U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), speaking of his early days as a doctor before Medicaid, said about the poor and uninsured that "the churches took care of them." (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Does it matter where presidential candidate Ron Paul goes to church?
The answer is "yes."
The trigger for the question was his response during a Republican presidential debate on CNN.
Moderator Wolf Blitzer said to Texas Rep. Paul: "Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I'm not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I'm healthy, I don't need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who's going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?"
Paul predictably replied out of his libertarian ideology, asserting that American society practices socialism and "welfarism."
Blitzer asked pointedly what Paul would want.
Paul hedged that the young man should have had a health insurance policy.
Blitzer persisted: "Who pays?"
Paul blurted: "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks."
The audience applauded.
Blitzer pressed: "Are you saying that society should just let him die?"
A few members of the Tea Party audience shouted, "Yeah."
Paul spoke of his early days as a doctor before Medicaid, saying about the poor and uninsured that "the churches took care of them."
The audience applauded.
Paul said, "And we've given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it."
In a nutshell, Paul's solution to a health crisis for an individual without insurance is to say that he made his choice and must pay the price for being free. Let the church look after him.
Letting the church care for the ill, the poor and the elderly is the solution for Tea Party members and many Republican officials, who detest government spending and oppose taxes for social services.
Letting the churches "do it" begs the question about where Paul goes to church and what his level of charitable giving is.
On Sept. 16, I emailed Rachel Mills, communications director for Paul, asking where he attended church and what his contributions to that church were in 2009 and 2010.
Her e-mail response included only the following: "Matthew 6:3."
Matthew 6:3 reads, "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
The next verse clarifies that charitable giving should be private.
The charitable giving of presidential candidates is often public information. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama made public their giving records.
Since Paul's communications director didn't answer the question about where Paul attended church, I emailed her on Sept. 22, asking that question again.
Without citing a Bible verse, she wrote, "He is active in a church but he doesn't publicize which one."
I then emailed Texas pastor Brian Jacobs, a founding member of Evangelicals for Ron Paul, who said in an email that Paul attended First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas.
An email from the church's pastor, Chad Alexander, said Paul was not a member of the church but had attended one service during Alexander's tenure of a little over a month as the church's pastor.
First Baptist Church of Lake Jackson is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the more conservative of the two Southern Baptist bodies in Texas.
Since Paul is not a member of that church and his staff lacks transparency about his churchmanship (including charitable giving), one is left to wonder where and how Paul practices his faith.
On his presidential campaign website is a statement of faith in which Paul says, "I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate."
He also referenced "God-given rights," "Christian values" and "the biblical mandate."
The question still remains: Where does Ron Paul live out his faith in terms of wanting the church to care financially for the ill?
Texas has a church on seemingly every street corner. Texas also has a higher percentage of uninsured residents than any state, according to the ABCNewsblog, with 26 percent lacking health insurance.
How much money do these churches spend each year on emergency room care? What percentage of their annual budgets goes to cover medical expenses for the uninsured?
The amount of available church money for health care costs is determined in part by the giving of church members.
Another determinative factor is whether the church prioritizes "social ministries" or "indigent care." Most churches budget a teeny-tiny amount for caring for the poor, the ill and the elderly.
If the Texas congressman were an active church member, he would know that. He would know what a sham it is to pitch the idea that churches, instead of the government, ought to "do it."
If Paul and other politicians want the church to cover health care costs, then they ought to disclose their charitable giving as evidence of their own commitments. Let's see if they are all hat and no cattle, all talk and no walk.
The political rhetoric that suggests churches can replace the functions of government is an expression of an anti-tax ideology that is simply disconnected from reality – reality about church life.
Some churches do a remarkable job caring for the poor, the ill and the elderly. Other churches fund mostly their staff, buildings and programs that mainly benefit their own members.
Nothing good is served when politicians mislead the public with the false solution that says the church can take over the care of the ill and thereby reduce government funding for health care.
RobertParham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.