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Bert Montgomery: Gospel Care — an open letter to churches

 

Bert Montgomery

 

A couple of weeks ago my Commercial Dispatch column "Holy Health Care!" was picked up and carried in a few other newspapers. Something about it spoke to people. 

 

Responses ranged from a Baptist friend, who happens to be a physician, reminding me that government-run health care (i.e. Medicare/Medicaid) is already a bureaucratic nightmare, and expanding it will just make it worse for everybody; to another Baptist friend, who also happens to be a physician, reminding me that it is the government''s responsibility to protect and provide for its citizens.  

 

Then there was a response from a Methodist friend who is ready to jump in and get moving on what she termed, "Gospel Care." She may well be onto something. 

 

After all, were the Methodist Hospitals and Baptist Hospitals and Catholic Hospitals in our cities originally established to be money-making machines? Of course not. They were established to provide needed medical care for communities, especially during epidemics and other major health crises. And why was that? Because we proclaimed that, by God, every life is sacred and worthy of care -- and so, by God, we Christians would care for each other and our communities.  

 

But a tragic thing happened to our missions activities; they became businesses. Our Methodist and Baptist and Catholic hospitals now operate to serve ... a board of directors, to care for... the "bottom line," to obey the commandments ... of insurance companies. What were once missions for the love of God and others have become institutions competing for dollars.  

 

Every year we in our American churches organize medical mission trips and travel all over the world to provide care for people who do not have access to health care; we do it, because God calls us to do so. Here at home, though, we surrender our calling to businesses and government, and we watch as millions and millions of people continue to be denied access to medical care. 

 

This past Wednesday evening, I sat in a living room with fellow Christians, and I listened to a story about two women who, some 50 or so years ago, went into North Africa proclaiming that God loves anybody and everybody and that there is nobody that stands beyond God''s love. They were corrected by the people there -- God did NOT love at least one group of people: illegitimate children.  

 

Illegitimate children were not loved by God, and therefore ought not be loved by others. Boys were being tossed out into deserts to die; girls were being sold to become slaves. These two women stood firm and said, "No. God DOES love them. Give them to us. We will care for them." They took in babies, infants, young children; they fed them, clothed them, educated them, and raised them as people of worth simply because they were God''s children, too.  

 

To my fellow Christians at all levels of society (especially those in business, in insurance, and in health care professions), our actions are saying that some people are NOT loved by God, and therefore do not need to be loved by us. The gods of money and profit and efficiency are willing to toss people aside, and we are allowing it to happen. 

 

We in the Church must stand up against these false gods and declare, "No! God DOES love them. Give them to us. We will care for them." And, as we begin to care for those "not good enough" for the gods of commerce, we will discover we are caring for ourselves in the process. Because we are all people of worth simply because we are God''s children.  

 

St. Jude Children''s Research Hospital in Memphis, which has an outstanding reputation for research and treatment, will care for any child that comes through its doors, regardless of ability to pay. 

 

So, to those running Christian-named hospitals and clinics which were established as missions, let''s obey our Lord''s teachings; let''s be consistent in our beliefs and actions; and let''s simply treat anybody and everybody that comes through our doors with the best research-based treatment available, regardless of income or insurance.  

 

We don''t have to wait for the government to bureaucratize everything, and we don''t have to wait for CEOs of insurance companies to stop trying to get out of paying for treatments so they can pocket more cash. We just need to agree that this is who we are as people of faith, and we will care for each other and our communities because God loves everyone.  

 

St. Jude does it for sick children. We USED to do it for anybody. 

 

Let''s take our names back from the gods of commerce and return our names and our efforts to the work of God''s kingdom.  

 

Gospel Care. We''ve done it before; we can do it again. With our tithes and offerings, and with our hearts filled with God''s love for all God''s children.  

 

Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is misfitmusings@gmail.com.

 

Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is misfitmusings@gmail.com.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment JC commented at 8/31/2009 6:26:00 PM:

This is a great column. The CD should run a "countdown clock" of some sort until the day that Baptist Memorial agrees to do what Mr. Montgomery says.

 

Article Comment Taylor Burton-Edwards commented at 8/31/2009 8:05:00 PM:

Bert,

Thanks for this reminder of our calling to embody Christ by offering healing to all who seek or need it.

Yes, Christians are called to re-engage in more hands-on ways.

However, I think the characterization of the shift from "caring for the community" to "health-care as business" may be setting up a false "people are good, business is bad" dichotomy that may miss a few vital realities of the systems we now have.

