Many Christians want you to preach against Obamacare: don’t do it.

In an article in the Aquila Report today Larry Ball argues that pastors need to start preaching about politics again, specifically in view of the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Ball suggests that Christians are entirely at a loss about how to respond to this development, both because the national slide away from the constitution has been going on for so long, and because the church no longer teaches what the Bible has to say about these matters. Ball writes,

Christians have been kept in the dark for lack of good teaching. In essence the Constitution today is null and void. The only answer to the modern political debate on health care is a return to biblical law.

Ball’s sentiment is not far from that of other conservative Christian culture warriors in this respect. As one person suggested in a comment on this blog, we should not be so quick to dismiss the importance of fighting culture wars. After all, we are called to fight the principalities and powers of darkness with the Word of God. Or as a more extreme culture warrior argued relative to the Obama administration’s immigration policy: “We are living under a Criminal State. Morally speaking, we do not owe it obedience.”

Ball goes on,

Conservative politicians, and even the Church, are unable to apply biblical law to the political issues of the day. We still seem to believe that the separation of Church and State voids the application of biblical law in the public square.

It should not be surprising that many churches support Obamacare and the confiscation of wealth for redistribution. The State has become their partners in the ministry of mercy. Other churches are silent and have nothing to say except a few prayers on Sunday Morning for the civil magistrate. The sermons that most preachers preach are what I call ‘safe’.  They deal with the legitimate and orthodox issues of the heart, but they never cross the boundaries into the realm of the duties and limitations of the civil magistrate. Most evangelical preachers never call the civil magistrate to obey the law of God.

This is a striking argument, not because it assumes that preachers should have something to say about government, but because it assumes, virtually without argument, that “biblical law” would call for the overthrow of the Affordable Care Act on the basis that it involves “the confiscation of wealth for redistribution.” If only preachers preached what “biblical law” had to say on this matter, Ball argues, we would all know that Obamacare is unconstitutional.

I have three basic problems with this line of thinking. First, why is it that political conservatives are so confident that the Bible gives them a platform from which to denounce government taxation policy? If the Bible says anything about the relationship between Christians and the state, it is precisely that believers should not imagine Christ’s kingdom to say anything that would remove Caesar’s authority over money and taxation. Wasn’t it Jesus himself who asked the Jews whose inscription was on their money? And whose inscription is on those dollars that fill the wallets, bank accounts, and pension funds of Americans?

Oh, but you might say, legitimate taxation is different from “the confiscation of wealth for redistribution.” But how so? Is not the essence of tax policy the confiscation of wealth for redistribution to others, whether those others be the military, the courts, the police, or whoever? And does Scripture really teach us that certain forms of redistribution are legitimate, whereas others are not? We should not be so sure. Remember, fellow Christians, whose inscription is on the money. Remember what Jesus said about it. Don’t use Christ’s pulpit to advance your own political agenda.

Second, why does Ball assume that “biblical law” somehow guides our interpretation of the Constitution? On the one hand, it is entirely unclear to me what he means by “biblical law.” Is he referring to the Torah? Are we supposed to enact the 30 cases of capital punishment, including death for sabbath breaking, disobedience to parents, and false religion? Should we be canceling all debts every few years, and making sure that all American families can have a plot of land that is ultimately inalienable from their family holdings? Should the government be requiring businesses and farms to leave a certain amount of work for those who are poor, so that they can provide a living for themselves?

On the other hand, I do not understand how anything found in Scripture tells us what the Constitution says about tax policy. The whole point of the 16th Amendment of the Constitution was to give the government the right to tax the income of the very rich so that that wealth could be redistributed to the rest of the country. The Constitution does not place significant restrictions on the government’s power to tax. Nor does Scripture.

Third, if the church does throw its weight around in the arena of health care policy, will the result really be what Ball wants? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it quite clear that apart from certain provisions relating to abortion and religious liberty, it stands fully behind Obamacare because of the biblical mandate that calls government to ensure that the poor receive basic provision and health care. And here the bishops, a bastion of pro-life conservative Christianity, are quite consistent with what many of the most conservative evangelical African American denominations and churches in this country have been advocating for years.

They are also not entirely without precedent in a figure like John Calvin, who freely spoke of the government’s obligation to ensure that the basic needs (he called them rights) of the poor are met, both in terms of basic provision and in terms of basic health care. It was Calvin, Ball may not realize, who argued that the diaconate of the church should work closely with the civil government in this area.

To be sure, I am not remotely defending Obamacare. I think it is bad law, and I hope it is replaced with better law. It also contains certain provisions that Christians should oppose, in line with what the Catholic bishops have said. But when it comes to health care policy the fact is that good Christians will disagree. The legislators, president, and judges who have made Obamacare the law of the United States are not the principalities and powers of darkness. They are the authorities (or ministers) ordained by God to govern this land, to whom we owe obedience, love, and service.

And that, ultimately, is the point that really gets lost here. Christ told us how we are to “wrestle against … the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It is by walking in faith, hope, and love in obedience to the word of God, exemplifying the sacrificial service of Christ toward our neighbors in all that we do, and so witnessing in word and deed to the gospel. To be sure, that does not mean we compromise our convictions about what is best for this country, nor does it mean that we submit to government when it commands us to disobey God. But it does suggest that we do these things in a spirit of love and humility, not in the spirit of culture war.

Most importantly, we should not be so quick to assume the voice of Jesus when disputing the wisdom or prudence of health care policy. Jesus told us whose money and whose authority are at stake here. Preaching against the Affordable Care Act and its tax policy does not proclaim Christ’s lordship; on the contrary, it claims Christ’s authority for what is really the opinion of man. We may worry that government has taken upon itself a messianic complex, but let us beware that we do not do precisely the same thing.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on July 2, 2012, in Culture War, Health Care, Politics, Welfare State and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Many Christians want you to preach against Obamacare: don’t do it..

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