Bishop Hanson breaking bread With the adoption of the Social Statement on Human Sexuality at the recent ELCA 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA now has ten social statements.

Social statements are major documents addressing significant social issues. Typically, they provide an analysis and interpretation of an issue, set forth basic theological and ethical perspectives related to it, and offer guidance for the corporate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its individual members . . . . In all cases social
statements are the product of extensive and inclusive deliberation within this church, a process that is an integral part of their educational purpose. Because of the considerable resources and care that this church invests in them, and because of the participatory process used in their development, social statements are the most authoritative form of social policy and are adopted only by the Churchwide Assembly.”

Here is the list; each statement may be reviewed and downloaded from the ELCA website:

  • Abortion
  • Church in Society
  • Death Penalty
  • Economic Life
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health and Healthcare
  • Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
  • Peace
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

The 2009 Convention also called for the study process to begin on another possible social statement entitled “Justice for Women”.  The process of study and creation of a social statement takes years and resources (about a million dollars).  The recommendation that was adopted calls for Churchwide assembly action in 2015.  Two other study processes are already underway based upon earlier Churchwide authorizations—Genetics and Criminal Justice.

As I write this, Air Force One is approaching the MSP Airport about 40 miles up the road from Northfield.  The President is on board, and he will take his campaign for health care reform to a local venue later today, which begs the question for me: “What does the ELCA say about health care?”

At the 2003 Churchwide Assembly, the voting members passed a social statement on Health and Healthcare by a margin of 935-34.  The full document extends for 32 pages, but the sense of the document is set out in the introduction (emphases are mine):

Health is central to our well-being, vital to relationships, and helps us live out our vocations in family, work, and community. Caring for one’s own health is a matter of human necessity and good stewardship. Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbors and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.

And, in the statement of crisis:

Health care in the United States, its territories, and Puerto Rico suffers from a prolonged crisis. People unnecessarily endure poor health. Rising health care costs leave a growing number of people without adequate health care. Health care resources often are rationed based on ability to pay rather than need. Finding access to quality health care services is difficult for many. The growing number of elderly people adds another stress on health care resources. Fear and self-interest defeat social justice in the political processes of health care reform.

The stress on individuals and families because of society’s inability to fashion an adequate health care system makes action increasingly urgent. The breadth and complexity of the challenges require serious conversations and bold strategies to establish the shared personal and social responsibilities that make good health possible. The health of each individual depends on the care of others and the commitment of society to provide health care for all.

For the ELCA, as for many religious groups in the US, health care is a matter of right and justice and not merely a scarce market commodity allocated by ability to pay rather than by need.  It is first and foremost a moral issue and only secondarily economic.  The social statement is constructed around the concept of “shared endeavor”. 

Hear the words of Ted Kennedy, in his death bed letter to President Obama as reported by the President in his recent address to a Joint Session of Congress:

He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

A few weeks ago, Lavonne Neff offered commentary on T.R. Reid’s book, The Healing of America in a blogpost on Sojourner’s website.  Here is what she says about the book:

“The primary issue for any health care system is a moral one.” If we believe no one should die for want of access to health care, we can find a way to provide care for all. If we believe health care is a commodity like TVs and automobiles, we can continue to exclude those who can’t pay. “All the developed countries I looked at provide health coverage for every resident, old or young, rich or poor. This is the underlying moral principle of the health care system in every rich country — every one, that is, except the United States.”

A shared endeavor.