Are Lutherans pro health care?

I’ve been asked about the recent supreme court case. What is the position of the Lutheran Church?

I wish there was one Lutheran Church. Sadly, there are over two dozen Lutheran bodies in North America. Does the ELCA have a position? Yes the ELCA has position on health care. (We’re for it.)

In fact, I’d say Jesus has a position on health care. One only needs to read the shortest gospel, Mark to be overwhelmed with the number of health care (healing) stories it contains, especially if you include the exorcisms. It takes 45 minutes or less to read Mark’s short 16 chapters. Do it tonight, or tomorrow morning for devotions. You’ll be astounded by the number of healings. If Jesus spent the majority on his ministry offering free health care to the poor, it’s safe to assume he has a position on health care. (He’s for it.)

The church has always been pro health care. The modern hospital is an invention of the church. Jesus called his followers to visit the sick and show hospitality to strangers. Jesus went to the sick because there were no hospitals, only leper colonies. The early Christians cared for the sick. During the plagues, people were terrified of caring for the sick and burying the dead. Christians considered this their duty.

“Hospital” comes from the word “hospitality.” The Council of Nicaea ordered the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town. They provided housing for patients and caregivers. A separate section was built for lepers. Inpatient medical care was driven by Christian mercy.

So yes, we hold the historic Christian position of being pro-healthcare.

It has also been the position of the church that healthcare should be available to all, even the poor — no, especially the poor. No Christian hospital worth it’s salt would turn away a sick person who couldn’t afford care. Who pays for this? We all do. One way or the other. A poor, uninsured man critically wounded in a car accident is med-evaced to a hospital. Do they toss him out on the street? No. Who pays? The hospital. How do they do this? They simply charge you more. You’re already paying for it.

Requiring insurance for those who require medical care (all of us) spreads the cost out. Is it the right thing to do? Some Lutherans believe so. Some do not. Is it constitutional? We don’t know. We’re a church, not a law firm. Most pastors do not have degrees in constitutional law, a complex subject.

So here’s what we can say.

We in the ELCA are a church that is energized by lively engagement in faith and life. We support the importance of open discussion on religious freedom in our society.

We acknowledge that there are diverse viewpoints within the Church. We celebrate that diversity.

As Lutherans we affirm that good government is a gift from God when that authority and responsibility is exercised in the service of its citizens. Government should serve God’s purpose to care for the public welfare of all people with greater equity and compassion.

We believe in health care for all people, especially for people with limited financial means, who often suffer most.

We are committed to providing tangible care and support for the most vulnerable people in our communities. We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together. Lutherans here in the United States and around the world are engaged in ministries, programs and projects as a public witness to the gospel of Christ’s love and as service for the public welfare of all.

Our mission work around the world often focuses on building hospitals, providing clean water, eliminating malaria, battling HIV/AIDS, and fighting poverty, because we follow a Jesus who did not separate physical and spiritual needs, who served the poor, who healed the sick, who touched lepers.

We are pro-healing and pro-health care.

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About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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15 Responses to Are Lutherans pro health care?

  1. Marilyn Loan says:

    I am Lutheran and pro health care. I AM NOT PRO GOVERNMENT RUN HEALTH CARE! Yes, I realize that caps are shouting. We all joke about government run ANYTHING.

    • Jay says:

      Are you against public schools, police officers, fire fighters, post offices, the military, running water, social security, libraries, the coast guard, park districts, state parks, national parks, etc. (I could go on…)? The truth is that all of these are “government” run and the vast majority of these are run well.

      The point the Bishop was trying to make is that Jesus preached about and healed the most needy. We should all strive to these teachings, and this health care legislation aims to serve the most needy. I am Lutheran and I support this bill as it will help further Jesus’ mission: serve the poor.

  2. Rev. Sharon Kapsch says:

    Dear Bishop Mike, this is very well stated. Thank you for leaving room for diverse political views, while still upholding the truth of the Gospel. Blessings in the name of CHRIST, our Healer, Pr. Sharon Kapsch

  3. Tim Koester says:

    Thank you Bishop for this excellent piece. I hope you don’t mind if I use it for our adult forum time in the coming weeks. Like many congregations, we have a wide range of people who interact with the healthcare system in different ways. Some benefit greatly from the VA system which has been “government run” for decades. Others are self-employed and must find a way to deal with being in high risk, high premium pools. Others are elderly and have to negotiate the medicare system and some are un-insured because of pre-existing conditions or inability to pay. Not everyone agrees on how best to solve the very different problems faced by each group. The pundits say that in the coming days people will begin asking, “How will this affect me?” Bishop your article reminds us that as members in Christ’s body we are to ask, “How does this affect the whole, especially those members of the whole whose voice is often drowned out by those who like to shout.” Rev. Timothy Koester

  4. briangigee says:

    Mike, I hope lots of congregations will use this post as a launchpad for discussions on healthcare. When my mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2008 , my sisters and brother and I received a letter of condolence from the St. Elizabeth Hospital administrator and staff. The letter included a paragraph saying it was the hospital’s policy to eliminate any outstanding account balance for families who lose a family member to this kind of cancer. That posture of Christian care is difficult to put into words.

    I spoke with an assistant of my US Represtative, Pete Olson at a meeting last week. He said to his surprise he feels the new law will have value but also has no teeth. People who have no insurance will be taxed by the IRS and those who do not pay the tax will be ‘fined.’ Then, those who do not pay the fine will have no consequnce and the matter will be disregarded.

    In the end it is all a matter of self-definition. As the hospital self-defined to my family, others will self-define as well to have insurance or not and to pay what they can or not and still others will self-define as to whether this is the government’s duty/job/right or not. But, in our case, as church and as the part of the church called ELCA, we will do what we can as we can to be and do ‘hospital’ here, there, and everywhere.

  5. Janelle says:

    Great and helpful response. Thanks Bishop Mike!

  6. Andrea Walker says:

    Thanks Bishop Mike, I will also be using this to preach and form a discussion around the issues of healing and health.

  7. marge rich says:

    Thank you for your article, this is a hard one I feel for all. I want all people to have the help they need but would like all to take part as little or as much as they can. Our church does alot of talk on issues which I am glad as feel the church should be an extention of the world.

  8. Pingback: Are Lutherans Pro Health Care? | Pineapple Parable

  9. sig arnesen says:

    Good article. Would be interesting to see responses from those who take a contrary view.

  10. Pingback: Are Lutherans Pro Health Care? « West Linn Lutheran Church

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