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Webcast rallies religious groups' support for health care reform
The head of a Longwood mega-church and a Catholic parishioner from Melbourne were among those who advocated a "civil debate" on health-care reform Wednesday during a live webcast with President Barack Obama.
Dubbed "40 Minutes for Health Reform," the teleconference was organized by a network of faith-based organizations that support Obama's effort to change the nation's health-care system. Members of more than 30 religious groups made remarks during the call-in event, which was heard on the Internet.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood and a member of the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, made the opening remarks.
"This isn't about backing any particular legislation," Hunter said before the event. "This is to identify people of faith to be advocates for reform and civil debate."
The teleconference marked a strategic change in rhetoric for the president, who moved his arguments beyond the practical need for health-care reform and suggested that changing the system was a moral imperative.
Obama, who joined the last few minutes of the teleconference, used religious references such as "I am my brother's keeper" and said that misinformation being spread about reform had "a lot of folks bearing false witness."
Religious leaders supporting the campaign say that making health care affordable to more people is the morally correct thing to do. But other religious leaders -- many from conservative perspectives -- have voiced concerns about reform, including whether increased public access to health-care services might promote or fund abortions. Some also have condemned a House bill provision that would provide Medicare coverage for end-of-life consultations for the elderly, expressing fears that it could promote euthanasia.
Opponents have been especially visible — and vocal — in town-hall meetings, where they have expressed fear of government intrusion and skepticism about costs.
"It has turned into an accusation and fear-fest rather than an actual information exchange that's legitimate," Hunter said. "It's due in part to all the misinformation that's out there -- partly from conservative religious people listening to TV commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck pushing the suspicion that government is the enemy."
Part of the problem, Hunter said, is that religious leaders are sending mixed messages by saying they support health-care reform yet fostering confusion and fear by criticizing the proposal.
"We're arguing over what might be in it," he said. "Nobody knows what the final bill looks like yet. We're in a very ambivalent situation."
But Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is resolute in his opposition to Obama's proposal.
"We have the resources as a country to fix the issues that need to be fixed without having to overhaul the entire health-care system," said Land, whose group analyzed the reform measure and concluded that the bill would lead to fewer health-care choices and more government interference.
The call-in also included lay people such as Linda Filippini, a 56-year-old small-business owner who attends Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Melbourne. Filippini and her husband have been struggling to pay for health insurance.
"We pay $1,500 a month for insurance provided through our own company," Filippini said before the call-in. "We have no other options because my husband has a pre-existing condition — diabetes and a heart condition -- so he can't get health insurance. He's looking forward to next August when he turns 65 so he can get on Medicare. But I'll lose my company-sponsored insurance, and I'll be left looking for insurance I can afford. That's not something I'll be looking forward to."
Fernando Quintero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.