It has amazed me that the Obama administration took so long to invoke the "moral" option. As my colleague David Gibson reported
, it wasn't until Aug. 19 -- pretty far into the health care debate -- that President Obama participated in a call-in rally with sympathetic religious leaders to make the scriptural case for his proposal. The president cast health care reform as "a core ethical and moral obligation: that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper." Of course, it's not so simple when the religious and the political have become entwined. Several large conservative Christian
churches say the current health care system "is working," and oppose changes.
The Catholic Church, for years supportive of the principle of health care for all, is hesitating because of questions over coverage for abortions, concerns the administration has tried to allay. In truth, the church, though officially a political bystander, has been cool to Obama from the start because of his pro-choice views. During the 2008 presidential race, some bishops and priests stopped just short of equating a vote for Obama with mortal sin.
Yet, acknowledging the social justice concerns that have long guided the church, Bishop William F. Murphy on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in July sent a letter
to members of Congress that endorsed "affordable and quality health care that protects and respects the life and dignity of all people from conception until natural death."
Still, I was a little surprised on Sunday when my pastor took his customary sermon spot in front of the altar, holding the Scripture in one hand and a newspaper in the other. In that day's Gospel, Jesus healed a deaf and mute man (Mark 7: 31-37), and in that day's paper, how to best heal the sick was a headline issue.
My pastor tried not to be political but spiritual, he told me after Mass. "At the banquet of heaven, all stand equally in the grace of the Lord," he said. We were charged to "open our hearts and ears in care and compassion." In today's contentious climate, even that simple statement, I'm afraid, is sure to be politicized.