Faith Leaders Say Medicaid Expansion Is A Moral Imperative

March 13, 2020
Faith Leaders Say Medicaid Expansion Is A Moral Imperative  Gov. Lee must address vulnerabilities in Tennessee’s healthcare system NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Earlier today, three pastors,  Rev. Jim Sessions, Retired United Methodist Pastor in Knoxville; Rev. Gordon Myers, Pastor at Living Word Lutheran Church, Arlington; and Rev. Jared Ruari of Shelbyville held a phone press conference calling on Gov. Lee and State Legislators to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, supporting an open letter put forward by the Southern Christian Coalition. The pastors spoke about the urgency of expanding access to healthcare, highlighting the vulnerabilities and need exposed by the tornadoes that struck Middle Tennessee last week and the impending need as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads through our state. They especially urged Governor Lee, who named himself a “man of faith” when running for office, to put his faith into practice while responding to these crises by addressing the systemic vulnerabilities that exacerbate the effects. While Tennessee has been put in a State of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19, there are still roughly 332,000 uninsured Tennesseans that have no realistic access to health insurance.  I’m very concerned with the direction of public health in Tennessee. Gov. Lee has declared a state of emergency in response to concern for the spread of Coronavirus, but our state legislature is failing to even consider Medicaid expansion—the  most obvious path towards coverage for an additional 300,000 Tennesseans,” said Rev. Jared Rauri, who serves a congregation in Shelbyville, TN. “It should be especially clear during a pandemic that the health of our state depends on the health of each and every resident.” Our state legislature is attempting to make the Bible our state book but we are actively ignoring Jesus’ central concern with care for the sick and vulnerable,” said Rev. Jared Ruari. During this time of crisis, it is even more imperative that we focus on the health of each resident by focusing on the importance of expanding Medicaid.  “Expansion is a moral imperative for people of faith who take Jesus’ words seriously to care for the ‘least of these’ within our State. It is the right thing to do,” said Rev. Gordon Myers. When we are caring for God’s children in need, we are giving praise to him. If we are willing to make the Bible our state book, we should first follow the words written inside and expand Medicaid to those living without health care during this time of emergency in Tennessee.” “People of faith sing Joy to the World NO EXCEPTIONS.  But in Tennessee our state government makes exceptions.   They refuse that lifeline – that gift of life and good health to 1.5 million Tennesseans.  We call upon our state leaders to choose life and health for its citizens – our sisters and brothers throughout the state facing suffering as never before.  Choose life not death,” said Rev. Jim Sessions.  Conference recording linked below Read More

Block Grants Will Not Help the 300,000 Tennesseans in Need of Health Coverage

September 17, 2019

In response to Governor Bill Lee’s release of his Medicaid block grant proposal, State Director of the Southern Christian Coalition Lenda Sherrell released the following statement:

“The implementation of Gov. Lee’s block grant proposal would further devastate families and children, especially as the number of uninsured Tennesseans rises. Block grants do not expand coverage to more Tennesseans who rely on Medicaid for services. Jesus healed the sick and turned away no one (Matthew 4:23-24). If we are to walk in His footsteps and follow his example, then we must expand health care to more Tennesseans, not less. It remains a grave injustice that Gov. Lee will not expand Medicaid and provide coverage to 300,000 Tennesseans living without health insurance. We ask Gov. Lee to end this injustice by stopping his block grant proposal and advocating for Medicaid expansion instead.”

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Gov. Lee Must End The Health Crisis Our Leaders Created

September 11, 2019

The Rise in the Number of Uninsured Tennesseans is Sinful

In response to Tennessee’s alarming rise in the number of uninsured, leaving one in 10 Tennesseans without health coverage, the third-largest increase in the nation, State Director of the Southern Christian Coalition Lenda Sherrell released the following statement:

“The increase in the number of uninsured Tennesseans is devastating to families, children and those living in poverty. Inflicting such pain on any of our neighbors is not the way Jesus taught us to live. We are commanded to act as our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, especially the most vulnerable among us. We implore Gov. Bill Lee as a man of faith, to end this moral crisis that those in power created and immediately expand Medicaid.”

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Gov. Lee Must Immediately Withdraw Tennessee From the ACA Lawsuit as Insurance Companies Expand Coverage

July 18, 2019

Three insurance companies, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Ambetter, and Cigna, will expand coverage across Tennessee on, the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s online marketplace. In response to the ACA’s “growing stability,” State Director of the Southern Christian Coalition (SCC) Lenda Sherrell issued the following statement and restated SCC’s ungranted request to meet with Gov. Lee:

“The decision by insurance companies like Blue Cross-Blue Shield of TN to offer more plans on Tennessee’s marketplace is further evidence that the ACA is working. Three members of the Southern Christian Coalition have asked to meet with Gov. Lee, a fellow person of faith, to discuss the ACA lawsuit from a Christian perspective, but so far his office has not granted our request. If upheld in court, the Tennessee-bac ked lawsuit, Texas v. United States, seeking to overturn the ACA, will hurt our most vulnerable, including children with special needs and Tennesseans with pre-existing conditions. This expansion in insurance coverage means more Tennessee families will have access to coverage.”

