As I watched the emotional explosion hit social media last Thursday and Friday, following the House passing the AHCA, I sat watching the incompetence of the church. On one hand, the conservatives were gloating and celebrating, unconcerned with how this bill would affect millions of people. On the other hand, Christians of varying varieties were busy calling Trump names and expressing their disgust with the utter failure of the government to protect its people. From my perspective, one is right but both are incompetent. From these places, the church has failed to recognize and respond from a Gospel-oriented/present Kingdom reality.
The Gospel is an event that sparks a revolution of new creation. The missional conversation is filled with language of the alternative politics and economics of Jesus, imagination for an alternative social reality, and the church as a foretaste of Heaven. Expressed within this language is the idea that the Kingdom of God is making its appearance within the people of God. The people of God are the called out, formed, and sent-people manifested in local bodies of people known as the ecclesia (church). The ecclesia is organized, formed, and motivated by the reign of God. By “alternative” we mean alternative to the social reality within which the ecclesia currently finds itself. In this way, the Father, Son, and Spirit are cultivating the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. We, the ecclesia, as participants in this mission are the sweet aroma of Christ and a foretaste of Heaven.
Organizing the Ecclesia in the Politics and Economics of Jesus
This is the second post in a row where I have spoken of the politics and economics of Jesus. I realize some may be confused or unnerved by this language and idea because of our tense political environment. Friends and family relationships have been strained and even lost because of politics, so why in the world would we ever want to make Jesus political? I also realize the American idea of separation of church and state can confuse some when they read these terms. We have been raised to believe that Jesus is apolitical or that the church should not to interfere with politics. But when we say things like “vote your beliefs/values” we are confessing that Jesus is inherently political.
There are a few issues that need to be worked out regarding the politics and economics of Jesus. First, what do we mean by politics? John Howard Yoder argues the following:
Anything is political which deals with how people live together in organized ways: how decisions are made and how they are implemented; how work is organized and its products shared; who controls space, land, freedom of movement; how people are ranked; how offenses are handled.
In the same manner, we could argue that economics is anything that deals with how people manage their wealth, redistribute wealth, manage production and consumption. Whenever we find Jesus speaking into these situations, it is the responsibility of the ecclesia to discern how we may best submit to his words. It does not take much reading of the Gospels to realize Jesus has much to say. Nor does it take too long to discover how the ecclesia in Acts and the Epistles began responding to his rule.
Additionally, we must take an ecclesiological approach to the politics and economics of Jesus rather than one that mimics the prophets in Davidic Kingdom. The prophets of the Old Testament spent much of their energy and words speaking to and calling out the Kings of their day. In this role, they spoke truth to power and called Israel back to a holy form of living. In the death of the Messiah, we find the birth of a new creation. A new Kingdom is breaking in... and it is doing so, not through national governments but through the ecclesia (both transnationally and locally). This means that our most important responsibility is to organize ourselves in the politics and economics of the Kingdom. In doing so, we dependent upon God and his new creation, rather than the government. The church (ecclesia) does not need to be dependent upon the government for the care of her people.
What AHCA Reveals
Previous health care systems established by the church are good examples of what this looked like. To be clear, the church did not start health care, but it certainly expanded the idea and practice of it. Hospitals were often started and supported by the church, sometimes even being hosted within churches or monasteries, for the sake of her people as well as her neighbors and strangers. The Abbot of Cluny established a hospital and appointed persons to seek out the sick and hurting in their local communities and bring them in for care.
Today our practiced economics have been influenced by neoliberalism more than Jesus. We believe we must possess insurance through the market, and thus we put our faith in it by giving a portion of our wealth to a company in exchange for protection. When we see this as our only option, we inevitably submit to the companies as lord and must accept their terms. At this point, they can change the terms and raise the premiums, causing some to go without. This causes the people to cry foul and beg the government to intervene. In doing so, we are making the claim that the insurance companies are bad lords, and we then attempt to submit ourselves to the government. We say, “You can be a better lord,” or, “At the very least, please protect us from our lord's via regulation.” When we, the ecclesia, enter this hysteria, we inevitably tell the world that it is better to be American than Christian and/or that greater is the hope of the Oval Office than the throne of heaven. Our response and protest reveals nothing about the politics and economics of Jesus.
Is Jesus An Incompetent Lord?
When the multitudes had followed Jesus to the hillside, they were hungry and in need of food. The disciples wanted to send them away to find food, but Jesus told them to feed the crowd. With five loaves and two fish and Jesus’ blessing, the disciples fed the multitude and everyone was satisfied and there was some leftover. This miraculous story of Jesus reveals various aspects of the economics of Jesus and his Kingdom:
- The people are the responsibility of Jesus and his disciples. God, as the great provider, is more than capable of sustaining his people.
- Jesus and the disciples give of their resources for the sake of the people. I’m sure Peter was thinking, “Jesus, if we give up this food, then what will we eat?”
- The economics of Jesus and the Kingdom operates from a place of abundance, not scarcity.
When responding to AHCA and the health care crisis, the ecclesia does not throw a fit and call the government names. We do not tell people they are on their own. Doing so reveals that we have no alternative. It reveals our incompetence and suggests that Jesus is an incompetent Lord. Instead, we act from a place of abundance and offer the Kingdom of God as an alternative way.
Seeking An Alternative System?
What does this alternative way look like regarding health care? I’m not certain, but it starts with the love of neighbor and care of the other (Parable of the Good Samaritan). Our local ecclesia needs to practice the early church’s shared economics. And the national/transnational ecclesia could consider co-ops. What would it look like for the church to begin developing a universal health care system? This goes beyond my expertise, but not God’s. I know that he has given the Church skilled and gifted persons who can imagine alternative health care options. He’s done it before.
In the meantime, the local ecclesia must begin bearing one another's burdens. And this includes health care. Numerous Christian health care co-ops are available to assist. Between the local ecclesia and these providers there is much we can already do. Check out some of the testimonies from a few of them: Christian Healthcare Ministries and Christian Care Ministry. Once we have established alternative systems to support and care for our people as well as others, we can then engage bills and reforms like AHCA. But until then, our cries only reveal our incompetence.