While some denominational groups have endorsed a Democratic bill to expand Medicare to cover all U.S. citizens, other conservative Christian groups fear that a revamped health-care system would encourage end-of-life euthanasia and provide taxpayer-funded abortions.
And with the Canadian health-care system being held up by some conservative pundits as a system to be feared, Canada’s largest coalition of Christian churches (which includes the Christian Reformed Church) has written to its U.S. counterparts about how Canadian churches advocated for health-care reform decades ago.
Fighting for health-care reform, a coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders banded together to launch “40 Days for Health Care Reform,” during August and September, calling health care a fundamental religious issue.
The health-care reform effort included television commercials, a conference call with U.S. President Barack Obama, and a request that clergy preach on the topic during the last weekend of August.
The coalition was organized by Faith in Public Life, Sojourners, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and others.
Evangelical leaders with predominantly Republican congregations say they see too many people in their pews struggling with being uninsured or underinsured due to job losses, pre-existing conditions, and other factors beyond their control.
“We’ve come together, across party and political lines, to say that coverage with inclusive, acceptable, affordable health care for all of God’s children is for us a moral imperative and a religious issue,” said Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners president. “All of God’s children need to be covered.”
Wallis and other participants have further agreed not to allow heated differences over abortion to “sabotage” a reform bill, so long as the proposal prohibits public funding for the procedures and allows conscience protections for anti-abortion health-care workers.
For clergy like Rev. John Hay, an Indianapolis pastor featured in the new commercial, the effort addresses the suffering parishioners they see each week who can’t afford treatments until their ailments reach emergency-room levels.
“This is as much a crisis of faith as it is a crisis of health care,” Hay said.
Other conservative Christian groups have also joined forces, but to oppose health-care reform, saying the current system has problems but that it is working.
Members of the newly formed Freedom Federation say that although an estimated 45 million Americans lack health insurance, they support the current system.
“There may be problems, but it is working,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in suburban Maryland and chair of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, agreed, saying, “America does offer the best health care in the world.”
The Freedom Federation, comprising some of the largest conservative religious groups in the country, opposes reforms they say will lead to taxpayer-supported abortion, rationed health care for the elderly, and government control of personal health decisions.
On abortion, Federation members said they are concerned that although the word “abortion” does not appear in the draft bills, it will be paid for by the government under the proposed reform. “When the government pays for abortion, the numbers of abortions increase,” said Wright.
Wright also quoted bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, a White House adviser and brother of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as having said, “It would not be discrimination to ration care for the elderly.”
“The idea that my life is worth more than someone else’s is inconceivable,” said Jackson.
The Freedom Federation includes, among others, the American Family Association, the Church of God in Christ, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council Action, Liberty University, and the Traditional Values Coalition.
American churches are hearing from their counterparts in Canada as well.
In a letter to the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rev. Karen Hamilton, told American church leaders that health care is a “moral enterprise” with deep roots in the Bible.
Hamilton is general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, Canada’s largest ecumenical body, representing 22 denominations including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and the Christian Reformed Church.
The letter provided a history of Canadian churches’ advocacy for health coverage and explains the rationale for a universal health-care system.
Hamilton notes that before 1966, Canada’s health-care system failed to provide medical insurance to more than 30 percent of the population. The inequity, she said, created ethical problems for those who believed the apostle Paul’s words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
The churches lobbied for health care for all during the Canadian health-care debates of the 1960s.
“We rejected a structure that would force thousands into bankruptcy due to unforeseen medical expenses, would promote different levels of service in the many disparate regions of this vast land, or would end health insurance for those who found themselves unemployed,” she wrote.
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