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Ministry of Healing, v. 3.0: Why Adventists should fight for universal health care

Last week I was in Washington, DC with nearly 300 other faith leaders from the PICO National Network speaking to members of Congress about several issues including stemming the tide of preventable home foreclosures and comprehensive health care reform. (For more about my experience there, including some video, please visit my blog at

For over 3 years my congregation has been working with our friends at LA Voice, the Los Angeles affiliate of the PICO National Network. PICO is a faith-based community organization with 53 affiliates in 17 states in 150 towns and cities, representing 1 million families across the United States. Last month our we achieved a major victory for our national work when on February 4 President Obama signed the new S-CHIP expansion into law.

Now, because of the stories we are hearing from our local communities around the country and because the President has set his sights on health reform this year, PICO is moving ahead to work on comprehensive health care reform. For us this means three basic things: 1) health care must be affordable for all Americans, 2) the plan must cover everyone, and 3) it must be financially sustainable for the country.

For the past two years I have been involved in health care reform as a religious leader. I have done this mostly because I think it’s the right thing to do. When I see, in my own congregation and community, hard working people who cannot afford health insurance, it makes me angry. It upsets me that in these United States access to quality health care is a privilege afforded only to the rich and well-connected. As a matter of moral concern, this must stop.

But I am also interested in this issue because of my specific faith tradition. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a rich history of health and healing ministry. One of Ellen White’s most popular books, which I read in college, is Ministry of Healing. The first way this “ministry of healing” has manifested itself is in a strong “health message.” Because we are children of God, created in God’s image, and because we believe our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit we strive to be as healthy as we can be. This is what I would call Ministry of Healing 1.0. It’s something every individual can do as a manifestation of their spirituality.

However, our ministry of healing has not stopped there. Beginning in 1866, the Seventh-day Adventist Church opened their first health care facility known as Western Health Reform Institute, which later became Battle Creek Sanitarium. Today, under the auspices of Adventist Health System, the church operates 36 hospitals with more than 6,000 beds, just in the United States. Early in the church’s history, the leadership decided that teaching people about health wasn’t enough. Following Jesus’ example we needed to care for people who got sick. This is Ministry of Healing 2.0.

Today there is a new frontier in our ministry of healing. According to the Census Bureau, 47 million Americans, or 15.8% of the population were without health insurance in 2006. According to a recent survey commissioned by Families USA, 1 out of 3 Americans under 65 were without insurance during 2007 and 2008. That’s 86.7 million people who went without health insurance for a part or all of those two years.

There is a new frontier in our ministry of healing – universal access to medical care for all Americans. This is Ministry of Healing 3.0. As a clergy leader in the PICO National Network I was troubled to read the list of faith groups being convened in the Religious Round Table on Health Care. On that list were the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Sojourners and others. Seventh-day Adventists were not on the list. I was not surprised by this, but I was troubled by it. Of all the groups, Adventists should be at the top, with our history of health ministry and our international network of health care institutions.

So these days I’ve taken to asking people a question: What good is our health message, and what good is a network of world class hospitals and clinics, if a third of the people in our country can’t access those services when they’re in their greatest need? And what good is all this if people can’t stay on top of their health by seeing a doctor regularly? This is a grave injustice and one that Adventists should take the lead in solving.

If you’d like to learn more about the PICO National Network and our efforts to move health care reform through Congress this year, please visit If you want to talk about how you can get involved, please contact me at rjbell AT hollywoodsda DOT org.

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