Rallying the Faithful for Health Reform

President Obama sought to strengthen support for health reform among one of his core constituencies Wednesday afternoon, the community of believers. He served as keynote speaker of sorts, in a conference call with some 140,000 members of faith communities around the country. The call sponsor’s title, 40 Days for Health Reform, suggests those communities are mobilizing for action. 40 Days for Health Reform includes progressive interfaith groups PICO National Network, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life and Faithful America; and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Web sites of the first four list members as adherents of faith traditions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Urging his listeners to “spread facts and speak truth,” Obama said social change has always involved “a contest between hope and fear.” He reviewed some of the more glaring misrepresentations that have been made by opponents of reform — government take-over, “death panels,” funding for abortions — labeling them “ludicrous,” and said the response to “not wanting government bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare” is that “we don’t want insurance bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare.” There were no surprises, or new ideas floated. Director of White House Policy Council Melody Barnes fielded a few pre-selected questions from listeners but dodged any, such as one direct query about a public option, of substance. Still, among a small group of listeners surveyed after the call everyone was enthusiastic about the happening. “Nobody’s expecting policy pronouncements on a conference call,” said one; “what we need is just the recognition of how many good people want good health reform now.”

The call was clearly designed to rally and encourage the troops of the faithful. And those troops, many weary of watching debate co-opted by the religious right, may indeed now be reinvigorated. Most of the call was taken up with prayers or comments from religious leaders, or stories of tragedies caused by the current healthcare disarray. There were plenty of Biblical touchstones — the call lasted for 40 minutes — for listeners of Abrahamic faith traditions, and more than one of the speakers expressed the certainty that it is God’s will for all of His (or Her) creatures to have affordable, quality healthcare. Sponsoring organizations and participating individuals are gearing up for action in the weeks ahead toward that end.

The call can be heard on the 40 Days for Health Reform site. It may not change any Republican minds, but it does indeed claim a pretty powerful ally for the cause.