The Common Good

People of Faith and Health-Care Reform

Sojomail - August 13, 2009


I wanted to make a point that humanitarianism is not a crime, and water’s not littering.

- Walt Staton, of “No More Death,” convicted in Tucson, Arizona, for littering after leaving water bottles for immigrants along trails in the desert. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

People of Faith and Health-Care Reform

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Every so often, the issues at stake in the public debate become so clear and compelling, so alarming and disconcerting -- or both at the same time -- that I feel a need to speak out in a more personal way.

It's happened before around the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the consolidation of power by the Religious Right after the 2004 elections (which was when I released God's Politics and began a 50-city book tour).

The issue that compels me to speak out today, and to send this personal column, is the moral drama surrounding the health-care debate.

I have a dear friend named Janelle Goetcheus. She is a doctor and a modern-day saint, and the moral conscience of health care in Washington, D.C. Janelle is a doctor to the homeless, the undocumented, and the vulnerable poor in the nation's capital. She is the founder of Christ House, a medical facility for the homeless who are too sick to stay on the street; it is a ministry of the Church of the Saviour. We were talking about health-care reform the other day, and she said, "People don't seem to understand that this really is a life-and-death issue. People who have good health insurance will live and live longer; those who don't will die and die sooner."

We have a health-care crisis. The health-care system in the U.S. is sick and broken, 46 million of God's children are left out with no health insurance coverage, and 14,000 more are losing their coverage every day. Without change, costs will continue to go up, and we all will pay more and more for health care -- without reform.

President Obama has made health-care reform his top domestic policy priority, and Congress is slowly moving to embrace a plan. But as members of the House and Senate went home for their August recess, the opposition forces to reform have mounted a ferocious offensive.

We have a democracy crisis, with right-wing forces trying to prevent and destroy a civil debate with their "mob rule" campaigns. Fueled by right-wing conservative talk-show hosts and funded by special interests in the health-care industry who are afraid they will lose money if the system is fixed, a vicious campaign to defeat health-care reform has begun. The "storm troopers" of political demagoguery, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, have mobilized their followers to disrupt town meetings and defeat comprehensive reform by yelling louder than anybody else. The campaign tactics include lies, intimidation, character assassination, verbal abuse, and even mob behavior against members of Congress trying to conduct town hall meetings on the issues. In some places violence has broken out, and it has been threatened in other instances. Their approach seems to be to confuse and scare people, shout down the reformers, and disrupt the town meetings -- to prevent a serious, honest, and civil public discussion about the best way to fix a broken system. There are also now some stories of left-wing groups organizing to confront these disuptions. Left-right shouting matches and confrontational tactics will not create the civil discourse we need, and could finally sabotage need health-care reform.

E-mails tell seniors that the reforms won't cover them, assert that vulnerable people will be excluded from the system, and that Christian doctors and nurses will be forced to perform abortions. Pastors are telling me stories of distortion and fear; elderly parishioners are asking them, "Will I die under the new system?"

There are difficult and complicated issues involved with truly reforming the health-care system, and there isn’t even a bill yet. It will take the best efforts of our legislators and the best attention of our <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />citizens to accomplish real reform. But the lies and intimidation are designed simply to shut down the discussion, to make people afraid, to poison the civic atmosphere, and kill any possibility of real reform (along with stopping the president's capacity to move on other issues -- which some of the opposition readily admit. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Simply put, we must stop them from doing that. The faith community must protect the nation's civil discourse from the clear threat of demagoguery.

The country needs a good, honest, and healthy debate on the best ways to reform the health-care and insurance system, but fix it we must, and in a way that includes all who are now left out.

It's time for the faith community to unite around the moral imperative of health-care reform, defense of the most vulnerable, and support for moral conscience in a comprehensive reform of the health-care system.

It's time for the faith community to confront the distortions and lies that are being told. It's time for the ministry of "truth-telling" and to surround the nation's discussion of health care with fervent prayer.

It's time for the faith community to practice nonviolent tactics of reconciliation and resistance against those on either side who would threaten the public debate with intimidation, fear, and even the threat of violence.

It's time for the faith community to make its voice heard -- loud and clear.

So I am personally asking each of you to do some very important things:

1. Make it a point this August to talk to your representatives in Congress and your senators (or their staff). Tell them that as a person of faith you want serious and comprehensive health-care reform that covers everybody. They need to hear from you!

2. Write letters of support for health-care reform to the editor of your daily newspaper, or write an opinion-page commentary yourself.

3. Plan study, prayer, or Bible study groups on health care in your congregation for September. Use the new resource for congregations that we have helped to create.

4. Encourage your pastor, rabbi, or imam to preach a sermon related to healing and health care on the last Sunday of August. There are resources on our health-care reform Web page.

5. Pray without ceasing that the nation will not lose its soul at this critical moment.

The faith community has an important role in this growing debate -- in the name of truth-telling, fairness, and social justice. Let's lift up our voices on these fundamental moral issues.

A special note: Next week, on Wednesday, August 19 at 5 p.m. EDT, Sojourners is co-hosting a call with President Obama, and I invite you to join us. But we need you to RSVP. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the faith community to hear from the president and unite around health-care reform. We want tens of thousands of people on this call to hear President Obama, so please let your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow congregation members know so they can be part of this historic event, too. Post this link on your Facebook page, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Visit Sojourners’ health-care page for more information.

