Bishop James Swanson’s column on the health care debate, posted in the Sept. 3 edition of The Call2, received one of the highest number of hits in the e-newsletter’s history. The column also received intense attention on Facebook.
More than 1,000 readers of The Call2 “clicked” on the column’s link. Numerous Facebook readers also posted the column on their own pages, along with affirming or critical comments. Others wrote directly to Swanson or to The Call.
One retired Chattanooga clergy member wrote Swanson to note the denomination’s Social Principles ... make clear that United Methodists believe our government has the responsibility of seeing that all Americans have adequate health care … When teaching small groups about the Social Principles I have often said to people that they don't have to agree with everything in the Social Principles to be good Methodists, but these principles do represent some of the best thinking of our church on social issues … The least we can do as good Methodists is to familiarize ourselves with the church's official position.
A local pastor in Chattanooga noted that Holston Conference should keep its own commitment to brothers and sisters:
Do we still have pastors and families in our conference who are "uninsurable"? Do we still have a maximum lifetime limit after which our clergy and their families are "on their own" or "out of luck"? These are questions I have a hard time with, especially in the light of the decision at the last Annual Conference that every church with a full-time pastor be directly billed for insurance whether or not the pastor is using (is eligible to use?) the coverage.
A Cleveland lay member wrote Swanson to say:
… Nobody can look at the poor or those in unfortunate circumstances without health-care coverage and not see a problem, but our government can ill afford to take that responsibility lest we plunge ourselves into such bureaucracy and exorbitant taxation that all will suffer. Government should seek to "govern" those things that exacerbate the costs -- greed, fraud, exploitation, etc. -- such that the church and benevolent individuals can then contend with the need. Perhaps the role of the church in this issue is to seek to drive government where it should be so we can do what we should do ...
A Chattanooga pastor e-mailed The Call to ask,
Was not the same Congress who is engaging in the current matter involved in the process that led to the current horrendous situation with medical costs? If so, how can we really believe they will present a viable solution?
On Facebook, one Johnson City pastor seemed to refer to a former article with Swanson's advice on careful use of Facebook, when he commented ...
No political views on Facebook???
Later, a Chattanooga District clergy member responded on Facebook:
When someone you know has fallen through the cracks and not been able to receive the care that they needed, it becomes more than theological, more than political. It becomes personal.
On its own Facebook page, The Call invited readers to respond to the question, “Why does the topic of health-care reform cause such passionate responses?”
An Oak Ridge District pastor wrote:
Perhaps the health-care debate is raising such a firestorm because of the intense polarization of the argument exacerbated by the staggering costs ... Health-care reform, regardless of the final configuration, will be very expensive. It will touch most every household either in the form of increased tax dollars or increased insurance and/or treatment costs. When household budgets are threatened, issues take on a much more strident tone. The hard right thinks it hears the left shouting, "Reform at all cost! Take it from the rich; they've got plenty." The hard left thinks it hears the right shouting, "Hey! If you won't work and get your own insurance, tough! Don't come crying to me."
I don't know anyone who is really parked at either of those two extreme poles, yet variations on those caricatured themes seem to dominate public debate and drown out most of us standing somewhere in the middle holding our ears. Perhaps Christians can, if nothing else for now, soften the debate within our sphere of influence by lifting the plight of real people that is being silenced by the economics-fueled political din.
Another Oak Ridge District pastor responded:
Put simply ... people seem to be drawn to the over-dramatized lies and conspiracy theories that have grown in American Politics today. The claims of "death panels," "socialism," and "government run health care" have been at best exaggerations and at worst flat-out lies. ... Opponents of reform ... will do anything to keep people from dealing with the real debate. The real debate is that the working poor and very small businesses cannot afford health care and that number is growing. As Christians I think it is our responsibility to make sure that people do not go without health care.