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Inspired by Refugee Rights Advocates Vigils Across the Nation, SCC Launches Online Tool

July 12, 2019

Nationwide letter tool for Christians across the country to engage THEIR members of Congress


The Southern Christian Coalition is denouncing the treatment of refugees being held along the U.S. southern border and providing Christians across the country an online tool to contact their members of Congress to end the harmful detention practices. 

The online tool, available at, generates a letter for users from all 50 states to directly engage their elected members of Congress. The grassroots group, which uses faith-based values to dispel political ideology masquerading as Christian theology, is offering the tool free. 

“We are inspired by the vigils that will be held tonight across the country and the world calling for justice for our migrant brothers and sisters. According to Deuteronomy: ‘You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,’” said Lenda Sherrell, state director of the Southern Chrisitan Coalition. In response to our call to love the stranger, we created a tool on our website for Christians across the country to call on their senators and member of Congress to hold this administration accountable for these harmful and immoral policies that cage children and separate families.”

The Southern Christian Coalition is encouraging the faithful to use this tool as an opportunity to take individual action to defend their values as millions around the world rallying in protest to close the detention camps. 

Lights for Liberty is hosting vigils today across the country, including Tennessee-based events in Centerville, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cookeville, Franklin, Johnson City, Knoxville, Maryville, Memphis, Nashville and Savannah. 

According to multiple news reports, refugees, who are accused of no crimes, are being held without adequate access to medical care, sleeping quarters, food, toothbrushes, toothpaste, clean clothes, diapers or soap. 

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As a Christian, Gov. Lee Must Stop ACA Repeal

July 8, 2019

Pastors Speak on the Immorality of the ACA Lawsuit Ahead of Oral Arguments in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals


On a press call earlier today, members of the Southern Christian Coalition (SCC) called on Governor Bill Lee to urge Attorney General Herbert Slatery to withdraw Tennessee from the lawsuit that could repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The health law faces a significant challenge tomorrow when the U.S Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments in the ACA lawsuit, Texas vs. United States.

For the last year, the SCC appealed to the attorney general by delivering roughly 1,000 signatures to AG Slatery, meeting with his staff, and holding several press conferences outside his office in Legislative Plaza. A timeline of actions is below.

Joseph Sheeran, a recent graduate with his Master’s in Divinity from Vanderbilt, facilitated the call and recounted the SCC’s tireless work to protect the ACA: “For the past year, the SCC has repeatedly spoken against the immorality of this lawsuit and how it is counter to Christian values. We are now appealing to new Gov. Bill Lee, a fellow man of faith, to urge his attorney general to withdraw Tennessee from this harmful lawsuit which, if successful, will repeal the ACA.”

If the lawsuit prevails and the ACA is struck down, Tennesseans will suffer: protections for pre-existing conditions and any chance for Tennessee to expand Medicaid will vanish. After the 5th Circuit rules, the lawsuit will reach the Supreme Court, the last chance to save the ACA.

“Gov. Lee has publicly acknowledged that he is guided by the principles of his Lord and Savior. As a pastor of the church, I cannot believe that our elected officials—most of whom claim to be Christians—are not only turning a blind eye to the plight of people with health issues without insurance but taking active measures to undo and take away health insurance from Tennesseans,” said Rev. Matt Steinhauer of Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon and father to a son with special needs. “If Gov. Lee does not ask AG Slatery to withdraw from the lawsuit to end the Affordable Care Act, he will be responsible for the loss of pre-existing conditions protections for millions of Americans.”

Minister Kelli X of the Village Church in Madison discussed her meeting with AG Slatery’s staff in September of 2018: “It was discouraging. There was less of a concern about people and more concern around political ideology. Now, I appeal to Gov. Lee to live up to his Christian values, have the heart of Christ, and demand AG Slatery withdraws from this lawsuit. I call on our governor to be a man who is willing to do what Christ did.”

The two speakers on the call, Rev. Matt Steinhauer of Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon and Minister Kelli X of the Village Church in Madison, have requested to meet with Gov. Lee, a fellow man of faith, on or before August 9, 2019. They are waiting to hear if and when Gov. Lee’s office will meet with them.

