"Defining the religious community's distinct vision for and role in transforming U.S. healthcare" was the focus of an Interfaith Health Care Reform Meeting held on June 2 - 4, 2008 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, OH. Convened by Faithful Reform in Health Care, 75 local, state, and national leaders began with the shared understanding that health care is a human need and that the current system is not working for everyone. They confirmed that faith communities have a moral imperative to be catalysts in bringing about a health system that is inclusive, just, compassionate and sustainable.
Led by a facilitation team from The Difference, the group identified the values shared by most religious traditions, articulated the role of the faith community in working for health care reform; developed short and long-term action and communication plans; and designed an organizational model to carry the work forward. The shared values on which the work was based included compassion, community, concern for the vulnerable, equitable sharing of resources, and acknowledgement that each person embodies the divine.
Moral theologian Dr. Jack Glaser, founder of the St. Joseph Health System Healthcare Reform Center in Orange, CA, presented two keynote addresses focusing on moral framing and the role of the faith community in public conscience work. Other presentations were directed to the connection between immigration and health care reform; messaging with new media; lessons learned from earlier campaigns; working together within the interfaith community and with secular organizations; and research about how voters think about health care reform.
The interfaith and multicultural group of clergy, laypersons and health care professionals represented 60 organizations from 23 states and Washington DC. With Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian traditions represented, the meeting's participant list also marked the diversity of faith communities working on this issue. In addition, our country's racial and ethnic diversity was evident with African American, Asian American, Caucasian, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander attendees.
Participant David Lamarre-Vincent, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, said, "Never have I ever been given such an ecumenical and simultaneously interreligious opportunity. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists - all faiths are fundamentally united at the deepest level to ensure that American society provide affordable, accessible health care for all, redirecting our failing structure to an American system supported by the pillars of human dignity, compassion, stewardship, health, healing and wholeness for all. State and national reform of healthcare has rapidly moved up the societal agenda. The question before us is whether we seize this moment in time of ripeness and redirect ourselves for the next month, quarter, years to fully engage and be present in the public square with a bold, prophetic voice. This is an opportunity for us to knit all of our economic justice, human dignity, immigrant rights, and similar concerns into the societal conversation."
Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, convener of the meeting and Executive Director of Faithful Reform in Health Care, said, "This was the first time in nearly 15 years that leaders representing the interfaith community have gathered to strategize about getting more effectively engaged in working for compassionate and sustainable reform. The commitment exhibited by those who attended this meeting marks the beginning of the faith community's unique contribution to the cultural transformation that will be needed to move toward a health care future that works well for all of us."
More information about the meeting, including video segments, are available on the Internet at www.faithfulreform.org.