An alliance of faith-based groups held a hugely successful conference call with President Obama last night to discuss health care reform. 140,000 people participated in the call, which featured a variety of lay and clerical leaders, many with personal stories of the consequences of the lack of universal health insurance.
A young woman who worships at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver told about the consequences of losing Medicaid: she can no longer receive treatment for scoliosis. Another woman who worships at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Melbourne, Florida, spoke about the difficulties facing her family and the small-business they run because of the insane costs of health insurance and, especially, the power insurance companies have to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, a concern for those getting ready to retire but too young to participate in Medicare. Rev. Heyward Wiggins of the Bible Tabernacle Church in Camden, New Jersey, spoke of one parishioner whose lack of insurance caused his cancer to go undiagnosed until it was too late.
Rev. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, a left-leaning evangelical organization, addressed the need for "truth-telling" in the current debate which, he pointed out, is a religious vocation. The President went further, saying "I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate and there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness. I need you to spread the facts and speak the truth."
Domestic Policy advisor Melody Barnes took questions on the call, most of which focussed on the general outlines of the reform effort. But, the question of abortion was raised and Ms. Barnes said that the reform efforts are not intended to permit public funding of abortion, but she did not address the thornier issue of whether government subsidies will extend to insurance policies that include abortion coverage which is the crux of the matter and Ms. Barnes is smart enough to know that. Her answer did not answer very much.
Different pastors also discussed the ways they were trying to affect the debate. My favorite suggestion came from my old neighbor in Little Rock, the Methodist Church, which organized a campaign called "No More Band-Aids," a letter-writing campaign by parishioners in which they clipped a band-aid to their letters.
The conference call was sponsored by groups as diverse as the Sisters of Mercy of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The organizers, a core group of religious activists including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, PICO, Sojourners and Faith in Public Life, have been invloved in intensive lobbying efforts on behalf of health care reform. You can listen to the call by clicking here.