The Miserly State of the US’ Welfare Regime
Will Jones emphasizes how Spencer recounts the pivotal role that Christianity has played in the formation of Western ideas, values, institutions, and culture in his book, The Evolution of the West. Through a series of essays developed through his work with Theos, a Christian think tank based in Westminster, UK, Spencer is careful not to claim too much for the faith, but also not to commit the more common modern sin of not crediting it enough. Jones contends the result is a readable book for non-academics and, therefore, a highly worthwhile read for Christian and non-Christian audiences.
For me, one of the most poignant phrases of the book is, “Together, they (this book of essays) are an attempt to hear the past in its own key, rather than instinctively transposing it into one with which we are more familiar, and comfortable, today. Spencer has set the tone for his book and what it can teach us by establishing this tent stake in the ground. That is for me, the most challenging aspect of learning from the past is the cognition and discipline to decline my transpositional tendencies. I already appreciate Spencer for giving me language for this biased practice that limits my learning.
My one other foible as a scholar is my tendency to quickly assess how a source will either aid my research or my coaching work with church planters and pastors. Spencer’s book represents a source on a topic that, while I find it surprisingly curious, will not find its way into either my research or my weekly work. However, the inquisitive nature of this cohort has inspired me to read and consider resources made available to me despite my projected applications.
While I found a number of his chapters interesting, I was most attracted to “Christianity and the Welfare State.” Perhaps like me, you are drawn to topics where you have personal connections. My connection with this topic is in the area of affordable health care. Glo has battled significant health issues for some twenty years or about a third of her life. Hopefully, while not diminishing her challenges of hope/faith/despair/discouragement/discomfort while running the gauntlet of personnel/procedures/facilities, I want to focus my thoughts on the financial risk.
I am most self-conscious of this reflection, as we have had access to medical insurance and the means to pay what insurance does not cover these past twenty years. Shockingly, throughout Glo’s health challenges, we have needed little or no medication. That is until this most recent chemotherapy regimen, where Glo’s daily med is $500 per pill, and our monthly co-pay should be $2,000, and Glo has been on this regimen following our Hong Kong advance through today. Somehow I do not understand how we have not had to pay this. Therefore, I most humbled and thankful to God for his mercy and provision for our lives as this simple example of financial risk, could quickly become ruinous for us.
Again, I am most humbled and thankful for God’s provision for Glo and me. Still, I wonder about affordable health care for others in these United States. Especially as I know from my dated banker experience (2000-2005), often medical debt is one of the primary causes for adverse credit collection actions leading up to and including bankruptcy. As I am learning, medical debt problems can strike anyone and cuts across age groups and educational levels. Even people who would be considered financially responsible can be affected by medical debt (more than half of Americans with medical debt have no other debts listed on their credit reports.)
Spencer walks us through an overview of welfare regimes and describes the “liberal” US welfare culture being influenced by the ecclesiology of Reformed Protestantism, which emphasizes self-help, personal asceticism, and prudence (or perhaps far-sightedness). These attributes culminated in the state welfare system being slow to develop. I never realized that our country’s health system’s absolute dependence upon employment is predicated upon Reformed Protestantism. Perhaps this is why the millennial generation of my son (who is not a practicing Christian), will never understand how our country’s political will can spend massive sums on military infrastructure and yet be so miserly on spending, so everyone has access to affordable healthcare.
I perhaps will never understand the US’ political practices, but I can now see how this traces back to our historic Christian underpinnings. Spencer amplifies this foundational understanding in his summary statement, “this means it is impossible fully to understand welfare regimes today without understanding the religious cultures in which they developed.”  More importantly, I wonder how the current Church can influence the US for the healthcare benefit of all its inhabitants, going forward.
 Will Jones, “How Christianity has actually shaped our values: A review of Nick Spencer’s ‘The Evolution of the West'” Christianity Today, March 14, 2018. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/how-christianity-has-actually-shaped-our-values-a-review-of-nick-spencers-the-evolution-of-the-west/127389.htm
 Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values (London, Great Britain: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2016) 4.
The Checkup by SingleCare, July 17, 2019, https://www.singlecare.com/blog/medical-debt-statistics/
 Spencer, The Evolution of the West, 173.
 Spencer, The Evolution of the West, 178.
8 responses to “The Miserly State of the US’ Welfare Regime”
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Harry, thank you for this post. Thank you for bringing attention to the need for national health care that provides protection for all. Working at the US Patent office, I understand the reason why health care is so expensive is partly because of the money that is made when a drug is patented. If you have a 20 year exclusive right to a drug that is patented, you are going to charge all you can at least in the first 10 years of that drug. There has to be a balance but capitalism rules in this country. God bless you and my friend and shopping partner, Glo. We continue to stand in prayer with you guys.
Thanks so much for your prayers and kindness towards Glo. She can’t wait to shop with you in Cape Town! Many blessings.
Thank you, Harry. You have a described a pertinent subject for many in our nation. Probably most of us have been touched by it in some way. I too was surprised by the effects of the Reformation on some of these issues. It caused me to be even more sober about the influence we have as the church for good or bad. What are the long term effects of decisions that we often don’t consider?
I’m grateful for your provision! The last thing a family should have to worry about is finance when they’re battling serious illnesses.
The paradox is we who believe in divine healing today often have had the least care and concern about this. It is amazing how thoughtful I become when I have a personal connection! Like so many other issues, very complex and not easily resolved. Lord, fill us with your wisdom to help bring resolution to hurting people in our communities. Many blessings.
Harry, what a great topic to wrestle with. Indeed the protestant reformation has seeded much of modern protestantism with a hard row to hoe, but I think the question that needs to be wrestled with is how much we’ll let that past dictate our future. One of the great things about the reformation was the freedom to read the scriptures and re-understand them in the present context. Maybe as modern protestants we need to take another look at how we understand healthcare and drop off the bits from the past that are now seen as unhelpful to the faith and culture in general.
I’m so glad that you and Glo have been fortunate enough to have healthcare coverage good enough to handle her struggles. I pray that someday as a nation that will be more the case for everyone and not just those of us fortunate enough to get it.
Yes, you are so right. It would seem in a country blessed with so many resources we could provide this for all our citizens. I know how fortunate Glo and I have been, I would love to see this available for all. I wonder what the first step would be?
Excuse me, not for all our citizens, but for all who happen to be here. Sorry about that, dumb mistake!
Hey Harry, I experiences Ike yours and thank the ord e live in New Zealand where health care is pretty mush free. Spenser’s chapter on the topic was interesting in that he linked social concern with the churches proximity to ecclesiology – the more independent our Christianity the more likely we are to live in a contributive state, rather than a state of care. The ecclesiastical situation in English history has determined a high level of state care. I found this an interesting observation and one that appears to be justifiable given what we seen from church life. Apart forum your experience with Gloria, what would you’re own leaning be given your Christian background?