It's not just insurance companies who drive up costs. It's also the rise of malpractice lawsuits. It's also the pharmaceutical industry. It's also, and perhaps most fundamentally, a drive to eliminate disease, and not just care for the sick and the dying. And with that desire, the expectation that we can, and should, do everything we can to accomplish that aim. And with the expectation, the expectation that any deviation from that result is unacceptable.

Results-- major improvements in overall health status and longevity unknown over so short a period of time in previous human history. On that scale, if not on others, the "business of medicine" has been incredibly successful.

St Jude's is a great example-- but also an outlier. Research and development costs that make that work possible far exceed what churches have or can reasonably generate themselves. The lost malpractice lawsuits (or settlements!) in any given state in one year would likely bankrupt the majority of congregations in that state.

Average church members mean well and no doubt want to do as much good and bring as much healing to others as they can-- but they lack the expertise to provide that care directly in this culture, and they lack the financial resources, themselves, at this point, to do what they did in previous centuries and deliver to the whole country (not just at St Jude's) what could be called anything much beyond "bandaid" care by today's standards. And by today's standards in the US, that level of care as norm would be highly susceptible to massive liability costs.

It can (and maybe should) be asked whether the churches should have allowed business and government to assume the role they formerly played in delivering health care in the US, roughly beginning during the Great Depression. It can (and maybe should) be reasonably asked at what point the desire to eliminate all diseases actually drives costs up to the point that basic health care is out of reach of many of us. Maybe if the churches had insisted then, we would not be in the position we are in now.

But what cannot be reasonably doubted now is that the business model for the health system we now have-- and that we actually have come to expect-- is only sustainable and accessible when operated on business models and with substantial government support.

So I see this as a both-and, not an either-or. Christians should be as involved hands-on as we can be, as a basic expectation of our calling as disciples of Jesus, AND we should be doing all we can to influence business and government entities that can provide revenue we simply cannot to do what they can do.

And one more thing-- we should be leading another conversation-- about the ethics of sustainable healthcare that may be less about defeating all diseases and more about loving all our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Article Comment Taylor Burton-Edwards commented at 8/31/2009 8:51:00 PM:

Bert,

Thanks for this reminder of our calling to embody Christ by offering healing to all who seek or need it.

Yes, Christians are called to re-engage in more hands-on ways.

However, I think the characterization of the shift from "caring for the community" to "health-care as business" may be setting up a false "people are good, business is bad" dichotomy that may miss a few vital realities of the systems we now have.

It's not just insurance companies who drive up costs. It's also the rise of malpractice lawsuits. It's also the pharmaceutical industry. It's also, and perhaps most fundamentally, a drive to eliminate disease, and not just care for the sick and the dying. And with that desire, the expectation that we can, and should, do everything we can to accomplish that aim. And with the expectation, the expectation that any deviation from that result is unacceptable.

Results-- major improvements in overall health status and longevity unknown over so short a period of time in previous human history. On that scale, if not on others, the "business of medicine" has been incredibly successful.

St Jude's is a great example-- but also an outlier. Research and development costs that make that work possible far exceed what churches have or can reasonably generate themselves. The lost malpractice lawsuits (or settlements!) in any given state in one year would likely bankrupt the majority of congregations in that state.

Average church members mean well and no doubt want to do as much good and bring as much healing to others as they can-- but they lack the expertise to provide that care directly in this culture, and they lack the financial resources, themselves, at this point, to do what they did in previous centuries and deliver to the whole country (not just at St Jude's) what could be called anything much beyond "bandaid" care by today's standards. And by today's standards in the US, that level of care as norm would be highly susceptible to massive liability costs.

It can (and maybe should) be asked whether the churches should have allowed business and government to assume the role they formerly played in delivering health care in the US, roughly beginning during the Great Depression. It can (and maybe should) be reasonably asked at what point the desire to eliminate all diseases actually drives costs up to the point that basic health care is out of reach of many of us. Maybe if the churches had insisted then, we would not be in the position we are in now.

But what cannot be reasonably doubted now is that the business model for the health system we now have-- and that we actually have come to expect-- is only sustainable and accessible when operated on business models and with substantial government support.

So I see this as a both-and, not an either-or. Christians should be as involved hands-on as we can be, as a basic expectation of our calling as disciples of Jesus, AND we should be doing all we can to influence business and government entities that can provide revenue we simply cannot to do what they can do.

And one more thing-- we should be leading another conversation-- about the ethics of sustainable healthcare that may be less about defeating all diseases and more about loving all our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Article Comment Kristin Secaur commented at 9/3/2009 6:02:00 PM:

Preach, it, Bert!!

 

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