NASHVILLE - Ministers from across Tennessee gathered before the state Capitol today for a prayer-filled call on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, the GOP-led Legislature and the Obama administration to find a compromise allowing the state to expand its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The event, which drew about hundred or so ministers of varying denominations, advanced candelight vigils planned for this evening in Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Jackson.
"Today, we gather here ... to ask our governor and all elected leaders to answer the following question not as politicians but as men and women of faith," said the Rev. Marvin Mercer of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Obion County. "How can you turn a blind eye to suffering when you have the power to help and to heal?"
The Rev. Roderick Ware of New Monumental Baptist Church in Chattanooga said if state lawmakers "will do as the clergy have done and pledge support and vote for the governor's 'Tennessee Plan' then we will have the necessary funds to provide health care for up to 175,000 Tennesseans and create thousands of jobs."
Ware declared "we should do more than just look to heaven for a miracle and instead open our hearts to use the resources provided for us."
For months, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has delayed a decision on whether he will expand TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid, to at least 180,000 low-income Tennesseans as envisioned under Obamacare. Advocates estimate 300,000 or more people would be affected.
Haslam wants federal officials to grant him the ability to put the new population into the privately operated online health care exchange, which is also part of the federal health overhaul.
Leading tonight's vigil in Chattanooga are the Rev. Wayne Johnson of New Hope Baptist Church and Ware.