“Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught … and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-37, MSG)

I wonder if that’s how Jesus sees us Americans these days as we contemplate and discuss health-care reform: diseased and in need of health care, bruising and hurting of each other even as we discuss health care, confused as we try to figure out what the proposed health care bills really say, and potentially aimless as we move forward unless we have greater clarity and civility.

Jesus healed people; that was what he did when he saw people in need. As United Methodists, we have a long history of providing health care and healing for people, especially the poor. John Wesley started and supported a health-care clinic for the poor in England. It was ultimately unsustainable and unable to continue.

In the United States, United Methodists and other faith communities opened hospitals, orphanages and elder-care facilities. United Methodists support health-care facilities in other countries, especially Africa, and provide health measures such as anti-malaria nets and eye and dental clinics.

When pondering hot-button topics, United Methodists often ask, “What does the United Methodist Church have to say about this?” Our Social Principles in The Book of Discipline 2008 state in part: “Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. … [H]ealth care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. … We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care” (para. 162 [V]).

Whether we agree with our Social Principles or not, we United Methodists need to provide opportunities to learn, discuss and identify what’s most important to us in this debate. Like at election times, a partisan approach is not appropriate, but there are a lot of “confused and aimless” people in our communities who might appreciate a venue for civil and clear discourse for this critical concern.

What changes should be made, and how will they affect the present and the future for each of us when it comes to health care as well as our country’s economic stability?

Since there are many health-care coverage reform possibilities on the table, it’s hard to know how changes will affect our churches and clergy. We are all aware of how rapidly health-care costs are rising. The expense has made it nearly impossible for some churches to support a full-time clergy leader.

How will these changes affect our congregations? Our clergy? What will happen to congregations and clergy if we don’t make any changes?

What can we do as United Methodists? I hope that you will think about how you might reach out to those in your congregation and community who might be “confused and aimless” about health-care coverage reform. I have a few suggestions:

  • Host an educational forum in your community that gives a variety of perspectives and an overall view and comparison of the various bills that will face Congress when it reconvenes in September. If such a forum was offered near me, I’d attend it! Your elected officials should be able to provide you with some resources for this as well as other community leaders.
  • Prioritize your core values – based on your faith – that help you decide the best approach to health-care coverage reform. Core values might include things such as a public-insurance option, who should pay for coverage for more people, and of course the proposal’s financial sustainability. Then listen and look at what the bills provide.
  • Vary your sources of information so as to ask better questions and avoid misinformation and rumor.
  • Engage in civil debate about health-care coverage reform. I understand the emotional aspect of the discussion because whatever the outcome, we’re all going to live with it for a long time. But if people are shouting so loud that they can’t be understood or answered, it won’t help the discussion and it certainly won’t bring clarity. I would hope Christians would provide exemplary leadership for open, honest and civil discussion on such an emotional and critical decision, for it affects every one of us.
  • Let your congressperson know what you think is best for you and our country.

Yes, I believe that we as Christians and United Methodists should give leadership to all (including ourselves) who are “confused and aimless” about this important issue. It may be an opportune time to witness to our spiritual maturity (through our civil discourse) and provide a need-based outreach to our communities.

Bishop Dyck leads the Minnesota Conference. © 2009 Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church (www.minnesotaumc.org).  Used by permission.