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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Visiting Sen. Lieberman (or at least trying to)

Last Sunday, I went to see Senator Joseph Lieberman to discuss healthcare. Of course, I wasn't alone. Five Hundred or so other people of faith, representing an unbelievably broad range of religious traditions, gathered at the high school across the street from Sen. Lieberman's condo and then marched over for a prayer vigil on the sidewalk. The event managed to grab a good bit of press and I found that my picture was on the front page of the The Hour, as well as The Advocate. (That's me holding the left end of the banner.)

Since the rally on November 15, bloggers from the far-right have characterized the rally as an intimidation tactic and have questioned the motives of those of us who prayed together, calling us all sorts of colorful things. Really, you've got to see some of this crap that thoroughly misrepresents the event. (Even scarier is to read the comments posted by the readers of these fearmongering blogs!!)

Then, watch this video of the event.

Weren't we scary, horrible and intimidating?

Below is the column that I wrote in my church's newsletter, explaining the need for a religious voice in the healthcare reform conversation and, even further down this is a copy of the letter written by my friend, Rabbi Ron Fish, of which I am honored to be a signer.


When I went to Stamford on Sunday evening, I didn’t expect my picture to end up on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. Instead, I went to pray – along with nearly five hundred other interfaith brothers and sisters – for our country, for the unmet healthcare needs in our nation, and for Senator Joseph Lieberman. I went to stand side-by-side with Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Unitarians, Hindus and Buddhists as we spoke a message of responsibility for the most vulnerable in society that is common in all of our religious traditions.

I wasn’t at all surprised, when I arrived at Stamford High School, to find several FCC members already there, though we hadn’t made any advance plan to meet. After all, our congregation has a long history of working for social justice, of speaking out on behalf of the poor, of advocating for the needy. I was a little surprised, however, when some folks cheered and clapped when I walked into the church council meeting on Monday evening. It seems as though our legacy of standing up for justice has been a tad dormant over the last few years, as the efforts of our congregation have focused largely on our own needs during the interim period. People are glad that we’re “back in the game,” as one parishioner put it to me.

At the same time, I realize that not every member of our church is in agreement about our nation’s healthcare reform – or about anything else, for that matter. Some are worried about the church getting into “politics.” While I certainly understand those sentiments and the underlying concern that the church not become just another political action agency, it is also important to realize that our living faith calls us to be active in transforming our society to be more just.

As we prepare to enter the season of Advent, the major them of the scripture readings is summed up by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “prepare the way of the Lord” and by John the Baptist, who echoed those same words in the Gospels. All too often, we think about that preparation as just getting ready for Christmas, hanging greenery and lighting candles. From a biblical perspective, however, that preparation means that we are to be engaged in doing God’s work, in building God’s realm, in modeling God’s justice for all people.

Jesus was clear about what the “way of the Lord” entails. He preached about it in his first sermon, when he told the congregation, ” ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Later Jesus would tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, where he would explain that a neighbor was one who cared for the health of those who were in need of medical care. He echoed that same message when he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the beggar who was covered in boils went to heaven, while the rich man who ignored his need went to hell. Christ summed up the law and the prophets by teaching that we need to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t making this up on his own. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of similar images. In Leviticus, the commandment is given, “you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” and the prophets consistently enjoin the nation to care for the old, the sick and the vulnerable. Our UCC ancestors understood this and started numerous healthcare institutions throughout the country. Our General Synod, just this past July, passed a resolution in support of a reformed healthcare system that is 1) Universal – it covers all persons; 2) Affordable for all; 3) Provides comprehensive benefits; 4) Offers a choice of physicians and other health providers; 5) Eliminates racial, ethnic and all other disparities for health care; and 6) Waives pre-existing health conditions and does not further impose financial barriers to health care.

Certainly, bringing about change in our healthcare system is political, just as the change in our nation’s civil rights laws was political. Political, but not partisan. While it is not appropriate for the church to ever endorse candidates or parties, it is the church’s proper role to address issues of public policy, ethics, morality and justice. Indeed, if religious leaders and people of faith kept silent, many of our societal advances would never have happened. We’re at our best when we work through both the church and the government to meet the needs of a hurting world, when we prepare the way of the Lord with all of the tools that are available to us as people of faith.

Advent Blessings,



Concerned Clergy of Connecticut

Rabbi Ron Fish, Contact

November 12, 2009

Honorable Joseph Lieberman

706 Hart Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Lieberman,

We are not politicians. We are not doctors. We are not financial analysts.

We are rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and pastors.

This does not mean that our political, medical or fiscal views should be taken any more seriously than anyone else’s. We acknowledge that everyone must evaluate the complex and myriad questions that appear in the healthcare reform debate based upon their own judgments. Certainly our elected political leaders must weigh the problems of cost, availability and sustainability when redesigning such a large portion of our economy.

But our areas of expertise do come into play in this debate. The moral question of what kind of society we seek to build should underlie any deliberation on the question of healthcare reform. We surely disagree over many subjects of theology and politics, over questions of faith and dogma. But whether from the words of Torah or the Gospels of Jesus, whether from the Talmud or the Koran- our traditions all are explicit and clear on one thing: We are commanded to seek the welfare and healing of all those in our midst, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable. Our understanding of the insights of Jewish, Christian and Muslim thought on how we should navigate through the complex challenges of modern life compel us to speak out together in favor of major change that will extend the benefits of modern medicine to all our fellow citizens.

For us this is not an intellectual exercise. We work in our communities, among the sick and scared, who face not only illness but financial ruin when disease strikes. We see hard working people denied care because of pre-existing conditions. We see families with health insurance that they simply cannot afford. We see doctors and nurses whose vocation is to mend the broken, frustrated that their efforts are directed toward profits and paperwork rather than people and healing.

It is for this reason that we insist that the moral imperative of our time is clear. Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious tradition should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal healthcare in America.

It happens that we are all also citizens of the State of Connecticut. This fact leads us to ask you, Senator Joe Lieberman- what is it that you stand for? We ask you to sit down with us, a diverse group of clergy, and your constituents, and answer the most important moral questions. How can you justify your threat to block this much needed reform against the will of the majority? How is it that you can stand in the way of our fellow citizens being granted access to life saving technology? When you speak of values and conscience, what exactly do you understand to be the morality of our current system?

When concerned about questions of finance, we turn to the independent analysis of the CBO, which suggests that a “public option” will reduce long term costs and lighten the fiscal burden of the government. When interested in the effect on medicine, we trust doctors, like the AMA, who approve of this approach. When considering the effect on seniors, we turn to the AARP, which also endorses reform.

But when speaking of morality and conscience, when pursing a calling to goodness and justice- on these matters we have something to offer. Our voices reflect our traditions and our understanding of what God asks of us.

Senator Lieberman, what is it that your conscience tells you?

Concerned Clergy of Connecticut*

Rev. Richard C. Alton

Saint Andrew's Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Marjo Anderson

Tabor Lutheran Church

New Haven, CT

Rev. Edwin Ayala

Associate Director

Christian Activities Council

Hartford, CT

Rev. Gordon Bates

First Church of Christ, Congregational

Glastonbury, CT

Rev. Joseph Bradley

Retired Clinical Chaplain

Hartford, CT

Rev. Joan Breckenridge


Zion Lutheran Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith

Senior Pastor

First Congregational Church

Norwalk, CT

Rev. Johnny C. Bush

Greater Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church

Stamford, CT

Rabbi Debra Cantor

Congregation B'nai Sholom

Newington, CT

Rev. Annette Cineas-Exantus

Tabernacle of Grace Church

Stamford, CT

Maryteresa (Missy) Fenlon Conrad

Peace & Service Committee

The Religious Society of Friends/"Quakers"

Wilton, CT

Rev. Peter Degree


United Church of Christ

Deep River, CT

Rev. Samuel Dexter

Senior Minister

First Congregational Church

Watertown, CT

Rabbi Joseph Ron Fish

Congregation Beth El

Norwalk, CT

Rev. Christopher Files


Trinity Lutheran Church

Milford, CT

Rev. J. Richard Fowler

Harwinton, CT

Liz Frohrip

Associate in Ministry

Salem Lutheran Church

Bridgeport, CT

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

Congregation Beth Israel/Co-Chair Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care

West Hartford, CT

Rev. Lisabeth Gustafson

Interim Pastor

Bristol Baptist Church

Bristol, CT

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Executive Director

Religious Institute

Westport, CT

Rev. Richard Hanna Huleatt

Senior Minister

First Church of Windsor

Windsor, CT

Rev. Dr. James Harrison


First Congregation Church

Woodstock, CT

Rev. Kate Heichler


Church of Christ the Healer

Stamford, CT

Dr. Tommie Jackson


Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Margaret Jay


First Congregational Church

Wallingford, CT

Rev. Keith Jones

Interim Minister

Higganum Congregational Church

Norwalk, CT

Rev. Lois Keen

Grace Episcopal Church

Norwalk, CT

Rabbi Stanley Kessler


Temple Beth El

West Hartford, CT

David Daniel Klipper

Chaplain, Rabbinic Pastor and ACPE Supervisory Candidate

Stamford Hospital

Stamford, CT

Rabbi Emily F. Korzenik

Rabbi Emerita

Fellowship for Jewish Learning

Stamford, CT

Rev. Linda J. Kraft


Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Trumbull, CT

Rabbi Stephen Landau

Bloomfield, CT

Rev. Bryan A. Leone


Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Monroe, CT

Rabbi Mark Lipson

Temple Shalom

Norwalk, CT

Rabbi Alan Lovins

New Haven, CT

Rev. James Mahan

Turn of River Presbyterian Church

Stamford, CT

Imam Adul Azzeim Mahmoud

Vice President

IT Services

Bethel, CT

Avery C. Manchester


Stamford, CT

Rev. Brendan McCormick


All Saints Episcopal Church

Ivoryton, CT

Rev. Michael G. Merkel


Grace Lutheran Church

Stratford, CT

Rev. Bruce V. Morris

Macedonia Church

Norwalk, CT

Rev. John A. Nelson


Niantic Community Church

Niantic, CT

Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas

First Congregational Church of New Fairfield

New Fairfield, CT

Rabbi Robert J. Orkand

Temple Israel

Westport, CT

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Unitarian Universalist Society

East Manchester, CT

Rabbi Richard Plavin

Beth Sholom B'nai Israael

Manchester, CT

Joshua Ratner

Rabbinic Intern

Fairfield, CT

Rabbi Liz Rolle

Congregation Beth El

Norwalk, CT

Rabbi Daniel J. Satlow

Congregation Beth El

Fairfield, CT

Rabbi Philip E. Schechter

Stamford, CT

Rabbi Jeffrey Silberman

Westport, CT

Rabbi Eric A. Silver

Temple Beth David

Cheshire, CT

Pr. Paul D. Sinnott

New England Synod

Torrington, CT

Rabbi David Small

Emanuel Synagogue

West Hartford, CT

Rev. Donald R. Steinle

Executive Director

Christian Activities Council

Hartford, CT

Rev. Diane Stevenson


North Stamford Congregational Church

Stamford, CT

Rabbi Yvonne Strassmann

Temple Beth Sholom

Stratford, CT

Mary Marple Thies


First Presbyterian Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Keith Welch

Church of Nazarene

Norwalk, CT

Rev. Dr. Bernard R. Wilson

Senior Minister

Norfield Congregational Church

Weston, CT

* Positions are listed for identification purposes only.