By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 20, 2009 ( – A sudden shift towards religiously-charged rhetoric in President Obama’s stumping for health care reform continued yesterday in a telephone conference, in which the president said that “we are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”

Obama told the virtual gathering of Jewish rabbis – as many as 1000, according to the Washington Jewish Week news service – that he was “going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform.”

Washington, D.C. Rabbi Jack Moline posted some of the president’s statements in a series of live tweets, which went viral on the Internet before Moline deleted almost all the posts hours later. A handful of other Jewish clerics tweeted the event, which was not publicized by the White House.

In a conference call with largely left-leaning faith leaders yesterday, Obama also used religously-charged terms to dismiss the notion that the government would fund abortion through the new legislation.

“These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation – and that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper,” he said. He also accused opponents of his healthcare plan of spreading “misinformation” and “bearing false witness.”

Pro-life leaders immediately blasted the president for the comment, pointing out that the House version of the bill now explicitly calls for the funding of abortion in the government plan, as well as taxpayer subsidies of plans that cover abortions.

The social justice groups sponsoring the conference claim that 140,000 individuals attended the call. The same groups – PICO National Network, Sojourners, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Faith in Public Life, and Faithful America – are now hosting a “40 Days for Health Reform” campaign to tell lawmakers “that quality, affordable healthcare is a moral issue for people of faith.”

The site’s attitude toward the arguments opposing the health care overhaul is remarkably similar to the White House’s own “Reality Check” Internet campaign. Visitors are encouraged to sign a petition that reads: “As a person of faith, I support health care reform, and I’m tired of shouting, disruptions and distortions preventing an honest debate. Over the next 40 days, I commit to doing my part as a person of faith to promote health care reform. I commit to taking actions like writing my representatives, attending events, and telling my friends about our efforts to make the faith community a positive force for health care reform.”

40 Days for Life, an international movement encouraging prayer, fasting and advocacy for the end of abortion that has exploded in popularity in recent years, accused the health reform campaign of mimicking its pro-life counterpart, but with the opposite result.

“Who would have ever believed that the President of the United States would copy a page out of the 40 Days for Life playbook as a way to push abortion?” mused 40 Days for Life national director David Bereit in an email to members. In Judaeo-Christian tradition, forty days is a spiritually significant length of time, often dedicated to sustained prayer and purification.

Meanwhile, strong warnings against the legislation in its current form have gone out from faith groups that oppose the killing of the unborn, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Focus on the Family, the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Association, and the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of the groups express eagerness for genuine health care reform, they say that the current bill would amount to a vast expansion of abortion, among other troubling aspects, and therefore should not be accepted.

Christians Reviving America’s Values president Don Swarthout questioned the President’s apparent moralizing in favor of his own health care reform plans.

“I thought the use of religion in order to convince the people to follow anything political was prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings,” said Christians Reviving America’s Values president Don Swarthout in a statement. “Now the President of the United States is using religion to convince people to follow his political position.”

He continued: “As a Pastor I may understand the Bible a little better than the average person. Apparently, the President thinks the Bible says government should help the poor instead of the Bible calling upon Christians to give to the poor.

“The truth is our very salvation may depend upon helping those in need. However, there is no place in the Bible which tells us that the government is supposed to do these things for us.”

See related coverage:

Obama Calls Abortion Funding in Healthcare Legislation a “Fabrication”