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Sex Without Shame: Somewhere between the demonization of sex and the “sexual revolution,” there is a higher way. That way must be informed by the positive affirmation of sexuality as God’s good gift, on the one hand, and on the other our capacity for the sexual exploitation of each other, as Keith Graber Miller, chair of the Bible, religion, and philosophy department at Goshen (Ind.) College, writes in this month’s issue of Sojourners.

Three Moral Issues of Health Care: “On a personal, national, and global level, the physical well-being of all God’s children is close to God’s heart and should be close to ours as well,” writes Jim Wallis in his column for this month’s issue of Sojourners. Read why Wallis believes the faith community must lift up the concerns of those who have no lobbyists on Capitol Hill or PR firms with slick advertising campaigns promoting their interests.


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Health-Care Reform: Check the Facts
by Nate Van Duzer

The Sojourners office has received numerous calls and e-mails this month from people who simply want a place to explore the facts themselves. A lot of organizations have written pieces that separate truth from fiction in the health-care debate. Here is a list of a few nonpartisan sites I hope you will find useful in your search for accurate information.
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More Than Beer-Bottle Diplomacy
by Edward Gilbreath

Racially charged events like the Gates incident will happen again. The question is, can America learn to approach them not as occasions for further division, but as opportunities for transformation?
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With the Health-Care Debate, Let's Begin with Honesty
by Ernesto Tinajero

My heart spiraled down the drain of despair. My young infant was getting a test ordered by his pediatrician, a test scheduled in haste after a routine check-up, a test that may or may not be covered by my insurance.
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Weaving Networks from Iowa to Zimbabwe
by Nontando Hadebe

There is an African proverb from Ethiopia that says, "When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion." What a graphic illustration of power that emerges as an outcome of networking, partnership, and unity. A story from rural Zimbabwe illustrates what happens when "spider webs" come together to overcome desperate poverty.
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To Whom Much is Given
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

We learned the story in Sunday school: The rich ruler comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The ruler says he has kept the commandments since his youth. Jesus then tells the man to sell all he owns, distribute it to the poor, and to follow him. The man went away sad.
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My Experience of U.S. Health Care as a Recent Immigrant (Part II)
by Gareth Higgins

Isn't it possible that there's already enough money in the system to pay for basic health care provision for everyone? ... Call me irresponsible, but is it possible that the huge outlay of funding for misguided militarism over the past eight years might have been better spent?
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A Place at the Table
by Johanna Hatch

All I know is that whenever I break bread, or crack a lobster shell, in community with others as imperfect and hungry as myself, I feel the presence of the Divine so tangibly I can almost touch it, hold it in my hands, and swallow it whole.
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An Open Letter On Health Care to Conservative Christians in the U.S.
by Brian McLaren

Christians of all sorts, I think we all can agree, have a special calling -- to increasingly harmonize our lives (including our lives as citizens) with the teaching and example of Jesus. My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God.
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Letter to Congress on Health Care
by LaVonne Neff

Dear Senators and Members of Congress: A lot of us out here -- in red states and blue -- would like to get your attention about health-care reform. Some of us are terrified of government inefficiency, and some of us are terrified of big business price gouging. That's a divide that looks hard to bridge, until you consider the things we agree about.
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Palin Bad for Dialogue
by Jim Wallis

I wrote about truth-telling and responsibility in the debate over health care, urging an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform with half-truths and misinformation. Last Friday, I read a statement from Sarah Palin, first on her Facebook page, then reported by the media.
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Now that a Wise Latina is a Supreme Court Justice ...
by Marque Jensen

I congratulate our newest Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. However, I was frustrated listening to all the controversy that arose from some who wished to conserve the old order of things. As a European-American "white" male, I wondered, "Why were so many white males so threatened by the thought that someone other than them might come up with a 'better' conclusion?"
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Speaking Truth in Love
by Mimi Haddad

This missions committee had never heard an interpretation of scripture that placed God's gifting and the world's needs ahead of gender. They had never interpreted words like "head," "helper," or "authority" in a way that did not subjugate women.
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My Experience of U.S. Health Care as a Recent Immigrant (Part I)
by Gareth Higgins

[Health care] is an issue that goes to the heart of the question of what kind of society we want to be, how we want to treat other people, and what kind of ethics we want to guide our lives. And people who insist on calling such a free system "communism," "socialism," or "oppressive" may either know nothing of communism, socialism, and oppression, or might just be experiencing a distortion of the truth to satisfy a vision of individualism.
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Who Lit The Fire Under the Right-Wing 'Populists' Against Health-Care Reform?
by Rose Marie Berger

Access to adequate health care is a human right. Human rights generally are antagonistic to corporate interests. As people of faith we are called to stand up for human dignity and human rights. Now would be a good time to shine the light on these corporate con artists, especially the ones masquerading as Christians.
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Top Stories:

Faith groups launch campaign in favor of health-care reform
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Sojourners reveals how the 287(g) program plays out in places like Guilford County, North Carolina. Immigration opponents are in a fury, and families are terrified of being locked up or bearing the brunt of that anger in some other way. Unfortunately, "such images and stories are becoming commonplace" in the towns where 287(g) is enacted. And it gets worse.
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