Introduction: The United States – the richest nation in the world – is home to millions of people who do not have access to needed health care. For those affected, this is a personal and medical crisis; for others it is an economic or political crisis. But because we have the capacity to solve the problem and won’t, for all of us it is a moral crisis which calls for moral and prophetic leadership from the faith community. History shows that voices of faith are integral to the success of social reform movements in this country, and the effort to make affordable quality health care for all a reality in this country will be no exception. Given that the deliberative bodies of many faith groups support guaranteed needed health care for everyone, it is clear that there is a vision for faith-based leadership on this issue – leadership that speaks both within the religious community in particular and to the public at large.
However, the faith community currently is not positioned to respond to the emerging opportunities. While many faith-based advocates understand that in the face of change they will have a crucial role to ensure that any options for reform will move toward compassion and justice, numerous challenges stand in the way. Two challenges in particular should be addressed immediately to awaken the faith community’s prophetic voice in working for reform and to position people of faith to be the change agents they are meant to be.
A new vision – Faithful Reform in Health Care: To develop health care reform messages that resonate with the religious community, and to move toward a more collaborative environment for faith-based health care reform advocates, a new level of programmatic, organizational and financial engagement will be required. To advance a faith-based comprehensive health care reform agenda, a new independent entity – Faithful Reform in Health Care – is envisioned to facilitate the work.
Faithful Reform in Health Care will connect the current research in values-based messaging with theological understandings and scriptural narratives to help move the agenda beyond the questions that have resulted in political deadlock. Individual or social responsibility? Government or marketplace control? Increase access or control costs? Excessive health industry profits? The answers generally align along the political ideologies of society at large –
and, therefore, of the “people in the pews.”
Because congregants have not been given bridge-building messages based on their shared faith values, their discussions fall victim to the usual political divisions. As a result, congregational leaders often proclaim that they just can’t “get involved in politics” and refuse to address the issue. Faith messages – shared responsibility, stewardship of health care resources, compassion, community, etc. – can open the door to the needed dialogue. (The environmental movement’s stewardship of creation messaging is an example of how this successfully bridge theologically and politically diverse groups.)
Faithful Reform in Health Care also will create a place where faith groups, secular health care advocacy groups with a faith component, and multi-issue groups that reach out to the faith community can work together. The current fragmentation among the various faith-based health care reform efforts is leading to a growing awareness of the need for more cooperation. There also is an acknowledgement that there is no infrastructure in place to facilitate cooperative efforts and that widespread reductions in both staffing and financial resources compromise the ability of the faith leaders to build the needed infrastructure themselves. Faithful Reform in Health Care will establish that infrastructure, create a common table for advancing the agenda among people of faith, and provide the opportunity for the faith community to promote a model for integrating isolated defensive and short-term initiatives into the long-term agenda for reform. Partnerships are envisioned with numerous and diverse faith groups; with faith-based provider groups; and with secular health care reform groups.
The work plan: Faithful Reform in Health Care is an independent non-profit organization incorporated in Ohio that will temporarily use the 501(c)(3) designation of the Universal Health Care Action Network so that donations will be tax exempt.
During the initial planning and implementation process, it will build a comprehensive and diverse list of partners, and work to obtain the resources needed to facilitate its work. Within its early months, Faithful Reform in Health Care will convene about 75 advocacy and communications leaders from the partnership organizations in a three-day event facilitated by a preeminent consulting firm to do five things:
The remaining part of the first year will be dedicated to polling and focus groups to test faith-based messages across the theological spectrum, after which the work will begin to develop and distribute educational, worship, advocacy and communications resources that will advance dialogue about health care reform as a moral value, a “people” priority rather than “political” issue.