In a development reported in the August issue of the Lutheran magazine--but apparently not in the Chicago media--the Lutheran church's Metropolitan Chicago Synod voted in June to ask Advocate Health Care to change its policies in order to be true to the teachings of Jesus and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. By a 197-159 vote, the synod called upon Advocate to:
Advocate is the product of a 1995 merger between hospitals with roots in the traditions of Lutheranism and the United Church of Christ. Advocate's 21-member board of directors includes three Lutheran officials and isn't bound by the synod's opinion.
Advocate spokesperson Tony Mitchell told Adamson the chain is "happy to engage in dialogue," but insisted that both the chain's investment practices and its plans to cut Bethany back to a long-term care facility are consistent with its faith-based values and philosophy.
As I reported in the Reader on December 16 (available in our paid archives), Advocate's claim that it invests equally in suburban and inner-city hospitals rests on detailed figures it won't disclose. Those figures that are publicly available don't support its claim.
Until now, Advocate has consistently blamed all criticism of its policies on the Service Employees International Union, which is engaged in a corporate campaign with the goal of organizing Advocate employees. If nothing else, the Lutheran vote shows that the controversy over Advocate grows out of a basic moral issue, not an organizing campaign.
The moral issue is how to serve two masters. Advocate is by heritage a religiously based nonprofit. But it must operate in a cutthroat capitalist environment in which lenders read financial losses in some parts of the chain as a sign of weakness, not a sign of meritorious devotion to "the least of these."
That tension would still dog Advocate even if Bethany and the SEIU disappeared tomorrow.