The United States as Anxious Congregation

I firmly believe that the only real health care reform worth our time, money, and investment is a national, single payer system – medicare for everyone.  No more private insurance companies. Doctors making decisions with you about your health on the basis of your health needs, not on the basis of what your for-profit health insurance company will pay for – OR NOT.  One payer, you and your doctor deciding what you need, different payment system, basically the same delivery system.  The philosophy is that the poorest, least employed among us have the right to be as healthy as the richest, most employed among us. It’s called taking care of each other.  Getting to this place is causing massive amounts of anxiety in our country.  I am a minister.  The national situation surrounding health care – I won’t call it a debate as I hold out still that real debates are civil, intelligent affairs – reminds me of the anxiety produced in congregations whenever changes are introduced.

Members of congress and President Obama face increasingly hostile responses to ANY proposed change to what is obviously a broken health care system.  Every single industrialized, western democracy has some form government sponsored health which provides more care to more people for less money than our for-profit, private health insurance system.  Yet even mentioning that the system is broken to certain people is like being the boy shouting that the emperor is naked. GASP!  Well, the emperor is in fact naked and has been walking around in his birthday suit for a long time.  Yet, introducing change to a broken system is guaranteed to be met with resistance.  People who understand the need for immediate change are agonizing over the snail’s pace of moving the United States toward the solution and so President Obama and his supporters within the administration and within the congress get it from both sides – from the people who react with anxiety to ANY change and from people who don’t understand the system dynamics of introducing change.  It is a formidable task that confronts the President and his administration.

As I read through some diaries posted on dailyKos last night, I was particularly struck by ministryoftruth’s post reporting on the town hall meeting of Congressman Scott Murphy (D-NY).  This post has a number photos and even a video of the town hall meeting. Most fascinating to me was this:

Within minutes of arriving at the town hall a person who had shouted “They haven’t even read the whole bill!” was kind enough to hand me a helpful flyer explaining HR 3200. The flyer, which I am holding in my hand right now, is a 10 page explanation of why we are all going to die if this bill passes. You can read the whole piece here and at the link at

The top 10 dumbest of these, in my opinion, are listed below.

#10    The government will establish a National Medical Device Registry. Will you be tracked?

#9.     Government will cover marriage and family therapy. Government intervenes in your marriage.

#8.     The Public Health Workforce Corps includes veterinarians. Will animals have health care, too?

#7     School Based Health Clinics will be intergrated into the school environment. More Government brainwashing in school.

#6     Government will have direct access to your bank accounts for electronic funds transfers

#5     HC will be provided to ALL NON-US citizens

#4     This Home Visitation Program includes the government coming into your home and teaching/telling you how to parent!

#3     Doctors in Residency  government will tell you where your residency is, thus where you’ll live.


and finally, the Number #1 dumbest reason anyone might belive that health care reform is the devil himself.

#1      Government will establish school based “health” clinics. your children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!

The blogosphere, Rachel Maddow, and talk radio all filled with reports of these town hall meetings.  Very, very disturbing.  Following the “birther” movement, where people even in the face of the evidence of a birth certificate and announcement in two newspapers still believe, erroneously, that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, there is now what is termed a “deather” movement after Sarah Palin, admittedly not the brightest bulb in the ceiling light fixture, is afraid health care reform will lead to “death panels” with people with Down Syndrome, such as her son actually being put to death! Although also not good for congregational or national relationship building, it’s easy to see why after attending a town hall meeting populated by such attitudes that Ministryoftruth was frustrated enough himself to subtitle his diary entry “I have met the wingnuts, they are very scared and dumb as hell.”

Yes, change is very scary, and even scarier when there is a lot of misinformation floating about.  Think about how difficult it can be to keep everyone correctly informed about what’s going on in a congregation.  The task of getting correct information out to hundreds of millions of people is daunting, but it must be done – and it is not being done.  This is too important not to have the largest information blitz of our time.

I’m not sure what the solution is but treating the national situation around health care more like an anxious community and less like people who are just plain stupid might help everyone.

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div. says “What so often occurs in anxious congregations is a toxic, self-perpetuating pattern. The pattern, simply, is this:

1. Anxious congregational elements identify non-differentiated leaders.
2. Next, they make these leaders anxious. They especially target those leaders who, otherwise, would be most able to bring about a non-anxious ministry of growth.
3. As anxious elements succeed, anxious and non-differentiated leaders become emotionally reactive.
4. Engulfed in anxiety, non-differentiated leaders begin question, undermine, attack and/or leave the ministry team. Often they leave the church.
5. The anxious elements receive positive reinforcement from their efforts. This encourages them to continue to perpetuate the cycle…from generation to generation.

Some of the tragic consequences of this dynamic are…

1. the anxious elements in the congregation remain…and are strengthened;
2. the congregation’s ministry continues to be influenced by anxious elements;
3. undifferentiated, anxious leaders will so often avoid going through the process of self-differentiation;
4. the vision and ministry  continue to decline and evaporate–virtually unstoppably–right before your very eyes.

And isn’t this the situation we face with national health care reform? Hasn’t this been the history going back to the Clinton administration first attempt to address this very real need? I don’t live in fantasy land. I understand the monied interests involved the health care struggle are far stronger than the financial interests in congregations, but there are analogies. Congregations, too, have their lobbyists for the status quo, for power interests that want to hold onto power, so I think my example holds water.

While President Obama gets hit from the left for not holding out for universal, single payer now and from the right for attempting any change at all, I continue to grow in my respect for him because I am a minister who sees the change and anxiety dynamic up close on a daily basis.  I would like to see universal, single payer next week, too, but as long as our leaders do not give in to the anxiety wave and keep moving forward, I’ll be satisfied. My biggest concern is that a publically funded option will be off the table, a victim of the anxiety wave and the power interests.  I want the President and the congress to practice good ministry and good ministry means holding your ground against anxiety (from

Be good listeners to worried members of the congregation.

Prevent the most anxious voices from dominating the discussion. The congregation needs to hear thoughtful reflection and genuine faith in what God is doing in the church.

Name the successes and strengths of the church along with its unfulfilled expectations.

Give the congregation a word of strong faith and optimism based on God’s faithfulness in the past.

Make decisions that reflect an honest appraisal of the situation rather than fearful projections.

Maintain open, accurate and frequent communication with the congregation.