Bert Montgomery: Gospel Care — an open letter to churches

August 31, 2009 3:14:00 PM

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 [email protected]

Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]