Timeline of SCC’s actions to protect the ACA:

  • July 18, 2018: Letter Signing Ceremony at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Pastors and members of the congregation signed an open letter to Slatery asking that he withdrew Tenn. from the lawsuit.
  • July 27, 2018: Open Letter Delivery to AG Slatery’s Office: Presented almost 1,000 signatures
  • Sept. 5, 2018: Office Visit and Press Conference 
  • Dec. 18, 2018: After Texas ruling to strike down the ACA, SCC requests an office visit with Slatery. His staff refused a meeting and deflected: “The appropriate body to address concerns is the US Congress.”
  • Dec. 20, 2018: Press Conference in response to the Texas ruling and Slatery’s refusal to meet with faith leaders
  • March 23, 2019: Press Conference to celebrate the 9th Anniversary of the ACA and call for Slatery to withdraw Tenn. from the lawsuit
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Pastor Fritts, Jesus Loved ALL People

June 14, 2019

Our thoughts on a Knoxville pastor’s sermon against our LGBTQ neighbors:

We ask Pastor Grayson Fritts of Knoxville to remember the most basic tenet of Christianity: Jesus loved all people. He validated humans for who we are, not for what society expects of us. Jesus calls on us to aspire to be more caring, compassionate, and full of grace; not let our hearts be hardened by fear and hate.

“John reminds us ‘God Is Love. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8 New Revised Standard Version).”

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Gov. Lee Must Also Lift Up Tennesseans Slipping Through the Cracks From Lack of Medicaid Expansion

March 5, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In response to Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State address, Lenda Sherrell, state director of the Southern Christian Coalition issued the following response: “It is admirable for Gov. Lee to lift up the nearly 300,000 Tennesseans facing serious mental health challenges whom he describes as “slipping through the cracks.” We ask that Gov. Lee not overlook the roughly 163,000 Tennesseans caught in the coverage gap who are also slipping through the cracks because Tennessee has not expanded Medicaid. “When Gov. Lee was elected he assured us that he would be “the governor of every Tennessean.”  To honor this promise, he must govern in a way that also protects the least of these, our brothers and sisters, as Jesus taught us. Expanding Medicaid would be in accordance with this promise and the Christian faith.”

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Gov. Lee’s Medicaid Stance is not Aligned with MLK’s Legacy

January 21, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today at Tennessee State University, Dr. William Barber spoke to an audience about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Governor Bill Lee was in the audience and did not answer Dr. Barber’s invitation to stand in support of healthcare for all Tennesseans.  Lenda Sherrell, state director of the Southern Christian Coalition, issued this response:

“We agree with Dr. Barber when he says: ‘There are 740,000 people uninsured – it’s a shame and disgrace for Tennessee not to accept the ACA and put people on healthcare.’

“We urge Gov. Lee, a man of faith, and our state legislators to live their faith by following the example of Jesus Christ who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We call on our leaders to remember Jesus’ words that ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Matthew 25:40.

“Tennesseans will die because they don’t have access to quality, affordable health care. Gov. Lee and our state legislators can change this. Until we as a state reclaim and recover the understanding that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and that we all have a stake in each other’s health and well-being, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gov. Lee, Tennessee legislators, will you follow in the footsteps of Dr. King’s legacy?”


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Lebanon Pastor on "Compassion-Lacking" TennCare Work Requirement Proposal

January 18, 2019

LEBANON, Tenn. – Rev. Matt Steinhauer of the Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) released the following statement regarding TennCare work requirements:

“My son is on Medicaid. My wife and I have the resources and flexibility of schedules to follow up on information and track down errors in billing before or after a doctor’s visit when necessary. Although I’ve heard that there would be an exemption for Intellectual Disability, which is my son’s case, I know Tennessee’s antiquated TennCare computer system and lack of caseworkers would mean likely errors that might still catch us (and his healthcare) by surprise and cause potential future harm. That would be enough reason to speak against ‘work requirements.’

“But there are even deeper reasons to speak against this ill-conceived and compassion-lacking proposal. In the church in which I serve as pastor, we host homeless men and women two nights each week from December through March. Many of these women and men work. Some of them or their children are covered by TennCare.

“If they have to periodically update information regarding their work history here are some of the potential challenges and pitfalls: They are staying in a different place every night of their life. The host church may or may not have wireless access. They may or may not have any minutes left on their phone service. They may or may not be physically or mentally capable of navigating websites and surveys and checklists. Every day of their life they face challenges totally unknown to people who have never engaged with or known first hand these most vulnerable of our neighbors.

“If the Tennessee State Legislature will publicly proclaim that their religion has nothing to do with their policies, then I will not play the ‘Jesus’ card. But if they campaign and publicly proclaim themselves as Christians (I have checked the State of Tennessee Legislature website and most of them do), then I must ask them to remember the very people who will be affected by their proposed work requirements are all Jesus. They will be doing to Jesus what they are doing to the poor and working poor on Medicaid. (Matthew 25).”


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