Members of 37 congregations meet in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Members of three religious denominations say they are setting aside their differences to work together across the state.

About 250 people from 37 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Bahá’í congregations met last week to discuss issues they plan to address with the Missouri Legislature, such as early voting, Medicaid expansion, poverty and living wages. Gov. Jay Nixon attended and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Springfield Faith Voices is a chapter of Missouri Faith Voices, which connects more than 500 congregations in the state that work to improve their communities and push for justice and equality.

“I see so much diversity here,” Kenneth L. Chumbley, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, said to the crowd Thursday at Central Assembly of God church. “But we are united and we are one in our faith with God … and our concern for struggling people.”

The Springfield News-Leader reported the gathering will lead to the formation of small groups that will fan out across Springfield to gather signatures to put an early voting initiative on the ballot. Church members also will be asked to push their legislators to pass Medicaid expansion.

“We feel that this is something that faith voices need to be in conversation about,” said Emily Bowen-Marler, associate minister at Brentwood Christian Church. “I’m called to care for the least of these. So many passages in the Bible talk about economic dignity.”

The faith leaders said legislators need to be persuaded to put partisanship aside and make decisions that are best for Missourians.

“Our goal for sure is to disrupt the partisan politics narrative that happens with issues like poverty,” said Mark Struckhoff, executive director of Council of Churches of the Ozarks. “We want elected officials to ask themselves the question, ‘Will this advance human dignity and not just do what is politically expedient?’”

Rabbi Rita Sherwin, of Temple Israel, said the core of Jewish teaching is to love your neighbor as yourself. “All of us are brothers and sisters … partners with God in making a better world.”

She called Medicaid expansion an “obligation for society as a whole.”

Bishop Emeritus John Leibrecht of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau agreed, saying “Every person has a responsibility for society and promoting the well-being of other people, especially the poor and the vulnerable.”

Nixon, who has met resistance in the Republican-controlled Legislature to Medicaid expansion, told reporters he was optimistic that goal could be achieved this year.

“We see a growing cavalcade of social mission folks pushing hard for this opportunity for working Missourians to have greater access to health care,” Nixon said.

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