Welcome to the Crawl
Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out.
This week, we are talking about Christian theology of healthcare in its historical and contemporary expressions. We will then explore how Christian theology can help us frame our communal search for better healthcare systems.
Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.
HISTORY: ChrISTIAN HISTORY AND HEALTHCARE
Note: Please read the first question in the section below before reading this section.
Throughout the history of Christianity, religious groups often took it upon themselves to open up facilities dedicated to caring for the sick and infirm. Within the medieval ages, these groups tended to be monastics who followed the Benedictine order. As some of the only people trained in Latin and Greek (i.e. the lingua franca of the time), monks were also able to read ancient medicinal documents, making them uniquely suited to the healing arts. Some of these monastic groups even went so far as to dedicate themselves to the creation of hospitals above all else; these groups were called “hospitalers.” Here is an excerpt from the rule of St. Benedict that discusses the care for the sick:
Before and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, that they be served in very truth as Christ is served; because He hath said, “I was sick and you visited Me” (Mt 25:36). And “As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt 25:40). But let the sick themselves also consider that they are served for the honor of God, and let them not grieve their brethren who serve them by unnecessary demands. These must, however, be patiently borne with, because from such as these a more bountiful reward is gained. Let the Abbot’s greatest concern, therefore, be that they suffer no neglect.
Later Protestant groups also took up the call to care for the sick through the establishment of hospitals, most notably the Methodists. John Wesley was an amateur physician, and dedicated himself to providing healthcare to the best of his ability to the poor of London. Reflecting on this, he recalled:
At length I thought of a kind of desperate expedient. “I will prepare, and give them [medical care] myself.” For six or seven and twenty years, I had made anatomy and [medical care] the diversion of my leisure hours; though I never properly studied them, unless for a few months when I was going to America, where I imagined I might be of some service to those who had no regular Physician among them. I applied to it again. I took into my assistance an Apothecary, and an experienced Surgeon; resolving, at the same time, not to go out of my depth, but to leave all difficult and complicated cases to such Physicians as the patients should choose. I gave notice of this to the society; telling them, that all who were ill of chronical distempers (for I did not care to venture upon acute) might, if they pleased, come to me at such a time, and I would give them the best advice I could, and the best medicines I had.
Many Methodists followed in Wesley’s footsteps. The Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, for example, was formed from the merger of a Jewish hospital and a historic, female-run Methodist hospital.
THE MAIN QUESTIONS
Historical / Theological Questions
- In your experience, what is the relationship between the following:
- Christianity and healing
- Christianity and healthcare
- What concepts (i.e. biblical stories, principles, or theological ideas) fueled historical Christian approaches to healthcare?
- These historical models of healthcare placed healing within a religious and interpersonal context. Hospitals were independent, religiously-run organizations that were funded by wealthy Christian donors. Doctors and nurses were individuals operating on their own principles. Reflecting on this context, answer the following questions:
- Are these statements helpful in reflecting on our market-driven healthcare system today? Why or why not?
- Are these statements helpful in reflecting on the role of government in our healthcare system today? Why or why not?
- Take a moment to read the below section which features an excerpt by the United Methodist Church on healthcare. Answer the following questions:
- How is this statement similar to the one’s above? How is it different?
- The Methodist statement argues that a democracy merges the responsibility to care for our neighbors into the responsibility of the government. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
- Does entrusting the government to supply healthcare somehow shirk the Christian responsibility to care for our neighbor? Is something lost in removing the personal dimension of previous models of Christian healing ministry?
- Does it mean to be “healthy” from a Christian perspective? How is it different from biological definition of health?
- What challenge, if any, does a Christian conception of health bring to our modern approach to healthcare?
- Supposing that such a thing could exist, what would the hallmarks of a “Christian” healthcare system be?
THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: UNITED METHODIST CHURCH’S STANCE ON HEALTHCARE
The current social principles of the Methodist Church’ Book of Resolutions explains their commitment to healthcare as follows:
The provision of health care for all without regard to status or ability to pay is portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:24-35) as the duty of every neighbor and thus of every person. In a conversation that began with the question of how one might obtain eternal life, Jesus asserted that one must love God and one’s neighbor. In response to the next question as to who one’s neighbor is, Jesus portrayed a Samaritan, an outsider, who, coming upon a wounded traveler, provided him with health care. Jesus portrayed the duty to provide health care as (1) one that is owed regardless of the merit or ethnicity of the person in need; (2) one that is owed to the limit of one’s economic capacity … and (3) a duty that one neglects at the peril of one’s eternal life. In a democracy, our duty to our neighbor merges with the duties that the Hebrew scriptures assign to government: the prophet Ezekiel denounced the leaders of ancient Israel whose failure of responsible government included failure to provide health care: “you don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice” (Ezekiel 34:4). The United Methodist Church therefore affirms in our Social Principles health care as a basic human right and affirms the duty of government to assure health care for all.
- You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. // Ezekiel 34:3-5
- On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” / “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” / He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” / “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” / But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” / In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ // Luke 10:25-35
- Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven // James 5:14-15
- See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. // Deuteronomy 32:39
Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. // Jeremiah 33:6
- Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. // Isaiah 53:4-5
THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS
- I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. // Charles Spurgeon
- The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind. // G.K. Chesterton
- I believe a government-run healthcare system fails in both compassion and stewardship. Governments don’t have the ability to be compassionate—they only have the power to coerce some people to solve problems for others, either through taxes or penalties. Plus, government-run healthcare takes away people’s stewardship responsibility. The government becomes a parent. And a parent who is not asking a child to be responsible shouldn’t be surprised when that child is irresponsible. // Jeff Myers
- Article: A Christian Perspective on Healthcare // Johan D. Tangelder
- Article: Christian Social Ethics and Health Care: Toward a Spiritulaity for a Biotechnological Age // Moni McIntyre
- E-Book: Health Care and Religious Beliefs // Alberta Health Services
- Book: Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity // Gary B. Ferngren