Body and Soul

They're so much a part of the urban scenery that we don't even notice them any more. I'm talking about the names carved above the doors of sprawling hospitals in so many neighborhoods: St. Jude, St. Elizabeth, Holy Cross, Good Samaritan. The names speak eloquently of a rich Christian heritage in the field of health care. The past several days I've been talking about health care, and you may wonder what this subject has to do with the Christian church. We forget that when we talk about government-run health care, we're talking about bureaucrats taking over what was once largely a Christian ministry. Historically, Christians have taken seriously the social commands of Jesus, who came up with the original comprehensive health package: Feed the hungry, care for the sick, look after the widow and orphan. The crucial difference between His plan and Hillary's is that He commanded us to do it, not the government. And historically, we did: Over the past two centuries, American Christians covered the landscape with hospitals, orphanages, maternity homes, soup kitchens. These were places that treated the whole person, dispensing spiritual care along with physical and material care-something no government bureaucrat can do. But as with so many other institutions founded by visionary Christians, the secularists moved in and the Christian vision was shoved out. Today hospitals with names like Holy Family Medical Center routinely abort babies in the same wards that once echoed with the cries of newborns. In geriatric wards, residents now urge families to fill out forms for grandma that read "do not resuscitate." Many doctors no longer enter medicine because of compassion for the sick but because of the large salary that can be made off human misery. Is there any way back to the Christian vision of health care? Yes, the vision is still alive in overseas missions. Medical missionaries in Africa and Asia still treat the whole person, diagnosing diseases of the body and the soul. And the same model is being revived in our own country in the inner cities. For example, the Esperanza Health Center in Philadelphia is staffed by Christian doctors, nurses, and social workers. It ministers to thousands of impoverished inner-city patients every year, many of them suffering from substance abuse or AIDS. Volunteers visit patients in their homes, pray with them, and take them to Bible studies. We stumbled on "a method of health care I'd never done before," says Dr. Carolyn Klaus, founder of the clinic. For the first time "I was doing whole-person medicine." As we enter the twenty-first century, Christians need to recapture the vision of earlier centuries: ministering to the whole person. For if we neglect the social commands of Jesus, I guarantee that the government will step in to do it. And when it does, it will crowd out Christian missions-just as government welfare threatens to crowd out Christian charity, and government schools compete with Christian education. If you and I stand by and let this trend continue in every area of life, in the end nothing will be left of our Christian heritage-except the names of saints carved above the doors of aging buildings.  


Chuck Colson


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