Bishops Working for a Just World to lobby for health-care reform
The group, "Bishops Working for a Just World," seeks universal heath-care coverage and solutions to domestic and global poverty and the environmental crisis. Bishops make annual trips to the nation's capital to advocate for specific legislation or changes to legislation.
"The issues that we lobby are the issues voted on by General Convention," said Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith.
The Office of Government Relations (OGR), based in Washington, D.C., organized the trip and prepared the bishops for meetings with elected officials and administrators. Created by Executive Council in 1979, OGR's mandate is to lobby Congress and the president in response to legislation passed at General Convention.
July's General Convention passed several health-care-related resolutions (C071, D048 and D088) in support of universal access to quality and affordable health care in the United States and called on Congress to pass comprehensive health-care reform this year. Resolution D048 urged passage of federal legislation establishing a "single payer" universal health care program.
Both the House and Senate broke for summer recess without voting on a bill. Legislators were scheduled to return to Washington after Labor Day.
The passionate, often angry and vitriolic, protests that have characterized the health care debate nationwide have also played out online, including on the Episcopal Church's Facebook page and in Episcopal Life Online's Reader Response section, with largely negative comments outnumbering those supporting the church's stance favoring reform.
Some Episcopalians have expressed indignation at the church for meddling in government affairs, evoking the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
Most people associate lobbying efforts with profit-minded corporations. The church and other organizations concerned with human lives and values must lobby the government, too, Beckwith said.
"And what could be more important than health care?" he asked. "We need to be about the issue of telling the story, engaging the world, and part of our engagement is to provide help and support for people who have been denied access to health care."
The church's interest in health-care reform reaches at least as far back as the 1985 General Convention, which adopted a resolution to "encourage national and congregational support of community health services," and has evolved to include specifics like long-term care and mental-health services.
The OGR employs the church's "collective wisdom" -- as developed through previous and current General Convention and Executive Council resolutions -- to formulate its approach on Capitol Hill and to inform its collaboration with other denominations working toward the same or similar goals, said DeWayne Davis, OGR's domestic policy analyst.
In his work on health-care reform, Davis has spent much time strategizing with representatives of other denominations to combine resources and messages to make the case for universal coverage. "And also to offer the unique perspective of people of faith," he said.
He's also involved with the secular National Coalition on Health Care, which meets weekly to share intelligence and strategies. "Sometimes our goals are different, but we want to know what they are thinking and how they engage with the legislative staff," he said.
General Convention's recent actions on health care urged all Episcopal Church members to contact elected officials to encourage them to create a comprehensive definition of heath care and to establish a way to provide a standard set of core benefits to all, Davis summarized.
The guide, available for download on the diocese's website, features a three-session curriculum aimed at educating parishioners on how to approach government officials in support of universal coverage, about good and bad interactions with the current health-care insurance system and what might be done to improve the system for the good of all.
Dr. Bob Strimer, a retired urologist, diocesan deputy and chair of the diocesan Peace, Justice and Outreach Committee, was instrumental in writing the guide. The committee started with a question: From a Christian point of view, do people have a right to medical care? The committee agreed, "yes," he said.
Strimer presented the guide at his church, St. James Episcopal Church in Greeneville, Tennessee. The discussion took many directions, with some calling for a single-payer system and others fearful of a government takeover, he said.
"There were a lot of different feelings about where this should go and different points of view … From a Christian outreach perspective the objective is to make health care more affordable," Strimer said. "The U.S. pays double per person for health care compared to other developed nations. In a competitive world market, we cannot be hamstrung by medical costs.
"But it's not enough to say 'cover all,'" he concluded. "There has to be cost control, and some are afraid health care is going to cost them more. And that is one thing that makes it a hard pill to swallow."» Respond to this article