from Charlotte, North Carolina, wanted to take Steve and me and Steve's brother  to lunch. As we had lunch, we could look out the restaurant window to see one of the big Baptist churches in Little Rock up on a hill above the restaurant, surrounded by cars and trucks of Sunday churchgoers.

This is a church with highly influential members, including one with international influence due to his previous position in the American government. My parents were married in this church, as it happens, when it was at another location in the city.

Right across from the restaurant, we saw a banner announcing that this wealthy, influential Southern Baptist church has bought part of a former shopping center below the church. Someone at the table wondered what the church intends to do with the building it has now acquired.

I quipped, "Oh, no doubt they intend to open up a free medical clinic to take care of all the folks from whom 'pro-life" white Christians want to rip away health insurance coverage."

We then all laughed uproariously. 

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