It’s become popular to argue that the church should handle the welfare needs of the poor and the healthcare needs of the uninsured — rather than the government. I thought I’d check how realistic this might be.
According to USGovernmentSpending.com, total state and federal welfare spending has varied from 2.69% to 5.13% of GDP over the last 10 years. It’s a total of $750 billion for 2010 — which is signficantly higher than in prior years. There are about 112 million households in the US (average size of 2.2). About 47% attend church regularly.
If the church-attending households took on the entire state and federal welfare burden, it would cost them about $14,750 per Christian household per year. That’s a lot of money. Of course, the churches would be vastly more efficient than the government, but I have trouble seeing the churches carrying the entirety of this load. Put it this way: in a church of 220, giving would have to increase by $1,475,000 per year — above current giving!
The burden on society from uninsured health care isn’t as great. After all, the poorest among us are covered by Medicaid (taken into account in the welfare figures), and so the uninsured are largely those working at hourly jobs that don’t provide insurance and yet who aren’t poor enough for Medicaid.
The total costs on uncompensated health care (not paid by patients or insurance) per year is about $40 billion. (This is, of course, a highly controverted figure. But it’s plainly a huge number.) These are bills hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies can’t collect from their patients because the patient isn’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid (in most states, you have to be nearly penniless) and yet not wealthy enough to be able to pay the bills. In fact, uninsured medical bills are the most common reason for a person to take bankruptcy.
The cost of covering uncompensated health care would be about $760 per church-attending household — requiring a contribution increase for a church of 220 of $76,000 per year or about $1,500 per month.
There’s plenty of room to disagree with these figures. After all, the churches would be more efficient. And churches would have far greater flexibility to design programs to truly help people — but, then, if there are 12 denominations in town, could they even agree on how to organize such a huge welfare program?
Let’s be honest. We have trouble keeping roll in our classes. We don’t know how to do big time welfare — like building 100-unit affordable housing. And the hospitals that the churches run look a lot like private hospitals and government hospitals. It’s hard to tell how a church-run hospital differs from anyone else’s hospital other than the big cross on the side of the building.
But that big cross is important. One thing we lose by delegating our good works to the government is Jesus getting the glory. Another thing we miss is values. The government can’t tend to the spiritual health of the people it serves. It can’t give spiritual reasons to keep the baby or to not get pregnant in the first place. It can’t change the hearts of men and women so that they become good parents.
But since the government is already paying the $750 billion welfare ticket for us, why aren’t we involved and teaching values anyway? If we can’t get motivated to help people when the dollar price is relatively low, what makes us think we’ll suddenly care just because it’s more expensive? That doesn’t make sense. I mean, either we love people or we don’t. And — on the whole — we don’t. Not really.
You see, I find it is just a little ridiculous to argue against a social program on the theory that the church ought to do it — when the church isn’t doing it. It’s more than a little hypocritical.
That doesn’t mean I’m in favor or against this social plan or that. I’m just against hypocrisy. Stop saying that the church ought to help rather than the government and go help. Then maybe the government won’t have to.
But even if the government jumps in and helps, well, it still can’t teach values. So why don’t we? Why aren’t we in the projects and neighborhoods helping people in need and showing the love of in Jesus in ways that draw them to their Lord? Why aren’t we helping broken families? And helping people who can’t pay their healthcare bills?
You see, the choice isn’t between the government helping or the church helping. It’s between you helping or you not helping.