A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship minister joined hundreds of interfaith clergy and community leaders in a Capitol Hill rally March 22 opposing the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, just two days before the bill was withdrawn when it became clear it lacked the votes for approval.
At the same time, five Baptist organizations joined other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh groups in releasing a letter warning the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) would have a “dire” effect on people with disabilities. Signers included the Alliance of Baptists, the American Baptist Churches USA, the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America-Bautistas por la Paz, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan to replace the AHCA would have increased the number of Americans without health insurance by 24 million by 2026, while decreasing federal budget deficits by $150 billion.
Alyssa Aldape, associate pastor for young adult and youth ministries at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., described the American Health Care Act as greed “under the guise of choice” during a “Preserving Health Care Moral Rally” featuring Moral Mondays founder William Barber and Jennifer Butler of Faith In Public Life.
“I am here as a minister of the gospel, a gospel that tells the story of Jesus,” said Aldape, a graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and former employee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “You’ve heard of him, yes? The one who healed the blind, the bleeding and the bedridden, without asking for a co-pay or an insurance card.”
Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and scheduled preacher at the 30th anniversary gathering of the Alliance of Baptists April 28-30 in Raleigh, N.C., lamented absence of “the so-called moral voices” of white evangelical Christians in the current healthcare debate.
“Where are the people who claim they have so much to say about what God is concerned about?” Barber asked. “Where are they condemning the acts of sending tens of millions to the ranks of the uninsured and damning those with pre-existing conditions or too little money to afford to pay the higher premiums to the hell of no health care and the dance with death?”
“Their silence is sin and immorality,” said Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, N.C. “They would be so loud if we were talking about attacking the LGBT community. They would be so loud if we were talking about abortion. They would be so loud if we were talking about prayer in the schools.”
“Their silence is heresy,” Barber said.
Aldape said her immigrant grandparents would feel the effect of changes to Medicaid, a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources, included the GOP plan.
“Slashing Medicaid and taking health insurance away from millions of low-income Americans while lining the pockets of the very wealthy is the worst kind of sin, and we will not stand for it,” she proclaimed.
Aldape advised Christian members of Congress to “remember your Sunday school lessons” about words of Jesus recorded in the book of Matthew.
“When you feed the hungry, you feed Jesus,” she said. “When you heal the sick, you heal Jesus. “But when you take health care coverage of 24 million Americans who are denied fundamental rights, you are denying the rights of Jesus.”
Aldape said the plan being pushed through Congress by House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump “is not an act of mercy” but rather “an act of aggression” that is not “pro-life” but instead “pro-rich.”
She challenged Ryan, a devout Roman Catholic and former altar boy, to use his Lenten practice this year to reflect on the question, “who is my master?”
“Is it billionaires or is it Jesus?” she asked. “Because we know you cannot have two.”
After the rally protestors marched to Ryan’s office to deliver copies of their sacred texts and share stories of people saved from financial ruin by insurance coverage they were able to obtain under Obamacare.
Barber said if the “Trump/Ryan take-care-away death bill” passes, people who lose their health insurance will die.
“These are not souls whom we as clergy can stand over and then say the Lord called them home,” he said. “These will be people who have died because of government policy.”
“In a sense we’ve come to raise hell,” Barber said. “We’ve come to use our moral and prophetic position to raise and expose the kind of hell that poor people and disabled people and older people will go through if this kind of unjust law is passed.”
Aldape said the choice facing members of Congress is whether to “serve the people of this country or submit to the greed of big insurance companies and the very wealthy.”
“No person of faith, no persons who follows the Golden Rule, can stand idly by as our leaders ignore the least of these and appease the rich,” she said.
In the letter signed by Baptists and others — all members of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Collaborative — the groups said the AHCA’s cuts in Medicaid would have a devastating effect on people with disabilities.
“Medicaid provides coverage for over 10 million individuals with disabilities, which is why any cut to the program is a source of fear for our community. The scope of cuts to Medicaid proposed under the AHCA — estimated at $880 billion by the Congressional Budget Office — makes this issue dire. The legislation would substantially burden state budgets, and would leave them with no option but to cut funding for programs on which millions rely.”
They added: “As people of faith, we believe all people are entitled to receive the medical treatment they need. … Our religious traditions leave no doubt that providing for the health and dignity of people is among the most important duties of a just society. We cannot abide the harm that the proposed cuts to Medicaid would exact on millions in our communities.”