WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society has set six legislative priorities for the 111th United States Congress.

The priorities address issues as sweeping as overcoming global poverty and as specific as increasing spending for international family planning. Systemic reform, however, stands out as the linchpin holding all of the priorities together.

The priorities support actions taken by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's highest policy-making body. Meeting every four years, General Conference approves the denomination's "Social Principles" and The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, setting forth United Methodist stances on many issues.

Jim Winkler, top executive of the Board of Church and Society, said the priorities represent areas where the faith community can bring a unique voice to the legislative process by focusing on justice and, increasingly, stewardship of creation.

The six legislative priorities for 2009 are reform of the U.S. health-care system; just, humane immigration reform; strengthening the social safety net; investing in a "green-energy" future; overcoming global poverty; and increasing levels of U.S. spending for international family planning.

The health of people throughout the United States is jeopardized every day by limited or lack of access to health care, according to the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of the board's work area on alcohol, other addictions and health care. She said 45.7 million people are uninsured in the United States, and increasing numbers are underinsured or have expensive and inadequate health care.

"Major health reform efforts are under way in Congress and with the new administration," said Abrams. She added that it isn't clear yet what the legislative package will look like.

"Faith groups have worked together to develop a solid foundation of principles to guide legislative efforts," Abrams said, adding that the United Methodist position on health care has heavily influenced this process.

"A society where each person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity expresses God's intention for abundant life," she explained. "An inclusive, accessible, affordable and accountable health-care system lives out God's intention."

Immigration reform

The board's civil and human rights work area has set "just, humane immigration reform" as its priority this year. "Common sense tells us that the immigration system is badly in need of reform," said Bill Mefford, director.

According to Mefford, effective reform must be comprehensive in nature and entail a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, protection of the rights of workers and reunification of families.

Scripture calls us as people of faith to welcome the sojourner," he emphasized.

John Hill, director of the work area on economic and environmental justice, pointed to the uncertainty in the economy as a reason for strengthening the social safety net.

"As economic uncertainty grows," he explained, "we must protect those living on the economic margins, particularly children." For example, he said, Church and Society will work to strengthen and expand programs to ensure every child has access to proper nutrition.

Pushing for legislation that mandates investing in a "green-energy" future is a response to the call to be faithful stewards of God's creation, according to Hill.

The board "supports a transition to green, low-carbon energy alternatives," he said. "Adopting a new energy policy with a strong federal investment in clean alternative energy sources will reduce global warming pollution, generate jobs and lead us toward a sustainable future."

The agency supports legislation that helps to end global poverty, said Mark Harrison, director of the peace with justice work area. He said foreign aid reform, fair trade, debt cancellation and major reform of international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, are instrumental ways the United States can lead to end poverty.

Family planning

Linda Bales, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at Church and Society, has a 2009 priority of increasing funding for international family planning. She said the purpose is to ensure access to the full range of health services, including family planning.

Increased spending on international family planning should include support for the United Nations Population Fund, according to Bales. The fund estimates that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if all women had access to contraceptive services.

"That means some 175,000 women each year could be saved," Bales said, "and many more could avoid severe or long-lasting injuries."

In many countries, however, funding for family planning has been curtailed. The board "will work with various population/reproductive health groups to secure additional funding for family planning services around the globe," she said, "because the potential life-saving benefits are so immense."

She said greater access to family planning can reduce the spread of AIDS, allow couples to space their children, and reduce abortions and child and maternal mortality.

"As followers of Christ, we are called to bring health and wholeness to all God's people," Bales stated. "United Methodism's founder, John Wesley, had a burning passion for health and the desire to see people have access to goods and services needed to live life abundantly as well as faithfully."

All priorities are available in pdf format by visiting the board's Web site at www.umc-gbcs.org.