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Posted by on Sep 24, 2017 in Huffington Post | 5 comments

Mike Pence, God may never forgive you

Vice President Pence, the fate of the Graham-Cassidy bill is hanging by a thread.  Your party is one or two votes short of the 50 that it needs in the Senate.  If it gets them, you will break the tie and determine whether the bill passes and is sent along to the House for almost certain approval.

(Pool Photo by Zurab Kurtsikidze)

Mr. Vice President, please consider that voting for this bill will cause human suffering on a scale that is almost impossible to imagine.  Please consider that subjecting our fellow citizens to such pain and indignity is a grievous sin.  Please consider that if you do this, God may never forgive you.

I am writing to you because you are a religious man.  You have stated that you are a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order.  And this means that your religious faith shapes your political convictions.  During your political career, you have often turned to the Bible to justify policy arguments.

I too am a religious man.  My religious beliefs are central to who I am.  Like you, I believe that my faith orders my existence.  Like you, I believe that Biblical teachings have eternal value and have stood the test of time.  And like you, when considering political matters, I turn to my religion to help me decide what is right.

But when I turn to that faith now, what is important to me is not ideology, politics, or party loyalty.  As a clergyman, I care little about such things.  And I don’t pretend to be an expert in public policy, on health care or anything else.

Yet I do care about human suffering.  And like clergy persons of every faith, I have spent countless hours walking the corridors of hospitals and hospices and visiting the homes of the sick.  I have shared first-hand the terror and the anguish of the ill and the dying.  I have held the hand of a young parent who has just received a devastating diagnosis for himself or his child.  I have heard the crying and the questions of those who have just learned that a loved one is facing a possibly terminal disease.  And when I meet such people, I offer the comforts that tradition and faith can provide, helping, often if not always, to ease the fear and the pain.

I have also confronted a different kind of anguish—of good people suddenly aware that they do not have the insurance to provide the care that they require; of desperately ill people who fear not pain but bankruptcy.  Many of these people have told me that they would rather die than leave their families destitute and struggling to decide whether to pay for rent or medication.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the situation has been better than it was before.  More Americans—about 20 million more—have  insurance now, and the great majority of Americans no longer live in the all-but-permanent state of anxiety about health care that had been, for them, the norm.

But please understand, Mr. Vice President, I have no stake in Obamacare or in any other specific plan.  I am an American—and, like most of my fellow citizens, a religious American.  My faith requires me to honor the image of God in every human being.  And what I care about most is that Americans should not have to go it alone.  Like virtually all Americans, I am happy to settle for almost any program that guarantees—truly guarantees—health care for all.   Obamacare moved us down that path, even though we are not there yet.

And that brings me to Graham-Cassidy.  I can’t argue the policy details.  All that I can do is read what every major group of doctors, hospitals, and insurers have said about this plan:  that it will cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their insurance, millions more will face astronomical price increases, and in many states lifetime caps will be reinstated and people with pre-existing conditions will be left unprotected.  In short, it will bring us back to the bad old days, imposing pain, chaos, and indignity upon everyday people, and—let us not pretend otherwise—causing tens of thousands of deaths that otherwise would not have occurred.  Once again, walking those hospital corridors, I will be seeing more and more tearful, frightened faces of Americans who are wondering why their government has abandoned them.

Mr. Pence, every uninsured American is a catastrophe waiting to happen.  How can you, as a religious man, lend your hand to the national tragedy that Graham-Cassidy will cause?

I appreciate that you are a Christian, while I am a Jew.  But while our traditions have their differences, I don’t think they differ here.  And most priests and ministers with whom I speak see this matter as I do.

Like me, they resist partisan labels.  They shudder at the ugliness of the current healthcare debate.  They search for wisdom, dignity, and civility.  And while I look at the Hebrew Bible and see an emphasis on healing (Numbers 12:13), they turn to the New Testament and see, in the words of Gordon MacDonald writing in Christianity Today, a Jesus “who seemed to take great interest in health issues” and for whom “health-care was in his frame of reference.”  How, Pastor MacDonald asks, do you call Jesus Lord and not ultimately inherit some of his compassion for those who are sick and diseased?

Mr. Vice President, it seems to me that Pastor MacDonald is giving voice to what is a pretty wide consensus among serious religious people, of which you are one.  This consensus includes the belief that any effort to bring health benefits to more people—especially the poor and the weak—is a blessing.  It includes the conviction that everyone should have the same access to health care that the rich have.  And it rejects the idea that medical benefits should not be made available to more people because America can’t afford it—which is the argument at the heart of Graham-Cassidy.

But America can afford it, Mr. Vice President.

If we have to make some sacrifices to make it happen, so be it.  If we have to give up a few things and pay a bit more in taxes, so be it.

Because Americans know that the faces of the uninsured are our own.

And because Americans are religious people who know that the heart of religion—Christianity, Judaism, or any other—is compassion, which is the unwavering ability to feel the pain of the ill and the suffering.  And this compassion is the undisputed moral compass of the religious man and woman.

Graham-Cassidy shows little if any compassion, and thus fails religion’s most basic moral test.  As a religious man, Mr. Vice President, you must not fail that test.  Your allegiance is not to party and President.  It is to God and country.

Reconsider your stand on Graham-Cassidy.  Urge others to oppose it.  And if your vote is needed to pass it, vote no.


  1. Thank you for articulating the compelling religious voice of compassion that demands caring for the health and wellbeing of God’s children.

    • Thanks, Arnie. Hope all is well. Shana tova.

  2. Thank you Rabbi Yoffie for your plea to VP Pence although I believe it to b on deaf ears.

  3. Thank you for your eloquent letter to
    our selfish Vice President……

  4. thank you

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