In the Bible the prophet Isaiah says, “No more shall there be…an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime,” (Isaiah 65:20). Such messages of healing and hope are woven throughout the Bible and other sacred texts, and they are proving to be sources of inspiration for many faith groups working to bring affordable, quality health care to all Americans. Religious commands to reduce suffering and uphold human dignity are also a reminder that for all its complexity, health care is at heart a moral issue.
Communities of faith have been essential to the movement for health care reform. Faith groups have provided dramatic stories that illustrate the human pain and suffering that result from inadequate health care or lack of it. They have run clinics in poor and underserved neighborhoods, and they have cut through complex economic arguments to frame the moral heart of the matter.
For instance, the interfaith coalition Faith for Health has been holding lobby days and prayer vigils, like the Day of Action on October 20, as well as sponsoring a national petition drive. In August, Faith for Health held a national call-in on health care with the faith community and President Barack Obama that over 140,000 people participated in, and that another 160,000 people streamed in the 48 hours following the call.
Mainline denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church USA have mobilized behind reform, too. So have Jewish organizations, with the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism heading up a Health Care for All movement across the country. And even though a few Catholics are taking issue with certain aspects of reform, Catholics historically have been strong proponents of health care reform and are playing a vital role in making reform a reality, calling on their inspiring tradition of social justice theology and advocacy.
Muslim-American organizations have been active as well. In Oklahoma, Muslims and Christians have joined together to underscore their faith traditions’ emphasis on the value and dignity of every human life. As Razi Hashmi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s Oklahoma chapter, said, “When we see someone who is sick, injured, and beaten down by life in our society our first question should…be…‘What can I do to help?’”
The voices of the faith community have not gone unheeded. Leaders in the Senate are making a concerted effort to underscore the moral imperative of reform and calling on faith communities to take up one of the greatest moral issues of our time. In a recent meeting with religion reporters, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) suggested, “if ever the religious community should speak with one voice,” it is now.
Groups working on behalf of health care reform are facing strong opposition from those who claim the proposed legislation is too ambitious, too expensive, and too reliant upon government. Opponents argue that certain services shouldn’t be covered or that certain people shouldn’t be covered. But access to quality health care is a human right and cannot be rationed to certain people. To do so is fundamentally against what this nation stands for.
While it is perfectly reasonable to have honest disagreements about various aspects of the proposed health care legislation, what should hold true for members of the faith community is a unified commitment to provide care for all our neighbors—and to follow the sacred admonition, shared by the world’s major religions, to care for the sick and suffering in our nation.
Marta Cook is Special Assistant to the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative and the Progressive Studies Program.