The US has been embroiled in debate about health care coverage and cost for several decades, and the ELCA has been part of the conversation. In 2003 the Churchwide Assembly adopted a Social Statement on health, healing and health care, called “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor.” In the first paragraph we read: “As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.” Beginning with a brief statement of the health care crisis the statement quickly moves to the role of the church. “The Christian Church is called to be an active participant in fashioning a just and effective health care system.” “We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American have an enduring commitment to work for and support health care for all people as a shared endeavor.”
The statement lists what we support as a church:
+ comprehensive approach as shared endeavor
+ individual, church and social responsibilities
+ a vision of a system with a coherent set of services
+ equitable access for all
+moral discernment in public policymaking
The statement provides biblical and theological perspectives on health, illness, healing and health care.
As it addresses health care and healing as shared endeavor, the statement describes personal responsibilities, the church’s ministry (including congregations, social ministry organizations, and advocacy), public health services and whole patient care (including curing and caring, healing and chronic conditions, palliative care, alternative healing, caregiver support, research and development,
and peaceful dying.
Acknowledging that our health care system is not adequate for all, the statement explores love and justice, and moving towards just access. “We urge all people to advocate for access to basic health care for all and to participate vigorously and responsibly in the public discussion on how best to fulfill this obligation.”
Addressing how congregations can expand their health ministry, the statement includes numerous suggestions including:
+education on health issues
+removing structural barriers to accessibility
+collaborating with social ministry organizations
+providing and advocating for transportation to health care
+attending to spiritual needs
+attending to staff health, including access to health care
+learning about global health issues
The statement concludes with a section on Ethical Guidance for Individuals and Families, listing 5 principles for decision-making about health:
+Health and finitude
“As Christians we discern our moral responsibilities through consulting Scripture, the experience of the community of faith, and the exercise of reason. We deliberate about our decisions not merely as patients or caregivers, but as seekers of God’s will. We recognize that the broader dimensions of health and healing compel us to consider our neighbor and our love for them as we make decisions. Above all, we ask God for guidance, mercy, and forgiveness in all our decision-making.”
Health care continues to be a hot political issue, particularly this election season. I commend this statement as a starting point for conversation in our churches about how we love God and serve our neighbor.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA