The Great American Debate: Who's My Brother’s Keeper?


A Look At Who Is To Help The Poor, The Widows, The Severely Sick, The Homeless?

 After every American Presidential election a lot of evaluations, introspections, and analysis occur. Questions are asked by the losing party to analyze what went wrong, what oversights did they have, etc.  One of the big questions during this election was “Who is my brother’s keeper?”  The Republicans said the private sector; the Democrats said the government; and I asked if it is the Church’s responsibility.  Americans are so self-centered when voting. As a lady on one Republican TV add asked, “Mr. Obama, what have you done for my family since you were in office?” What is in it for me: a job, benefits, educational opportunities, etc.? It is not what is best for the country; Americans have lost touch with what sacrifice means during an election year. What is in it for me?  I think the turning point of this election came with Hurricane Sandy, for the reality of “Who’s My Brother’s Keeper” came alive as the private sector held TV concerts asking people to donate $10 to the American Red Cross, while President Obama came on location, promising to cut through the red tape so people could reestablish their homes, their dreams, their fortunes. Government responded better than the private sector did, enough to sway the vote to reelect the President.

“Who Is My Brother’s Keeper” I have asked in previous blogs and cannot get that question out of my head. The best example that hits home for me is the issue of mental illness, which I have addressed in previous blogs. My wife supposedly has health coverage through the private sector and Medicare A, governmental coverage, because of her disability. After a year of three inpatient visitations, Medicare has yet to pay for anything, and since I am retired, I pay a huge out of pocket sum to my private sector provider, plus copays, additional bills because of non-network providers, and forever calling my private sector health provider over billing errors, bills, and administrative headaches, etc.  

With inpatients, the private sector hospitals dealing with mental health try to bandage serious problems and have the patient discharged by the 21st day because of pressure from the private sector health provider who bottom line is to make a profit.  The health and welfare for the patient isn’t the top priority; payment to keep our huge American health system afloat is. Where I live, the health system is the highest county employer, the largest county institution, even greater in number than government workers.

If the private sector doesn’t want to be my brother’s keeper unless the bottom line, a profit, is made, nor the government due to political pressure, then is it the Church’s responsibility?  I have learned that most churches are clueless on how to handle mental illness, nor any understanding how to reach out to the person inflicted by the disease nor the family who is the caregiver. 

What does a caregiver do when hospitals will not take in their sick loved one inflicted with a serious mental disease unless they are able “to physically hurt themselves or someone else”? What does the caregiver do when hospitals work hard to “release” the patient as quickly as possible, even when they are not medically stable to be released due to pressure from health insurance providers? What does the caregiver do when their loved one, who is still very ill, is released back into their care with little if any supportive resources available for the caregiver? What does the caregiver do when their “religious family” inadvertently avoids them because they doesn’t understand their dilemma due to stigma, further isolating the ill person and their caregivers?

At least in America’s mental health world, everything is dumped on the caregiver: the coordinating of multiple doctors of all kind of medical persuasions due to addressing side effects, the financial burden of all the “bills” the others do not want to cover, and the extreme pressure and tension of being the caregiver 24/7 when at the mercy of slow working drugs, over booked psychiatrists who meet for only 15 minutes to “re-address” drugs, and ineffective recovery programs.

….. And if the mentally ill person doesn’t have a loving caregiver or family, their future probably holds poverty, program and institutional dependency for the rest of their lives, nonstop taking of powerful mind altering drugs, possible conflicts with the law if they become medically noncompliant resulting in criminal records and possible incarceration, and possible homelessness.

All this can be avoided if we follow the Biblical principal, “I was a stranger and you …” took me in, clothed me, fed me, visited me in prison, in the hospital, in a homeless shelter. We need to be like the Good Samaritan who was willing to help a Jew, a non-Samaritan, a stranger, who was physically beaten down, paying for his medical coverage and housing until he could again stand on his own.

Church, are we expecting our Samaritans, the non-Christian institutions, to take care of our hurting brethren, or are we going to step up to the plate and begin reaching out to the physically and mentally ill, the hurting, the homeless, the rejected and dejected? This is why the power of “shepherding” in the five fold model needs to be revived and supported by the other passions and point of views for effective ministry. With all these challenges, the five fold is needed more now than ever.