Bronze Serpent in Wilderness
I have heard a lot of talk and conjecture here recently about social justice and national health care. I agree with Kevin DeYoung when he says the term “social justice” should never be used unless it is defined. Perhaps a lot of the discussions concerning a national health care plan are futile with the “Ted Kennedy” seat going to Scott Brown. However, it is important for Christians to be able to think about everything from a Christian worldview.
Are we thinking with a Christian or Republican worldview (aren’t they the same)?
I have been a bit saddened by the lack of evangelical disagreement with the socialized healthcare debate. For the most part, all I hear is that I am a conservative and/or republican… and my party disagrees with that. This may be true but it does not get at the heart of a Christian view of government. Now, there is substantial disagreement of what the proper relationship of government is to the church and vice versa. Much of this disagreement comes down to one’s eschatological position (some Postmillenialists favor theonomy, Dispensational Premillenialists favor Neoconservativism and pro-Israel).
Why do we have human kings?
Before we delve into what the Scriptural principles given to non-theocratic governance, we must first look at the history of the Hebrew people. Up until Saul, Israel was a theocracy where God was King and the Mosaic Law was its governance. God’s people rejected YHWH’s kingship and instead wanted a human king like the cultures around them. God warned them of the error in asking for this but granted them Saul. Saul’s regime was oppressive and tyrannical (especially in comparison with his predecessor YHWH). He imposed hefty taxes on Israel. The question of church and state was not a question until Israel asked for Saul, ever since, it has been an issue. We shall examine the issue of church and state at more length in a later post. However, suffice to say that I think it good for the state to keep their nose out of the church and for the church/Christians to have a worldview – a worldview that includes political thought.
What does the Bible say about human governments?
Romans 13 is clear that God’s sets up and takes down rulers. They are not somehow outside his providence. This does not mean that human rulers are just, righteous, or equitable. This does mean that they are accountable to God for their actions and that God will use their actions, moral good or moral evil, for His purposes. The Scriptures do establish a non-theocratic (civil) government’s authority to establish certain rights for its citizens. The Scriptures establish a civil government’s authority to protect negative rights. Negative rights are rights that prevent harmful or morally evil things from happening to its citizens. For example, the civil government is obliged to protect its citizens from murder, theft… etc. It does so by establishing and enforcing laws that punish moral evil. In my view, the Scriptures do not establish a civil government’s authority to protect/assert positive rights. Positive rights are rights that affirm that some beneficial thing ought to be provided for its citizens. In other words, Scripture does not affirm that it is a civil government’s responsibility to care for the sick. Scripture does not affirm that it is the civil government’s responsibility to give alms to the poor.
If not the civil government, then whom?
It is principally the church’s responsibility to care for the sick and the poor amongst us. During some points in our history Protestants have been good at doing this through the establishment of hospitals and such. However increasingly these hospitals have come out from under the care of denominations and become secularized and institutionalized… succumbing to all of the ails of reactive health care, pharmacological manipulation… etc.
The church needs to take better care of the widow and the orphan. Our churches have become so narcissistic and inward. Caring for others is a blessing. If someone is truly in need (and not all with an open hand are…) then we ought to be caring for them. I would strongly recommend reading When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Ourselves. I would also recommend forming a partnership with organizations that have experience in Biblical community development (vocational, health, counseling…). One such organization for Biblical vocational community development is Jobs For Life. I can wholeheartedly affirm their ministry firsthand. I would also recommend reading Marvin Olasky’s books The Tragedy of American Compassion and Compassionate Conservativism.
I think it is also important for us to remember that human kings will always be imperfect and will never be fully just. Human kings ought to make us long for the perfect king in Christ whose kingdom is righteous, just, and perfect. His administration is flawless. His world, Universe, and creation redeemed. His Kingdom and His government need no alms. His Kingdom and His government needs no health care.
For point of clarification, the church (nor the people of God) does not have a monopoly on common grace. The government can be an agent of common grace in a culture, society, or world. However, civil governments are not Biblically mandated to be the institution that provides all the “good” things in that culture. If anything, the Biblical narrative presents civil governments in a very negative light that is nearly universal: The Egyptians, the Canaanites, Saul, Jeroboam/Rehoboam, Judah/Israel and almost every king in the divided Kingdom period, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Roman occupation. The few kings that are presented with any measure of high regard are David, who prefigures Christ, at points Solomon, and Cyrus, who God raises up to release Israel from exile. But even those kings all had major blunders that hurt both their people and the perception of those people. I do not think it is a huge interpretive jump to say that the Biblical narrative supports smaller government. It is really quite simple, if civil government is run by fallen humans and the Biblical/historical record shows a pattern of oppression and tyranny, then we can expect tyranny from human governments unless we afford for checks and balances to their power.
Another point of clarification, I think socialized health care is unbiblical in our present American context. The church and the private sector have the ability to provide these means of common grace. There is no reason to cross pollinate our hospitals with the ills of the DMV or the Postal Service. In entirely different, largely secular contexts, pragmatism will win the day (for better or for worse). If a country has the economy to support it, then health care will/ought to be taken care of by the private sector. If a country is small enough a social health care system could theoretically ‘work.’ Least common denominator services help no one. Hospitals already don’t turn people away.
Things such as roads, or city infrastructure (water, sewer…) are drastically different cases than health care. The U.S. Interstate system was built initially primarily for military purposes. Sometimes roads are built by the private sector also though (toll roads, turnpikes, some bridges…). Pragmatism can dictate (and this is not always evil) that the government, local or federal, take on some project that is beneficial to all of the society. The critical distinction between these infrastructural elements to society and a socialized health care system is that no one is ‘hurt’ if a new interstate is built, or you now have water/sewer access to your home/business that was not their before. Whereas, with health care, substantial harm could be done to the quality of one’s own health on the altar of “social justice” or “equality.” Laying pavement is much different that a quadruple bypass. Laying pipe is much different than cancer removal. In my view, federal-government has the anti-Midas touch. We all like our roads, but even the DOT is quite a mess. If the private sector can provide a product that the federal government is monopolizing and disallowing competition, I think a strong case be made (both through sound reason and moral principles) that privitization is the right thing. Further, I think the burden of proof rests on big government folks and not small government folks. I see no Bible verses commanding that government be large and tyrannical. The Biblical burden of proof is on those who play the ever-so-vague “social justice” card.
Evangelicals have shirked and punted many responsibilities to the federal government. Previously (here and here), I have traced this habit back to the split of Protestantism into liberalism and conservativism (the fundamentalists originally, who are now called evangelicals) . I do not think it would be all that massive of an undertaking for evangelicals in the country to completely eliminate the foster care system. This would take 250,000 families adopting one child into their family. I think this is feasible. Elders at local churches would vet potential families, and the deacons at those local churches would oversee the transfer of children out of government foster care and into adoption into elder-approved families. I think the whole process could take less than 10 years. It is highly idealistic with regards to the current status of American evangelicalism but, in my view, entirely possible.
Unless, non-governmental institutions step-in to provide value-added social care for a nation-state, one runs the risk of the endless march of bigger government and tyranny, as its government continues to expand its power and control by nationalizing previously private businesses and service sectors. It is one thing to keep a wealthy nation with a small military of 10 million people in check… it is entirely another thing to keep a nation of 350 million (with a strong monopoly of violence) in check. Evangelicals cannot think that merely voting will stem the tide of bigger government and/or socialism. If you do not want to see this happen, then I suggest we corporately affirm James 1:27:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.