Moments before Sunday night’s passage of a mammoth health-care bill that the New York Times described at the “most sweeping social legislation enacted in decades,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi specifically thanked the United Methodist Church for “endorsing” the controversial bill.
[W]e are proud and also humbled today to act with the support of millions of Americans who recognize the urgency of passing health care reform — and more than 350 organizations, representing Americans of every age, every background, every part of the country, who have endorsed this legislation.
Audio of Speaker Pelosi thanking the UMC (1:10)
Our coalition ranges from the AARP…to the American Medical Association, the Catholic Health Association, the United Medical — the United Methodist Church, and Voices of America’s Children.
The 2,685-page bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 (50.8%-49.2%). Every Republican and 34 Democrats voted no.
The role of the United Methodist Church in securing passage is difficult to gauge.
In addition to participating in rallies and creating a web site focused on pushing a health-care overhaul, the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) was closely involved with Faithful Reform, a coalition of “faith groups” advocating greater government involvement in health care.
The coalition sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress last month urging them “to complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health care system.” The letter (PDF) was signed by Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and endorsed by GBCS.
The General Board of Church and Society’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were premised on language approved by the 1996 and 2008 General Conferences.
The language — written and submitted by GBCS — asserted that “heath care is a basic human right.” (The logical problems with this assertion are detailed here by UM pastor and blogger Donald Sensing.)
The GBCS-authored language was not debated on the Conference floor in either 1996 or 2008. In both cases, the “health-care-is-a-right” legislation was passed hurriedly in omnibus fashion along with other legislation.
(For details, see “How Did the UMC Come to Define Health Care As a ‘Right’?” Also, see this 2008 report (PDF) from the RENEW Women’s Network, which concludes that the UM Book of Resolutions — a document also widely quoted by GBCS in support of its lobbying efforts — “has become a mouthpiece for a few of the boards and agencies within the church and several caucus groups and [is] not representative of the United Methodist Church as a whole.”)
In a written statement issued March 22, Jim Winkler, chief executive of GBCS, referred to the health-care language authored by his agency and passed by the General Conference.
“The United Methodist Social Principles declares health care [to be] ‘a basic human right,'” he wrote. “The United States took a huge step toward affirming this right [Sunday] night when the House of Representatives passed health insurance reform legislation.”
Critics of the bill, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board, have argued the legislation is likely to be destructive to the U.S. health care system and therefore harmful to individuals.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates [that the bill] will cost taxpayers $200 billion per year when fully implemented and grow annually at 8%, even under low-ball assumptions. Soon the public will reach its taxing limit, and then something will have to give on the care side. In short, medicine will be rationed by politics….
As in the Western European and Canadian welfare states, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies will over time become public utilities. Government will set the cost-minded priorities and determine what kinds of treatment options patients are allowed to receive. Medicare’s price controls will be exported to the remnants of the private sector.
All bureaucratized systems also restrict access to specialists and surgeries, leading to shortages and delays of months or years. This will be especially the case for the elderly and grievously ill, and for innovation in procedures, technologies and pharmaceuticals.
Eventually, quality and choice — the best attributes of American medicine in spite of its dysfunctions — will severely decline.
Other critics took issue with the bill because the legislation could result in federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortion. Just before Sunday’s vote, National Right-to-Life characterized the bill (PDF) as “the most abortion-expansive legislation ever to reach the House floor.”
In contrast, Jim Winkler of GBCS described the sweeping health-care legislation as being an extension of the work of Christ.
“Jesus’ ministry serves as an example and a call to serve the least and the last among us,” Mr. Winkler said in a written statement.
“He asked us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves — setting forth a faith grounded in God’s abundance, generosity and a capacity for love that knows no bounds,” he wrote.
In a March 24 statement, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and author of the 2008 book, Taking Back the United Methodist Church, said GBCS is among many “Religious Left” organizations that equate the love of Christ with larger and more intrusive government.
The Religious Left version of Jesus’ love is an unceasingly expanding federal welfare state that coercively seizes assets from one segment of society for redistribution to other segments, according to coarse political calculations, and with all the efficiency and compassion for which mammoth state bureaucracies are renowned.
Good News, the flagship United Methodist renewal ministry founded in 1967, issued a statement registering “deep disappointment” with GBCS.
Rather than engage the issue of health care reform in a manner representing the hopes and concerns of all United Methodists, [the General Board of Church and Society] has once again embraced and advocated for the most liberal and polemical position. Unfortunately, the board chose to feverishly work for a particular plan that divided United Methodists….
By so publicly making common cause with a partisan plan, many church members will view GBCS more as an agent of a particular political party, and less as an agent of the kingdom of God….
Throughout the debate, GBCS failed to seriously acknowledge or fairly represent other proposals for meeting the health care needs of Americans.
Once again, GBCS alienated thousands of United Methodists, and caused many to wonder whether the board can ever fairly represent them in the public square, even going so far as to advocate for the most extreme iterations of the bill that included federal funding for abortion.
Of the 44 United Methodist members of the House of Representatives, 18 voted in favor the health bill while 26 voted against it, according to the United Methodist News Service.
In December, when the Senate passed the health bill, four United Methodist senators voted in favor, five were opposed.
Thus far, more than one-fourth of state attorneys general have joined in a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the new health-care law, arguing that it imposes an unconstitutional direct tax, violates the 10th Amendment, and exceeds Congress’s defined powers to regulate interstate commerce. The new law requires all Americans to have health insurance or faces fines.