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Where Are Christians for Health Reform?

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Many of us Jews who take our Judaism seriously have been giving co-religionist Joe Lieberman a hard time, in the Jewish press and elsewhere, for his obstructionism on health care reform. We believe the Connecticut senator's actions are inconsistent with his famously deep commitment to religious observance.

Lieberman's stance seems to me a painful violation of a number of Jewish teachings, not least of which (metaphorically) is the commandment of Leviticus 19:14, "You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God."

But, of course, we Jews are not the only ones who embrace the ethical admonitions of the Bible. Christianity, adding a New Testament to what it calls the Old, stresses compassion to one's fellow man in general ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") and to the poor, in particular (whose feet Jesus washes in the Gospel of John).

So how exactly does that religious framework include praying fervently for health care reform to fail, as Republicans gathered with the Family Research Council to do, or even praying that a Democratic senator will be unable to attend a crucial health reform vote, as Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn recently did?

Let me be clear. I do not doubt that individuals such as Coburn, who is also a physician, are utterly sincere in their conviction that the health care reforms being pushed by the Democrats are immoral. What astonishes me is the lack of vigorous, sustained and public pushback by other committed Christians who believe differently.

Yes, you can read the positive comments of individual progressives at sites like Beliefnet. But where are the outspoken op-eds from leaders of the mainline Protestant churches in places like the New York Times, Washington Post or prominent on-line opinion sites? Or how about Rick Warren, the popular Saddleback Church evangelical pastor who Obama controversially chose to give the invocation at his inaugural just one year ago? Warren writes articles with titles such as, "Why Does God Allow Evil?" Would that refer to the fact that the U.S. has the worst record in the industrialized world of preventable deaths or does it mean government intervention to save those lives? Which does Warren believe? Where is his voice?

And where is the Catholic Church? Again, I respect the sincerity of those who adamantly oppose abortion. But as abortion concerns are addressed, where is the clarion call from these same "pro-life" religious leaders to support the legislation that has emerged? Kids without health insurance face a staggering 40 percent higher risk of dying in the hospital http://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/30/lacking-insurance-hospitalized-children-more-likely-to-die/ than children with insurance, even taking race and gender into account. At least 18,000 adults die every year among the uninsured because they don't have health insurance. Where is the advocacy for those lives?

And speaking of advocacy, where are the local ministers and parish priests whose congregations are filled with individuals with no health insurance or bare bones policies? Back in July, I wrote that the Democrats should worry about the question Pastor David Hattenfield of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cumberland, Maryland asked President Obama at a televised White House gathering on health care reform. Hattenfield was concerned about government "taking over" health care and his taxes going up.

Are there no pastors whose concern for their flock goes beyond their Form 1040s? In Texas, for example, one quarter of the population has no health insurance. Is there no clergyman who will stand up to provide Christian witness on the importance of health care reform to the families scared they are one illness away from bankruptcy?

Two years ago, I blogged about a much-beloved story about health care reform that captures American's attention every year. By that, I meant Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

While this is not the traditional plot summary, it aptly describes a story rooted in the plight of a crippled young boy whose father cannot afford the care his son desperately needs. At the time that I wrote, President Bush and Congressional Republicans were successfully blocking an expansion of Medicaid to include more children. Although a report concluding that those without health insurance are 1.6 times more likely to die of their disease than those with private insurance came out just a few days before Christmas, it had no discernible effect on the debate.

Barack Obama's fierce dedication to national health care reform, by his own words, is part of a deeply held moral religious commitment, as well as a political one. I can understand why some Christians (and religious Jews) disagree. What I cannot understand is why in this season remembering the birth of a child to poor parents in a manger in Bethlehem, there are so few other Christians lifting their voices up loudly in support.

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