10/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Isn't Adequate Healthcare a Moral Issue?

What exactly constitutes a moral issue? I know many would classify gay marriage and abortion as such, but I'm not certain how something becomes a moral issue other than that if enough people say it loud enough and long enough for it to be so.

Shouldn't health care receive the same vaunted status in the public conversation? Is it not a moral issue?

For some reason the church doesn't seem to possess the same zeal advocating for health care that it does for its opposition to same-gender marriage. Where's the reverend, bishop, pastor, father or elder on the cable talk shows proclaiming the virtues of a healthier nation?

Why don't we see the same fervor -- particularly emanating from the churches that seek to block gay marriage -- transferred, at least temporarily, to the 47 million Americans who must go without health care?

I am not suggesting there are no churches that fail to see health care as a compelling moral issue for the nation, but if it were abortion or same-gender marriage the collective passion would be more evident.

Why is the black church not out in mass protest, with scripture in hand, demanding that something be done about the health care crisis that's spiraling out of control.

If many black churches feel that way about gay marriage, it must also feel that way about say, diabetes. Which one is a greater threat to the black community -- gay marriage or diabetes? (Here is where someone will undoubtedly write a longer e-mail than my column explaining why the answer is gay marriage).

We are talking about a disease that claims approximately 2.7 million or 11.4 percent of all African-Americans aged 20 years or older. What's even more frightening, statistics suggest that roughly one-third of those who do have diabetes don't know it.

The most life-threatening consequences of diabetes are heart disease and stroke, which strike people with diabetes more than twice as often as they do others.

Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates two to four times higher than those without diabetes. African-Americans with diabetes have a particularly high risk for heart disease, stroke and other complications that include blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

In fact, there ought to be a radical contingent of the black church not only demanding universal health care, but also suggesting that there be a corresponding reduction in the price of healthy food as a way to keep the health care cost from spiraling out of control.

As long as the price of fast food remains competitive with healthier choices, there will be a portion of the population, regardless of race, that will be fast--tracked for Type 2 diabetes.

Whatever aspects of preventive care that is attributed to lowering overall health care cost must obviously include diet. A healthier society provides an overall positive benefit, impacting education, the economy, and the overall attitude of the country.

President Barack Obama in a recent health care conference call with religious organizations said: "The one thing you all share is a moral conviction. You know this debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are in America."

He added: "It is a core ethical and moral obligation that we look after each other. In the wealthiest nation on Earth, we are neglecting to live up to that call."

The president is absolutely correct, there is indeed a moral and ethical obligation to look after each other. In fact, there is a far greater biblical emphasis on caring for each other than opposition to homosexuality.

I've long held that government budgets -- federal, state or local -- are documents that speak to the moral values of society.

I applaud the bipartisan coalition within the California Legislature that voted to levy a tax on health insurance companies. The tax allowed Healthy Families, which insures approximately 700,000 low-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid coverage, to avoid, at the very least, having to drop tens of thousands of children from their rolls.

It would have been nice to see churches lining the streets with signs that read: "Call you legislator in Sacramento to vote in favor of saving health coverage for 700,000 low-income children!"

I am not critical because it did not happen, but I also know that if the issue was gay marriage there would have been churches out there.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site: