The National Association of Evangelicals voiced support for the general idea of a new health care system that would cover more people, but urged those debating the details of the reform bill to remain civil.
"We call on evangelicals, and all Americans, to engage in respectful and serious dialogue with our leaders and with each other, which focuses on issues rather than personalities" the NAE urged in a statement released Wednesday. "Neither the common good nor the cause of Jesus Christ will be advanced through undignified shouting matches."
The NAE, which claims to represent 30 million constituents, said it recognizes that the American health care system is "complex," reform will "not be easy," and people may "disagree" on how to fix it.
But in the face of many obstacles, the nation's largest evangelical body called on President Obama and Congress to work together in a "bipartisan manner" to create a new health care system that has broad coverage, is cost effective, and respects the sanctity of human life.
In regards to the debate on abortion coverage, the NAE firmly stated that "abortion is not health care."
"We unambiguously oppose any proposal that would mandate or provide public funding or coverage for abortions or that would require health care providers to perform procedures that violate their conscience," the organization stated.
It also opposes the government, or health alliances, endorsing euthanasia.
However, it "welcome[s] thoughtful advance planning for end of life issues" that affirms the sacredness of human life.
NAE encourage the President and Congress to seek the counsel of churches and secular groups in establishing a health care reform that utilizes the strength of the private sector and keeps government control at a minimum.
The evangelical association released its health care statement yesterday, shortly before a faith-based teleconference featuring President Obama began.
An estimated 140,000 people from various faith communities joined the conference call and heard Obama deny that the government will fund abortion, give health care to illegal immigrants or ration end-of-life care.
"These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation – that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper," he said.
Despite the president's efforts, several pro-life groups still adamantly contend that the current health care bill and the president support government-funded abortions.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, argued that the White House and Congress are hiding behind a "technical distinction" between tax funds and government-collected premiums. Both are public funds, he contended.
The NRLC director also recalled Obama promising Planned Parenthood in 2007 that the public plan would cover abortion. The president was also accused of "carefully avoid[ing]" a direct answer to the abortion question asked by CBS news anchor Katie Couric in a recent interview.
"It is true that there is such a tradition (of the government not funding abortion as health care)," Johnson said recalling how Obama had answered the question, "which Obama has always opposed, and which the Obama-backed bill would shatter."
There has been an ongoing effort by pro-life groups to get Congress to amend the current health care bill to explicitly prohibit abortion funding and coverage. Prior efforts for such an amendment have failed.
But several faith-based organizations announced the formation of a new federation on Thursday that will oppose health care policies that either fund abortion or ration care on medical treatment.
"Life is precious because men and women of every age, race or ethnicity have intrinsic value, having been created in the image of God," said Mathew Staver, one of the spokespersons for the Freedom Federation. "It is immoral to fund the destruction of innocent human life or to withhold medical treatment from the aged or ill. We must care for our neighbors and those most vulnerable among us. All human life is valuable and deserves dignity and respect."
The groups involved in the new federation include National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Hispanic NAE; Catholic Online; High Impact Leadership Coalition; Generals International; Conservative Action Project; and Liberty Counsel.