TN Pastors Try Guilting Haslam Into Expanding Medicaid

A group called "Clergy for Justice" also delivered symbolic loaves and fishes to legislators during the session of the General Assembly to keep them from passing a bill that would have tied food stamp benefits to a child's attendance in school. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

A group called “Clergy for Justice” also delivered symbolic loaves and fishes to legislators during the session of the General Assembly to encourage lawmakers to approve Medicaid expansion. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

During a week in which Governor Bill Haslam has been in Washington negotiating a Medicaid expansion for Tennessee, a group of Christian churches is – again – pressuring him to find a way.

Nearly a hundred ministers representing mostly black churches rallied outside the state capitol in suits and clerical collars, singing and making short speeches in the noontime sun.

“Doing nothing will not only be missing an opportunity to do justice, but actively allowing injustice and suffering to take place,” said Rev. Matthew Kelly of Nashville’s Arlington United Methodist Church.

The ministers say the state should accept federal money to insure 175,000 of the state’s working poor because of a New Testament charge to care for the “least of these.”

Rev. James “Tex” Thomas of Nashville’s Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist says the uninsured show up at his church. This week, a man needed money to pay for a prescription.

“They done put him out of the hospital because he doesn’t have any insurance,” Thomas said. “We are not as compassionate as we talk about in this state.”

Governor Haslam has been trying to find a way to expand Medicaid without having to match federal money with state tax dollars. The “Clergy for Justice” – as they call themselves – are fine with a compromise plan. They just ask that lawmakers “answer God’s call” and make it happen.

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