The most common question put to me as I promote the work of Anglican health facilities is why the Church should still be involved in providing health services. Throughout the world the state and the private sector have come to varying accommodations to ensure that health care is available. People ask me why the Church should not now just get on with its core business - which presumably in their mind means prayer and moral guidance?
I wrote about this recently in a newsletter produced by the Africa
Christian Health Associations Platform. I offer an extract as a taster,
and hope you might follow this link to read more:www.africachap.org/x5/images/stories/14th edition english .pdf
Christian compassion dictates that the strong should help the weak and
that the wealthy should subsidise the needs of the poor. We call this
‘charity’; a term which expresses the love we are commanded to have for
our neighbours. It is a spiritual and practical corrective to the
inevitable disparities that emerge in market societies, whether ancient
or modern. In the idealised setting envisaged by the laws of the
Pentateuch, the surplus of one person provides for the needs of another.
The Jubilee principle dictates that no-one should become too dominant,
and that no-one should be left in slavery and destitution.
This may have been applicable to the pre-modern rural setting where the
transactional nature of this subsidy was personal, but what about this
diverse and dynamic world of 7 billion neighbours we have now? Here
there needs to be a more professional and universal system to ensure
that resources are shared effectively. But does this then mean that
interpersonal acts of compassion are no longer significant? Does it
imply that government rather than local religious community should
manage safety nets and redistribution systems? Or to conceive of the
question in another way: Does the enlightenment notion of human rights
supersede our religious vocation to express charity?
These quasi-political considerations have implications for Christian
health mission. Can the ‘right to health’ be fulfilled to any extent by
the ‘charitable’ sector, or is it by nature only government that can
manage a comprehensive health system? In answering this question,
Christian activists have to decide whether to focus on persuading
governments to execute their task more effectively, or whether to expand
their own services to those who are underserved by the public system.
Of course, the answer to these dilemmas is not going to lie at one of
the polar extremes. If we discard the many outlets for compassionate
care of our neighbours, we become less than the human persons into which
God breathed loving existence. We are driven by divine commission to
help those in need. On the other hand, if we think we can effectively
transform the needs of society through some idealised divine kindness,
we are blind to the limitations of our capacities. We are not yet in
Heaven. We are still seeking the Kingdom. Laws and authorities will help
direct societies to bring health and hope to all people, without
prejudice or omission.
These are grounds for a positive partnership between Church and State.
Working collaboratively, the energies of faith and the mandates of law
can ensure a stronger human society, blessed by the underlying
experience of compassionate love. Various alignments of responsibilities
between Church and State can be adopted. Varying cultures can adapt the
relationship as required. The goal of complementarity can be progressed
to best effect.