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Did the Episcopal and Methodist churches come out against the Republican health plan?
The Republican health plan narrowly approved by the House of Representatives was opposed not just by most Democrats, but also by many religious leaders. - photo by Jennifer Graham
House Republicans made good on their promise to replace the Affordable Care Act, despite impassioned opposition from some of the nation's religious leaders.

But contrary to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's assertions in a speech minutes before the vote, the United Methodist Church did not formally oppose the American Health Care Act, although one of its most prominent members did.

In her remarks, Pelosi, a Democrat from California, called the legislation "a moral monstrosity" and ran through a list of medical and religious groups that she said shared her view, including the nation's third-largest denomination, the United Methodist Church.

She quoted a Catholic nun, Sister Simone Campbell, who has said, "This is not the faithful way forward and must be rejected." And to the Episcopal Church she attributed this line: "Trumpcare falls woefully short of our spiritual calling to care for the least of these, as well as the noble values upon which our great nation was founded."

A spokeswoman for The Episcopal Church said the church did say the Republican plan "falls woefully short of our spiritual calling" in a letter that Rebecca Linder Blachly, the church's director of governmental relations, sent to members of Congress.

The spokeswoman, Neva Rae Fox, also said in an email, "Please know that the Episcopal Church has never used the phrase 'Trumpcare.'" The language in the letter is "this current proposal."

Same faith, different views

Like both Congress and the American public (nearly half of whom said in a recent poll that the Republican plan is no better than Obamacare), faith groups are not united on the issue, nor are their members.

The division is illustrated by the fact that Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has called the Republican bill an "act of mercy," are Catholics.

Also, for those keeping score at home (or trying to), the Catholic Medical Association is for the bill, but the Catholic Health Association is against it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said the bill Ryan champions contains "serious flaws," among them the tax credits that would replace the subsidies provided by the ACA. After the vote, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development released a statement saying the bill is "deeply disappointing."

"The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said.

The groups Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the Catholic Health Association put out statements deploring the bill's passage, the former quoting Pope Francis, who has said universal health care is a right, not a privilege.

Pope Francis' view is also the official position of the United Methodist Church, which says the church holds "health care as a basic human right and affirms the duty of government to assure health care for all."

The quote that Pelosi attributed to the United Methodist Church "People will die because of efforts like this to roll back health care" was written by a church leader, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, not the church itself, a United Methodist spokeswoman said.

"No person, no paper, no organization, has the authority to speak officially for The United Methodist Church, this right having been reserved exclusively to the General Conference under the Constitution," the church's Book of Discipline says.

Henry-Crowe is chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, one of four international boards of The United Methodist Church. The General Conference has given the board "primary responsibility for advocating health care for all in the United States Congress and for communicating this policy to United Methodists in the USA," the spokeswoman said.

Social media response

Churches have been historically wary of weighing in on any issue that might be construed as political for fear of losing their tax-exempt status, even though the law (at least until President Donald Trump's executive order Thursday) prohibited them only from speaking out on political candidates, not issues.

Like many other faith groups, the UMC said nothing about the health bill or Pelosi's remarks on Twitter Thursday, instead mentioning the National Day of Prayer and Star Wars Day.

Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, also mentioned the National Day of Prayer and a merger of two Baptist health care systems, without mentioning the ACHA vote. The Presbyterian Church (USA) likewise was silent on Twitter.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made no statement on the bill and has none planned, a spokesman said.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, however, appeared to challenge the bill on Twitter, with a retweet from ELCA Advocacy that said, "Together, let us continue to stand for those whose health care is threatened by #AHCA. All deserve affordable, quality health care."

And Simone Campbell, a political activist and author of "A Nun on the Bus," tweeted that she was honored to be mentioned in Pelosi's speech. Republicans who voted for the bill have "blood on their hands," Campbell said on Twitter.

Even as Democrats invoked Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote that "injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane because it often results in physical death," the debate over changes to the ACA recalls another famous saying, "Good people can disagree."

On its website, the Catholic Medical Association congratulated the House on its vote and said the proposal will deliver "quality, affordable options based on what patients and families truly need."

The Catholic Health Association said the House bill would have "devastating consequences."

Those from competing viewpoints will have a chance to go at it again in a few weeks when the Senate grapples with its version, which is likely to be significantly different from what the House passed.
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