WASHINGTON, D.C. – The chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) says the U.S. House of Representatives took a "huge step" toward affirming the denomination's Social Principles when it passed health-insurance reform legislation on March 21.
Jim Winkler says the House action affirms the United Methodist Social Principles that declares health care is "a basic human right."
The House passed the U.S. Senate version of health insurance reform legislation by a vote of 219 to 212. That bill was sent to President Obama for his signature into law while a second bill, to improve the Senate legislation, passed by a vote of 220 to 211 and goes to the Senate for approval.
"For decades, the General Board of Church and Society has worked alongside thousands of United Methodists to achieve health care for all in the U.S.," Winkler said afterward. "This vote brings us closer to that reality."
Winkler pointed out that with the signing of the bill into law, important protections for every person would be enacted. These include banning health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
"Over 31 million Americans are currently uninsured," Winkler said. "This legislation will assist low-income working people who cannot afford the steep prices for health insurance now."
Winkler said Jesus' ministry serves as an example and a call to serve the least and the last in society. Jesus asked us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, Winkler noted, "setting forth a faith grounded in God's abundance, generosity, and a capacity for love that knows no bounds."
During her remarks prior to the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., thanked the 350 organizations, including The United Methodist Church, which worked to achieve historic health-insurance reform:
"That is why we're proud and also humbled today to act with the support of millions of Americans who recognize the urgency of passing healthcare reform – and more than 350 organizations, representing Americans of every age, every background, every part of the country, who have endorsed this legislation.
"Our coalition ranges from the AARP, who said that our legislation 'improves efforts to crack down on fraud and waste in Medicare, strengthening Medicare for today's seniors and future generations.' – I repeat: 'Improves efforts to crack down on fraud and waste in Medicare, strengthening the program for today's and future generations of seniors.' – To the American Medical Association, the Catholic Health Association, The United Methodist Church, and Voices of America's Children. From A to Z, they are sending a clear message to members of Congress: 'Say yes to healthcare reform.'"
Winkler said he appreciated Speaker Pelosi's comments about the hard work that The United Methodist Church has done in helping secure passage of healthcare reform for all people. He pointed out that the denomination's General Conference has been advocating for reform since 1980.
The United Methodist Church was not alone among faith communities in working for healthcare reform, according to Winkler. He said that more than 150 other faith organizations also sought change, working through coalitions such as Faithful Reform in Health Care.
Council of Bishops President Gregory Palmer noted the United Methodist position on health care in the wake of the historic vote, in a March 22 letter to his colleagues.
"Neither the [Council of Bishops] office nor the General Board of Church and Society had any prior knowledge of the content of any speeches made on the floor of the House on Sunday night, much less Speaker Pelosi's speech," he wrote.
He added, "It will come as no secret to you that The United Methodist Church has been fully involved in this conversation based on the work of eight successive General Conferences. As you respond to your calls and emails, you may find it helpful to refer people to the relevant material from the General Conference that provides a basis for the engagement of the UMC in this important conversation.
"Please note," he concluded, "that these conversations on health care occurred before this current debate ever began."
Resolution #3201 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions charges GBCS with primary responsibility for advocating health care for all in the United States. The resolution was approved by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's highest policy-making body. (Download Resolution #3201 from the GBCS website here.)
"Lack of common courtesy" condemned
As Congress has debated and deliberated health-insurance reform legislation, GBCS chief executive Winkler said he has been deeply disturbed by the lack of basic decency and common courtesy among people who have disagreements about public policy.
On March 20 a United Methodist clergyman, who is a member of Congress, was spat upon by a participant in a "Tea Party" protest of healthcare reform, while walking to the U.S. Capitol. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., also was the target of a racial epithet.
According to news reports, the assault on Cleaver was the third incident that day in which a lawmaker was treated rudely by anti-reform protesters. Both Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is gay, were taunted by racial and homophobic epithets, respectively.
Winkler said this past weekend's "appalling display" by protesters in Washington, D.C., demonstrates the overtly racist message of too many of the so-called Tea Party members. "Such behavior must be denounced by all people," he said.
Winkler called upon United Methodists to model civil discourse. "Meaningful and civil discourse has been an overarching priority for the General Board of Church and Society," he said, "as we assist local churches and represent United Methodist positions to elected officials."