The history of the USA is rich in stories of people who fled countries where their faith made them targets. In some cases they were in danger because their neighbors persecuted and scorned them while a complicit government cruised with hands off. In other places, the government persecuted them directly. Many of these refugees have suffered horrors American citizens can only barely imagine. American citizens welcome people fleeing persecution and give thanks that in this country, we have a Constitutional amendment that protects us from such things.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Common sense has resulted in an understanding that if somebody’s religion called for child sacrifice, the nation would respond with outrage and certainly would prohibit a religion from engaging in that practice. It is interesting to me that this is a common example used to show that as a nation, our understanding of religious freedom balks at burning a child on an altar, precisely because the practice of abortion, and the related practices of contraception and sterilization, have become the elements of a prohibition of the free exercise of religion in this country. The Affordable Healthcare Act, conversationally known as Obamacare, has introduced something into our system of law that raises a bright red flag for anyone who pays attention to the history and daily news of religious persecution around the world.
This legislation requires every employer in the US to provide health insurance coverage for services the law classifies as “preventive” health services. The required services include contraception, abortion and sterilization at no cost to the employee. That is, the employee may not be required to pay the premium, and the employee may not be required to pay deductibles or copays for these services. For the employee, these services must be free. Further, the regulations built on this legislation allow a conscience exemption only for worship institutions whose religious theology prohibits engaging in or providing such services. Institutions such as hospitals, universities, counseling centers, and so forth are not exempted, regardless of the religious convictions of the employers. On February 10, 2012, President Obama announced what he called an “accommodation” in response to complaints by Catholic employers, a response that simply shifted the cost of providing such so-called “preventive” health services to the insurance company itself. Yet when the final rule was published on February 15, it appeared to be an unmodified publication of the initial rule. The Catholic Bishops and numerous other individuals and groups protested to no avail that this ruling was a breach of First Amendment protections.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this particular confrontational issue, it represents only the tip of the iceberg. Every Christian, and every person who lives by the principle that obedience to God trumps obedience to the State, must be concerned by this development. It is hard to imagine any prior administration daring to trample First Amendment rights this way. Catholic teaching for two thousand years has forbidden engaging in contraception, abortion or sterilization, and the government had to know this when the original rule was published. Yet the rule was published, the argument was argued, and in the end, unless some future court ruling changes things, the rule stands. The forcefulness of the government’s rejection of the issue of religious expression is startling, given our history. It may lie in the equally startling semantic corollary to this conversation. The advocates for this rule speak of pregnancy as a disease that must be prevented. Such a view of pregnancy is shocking by itself, but that view is required in order for the mind to accept the notion that contraception, abortion and sterilization are preventive health services, necessary, even essential to women’s health. In fact, the language being used has ramped up the concern about women’s health to such a level that many speakers talk about a universal human right to free contraception, abortion and sterilization.
The concise version of the story of the Affordable Healthcare Act and its mandate on employers to provide all women’s preventive health services at no cost to the employee is this: the State has a legitimate interest in assuring that women do not get pregnant by accident, and if an unplanned pregnancy should occur, it must be easy and cost-free to end that pregnancy. Notice how none of the verbiage uses the word “baby” or the word “child.” Yet the State is motivating women to practice contraception, abortion and sterilization without regard to the scientific truth that these procedures do, in fact, involve sacrificing a child on the altar of somebody’s convenience. In fact, the pressure exerted and the scorn poured out upon people of faith who object to this rule as a violation of their right to live their faith convictions makes it quite clear that the State’s convenience is at least as much at issue here as the convenience of women who don’t want babies.
The antagonists in this conflict are 1) the State (the United States of America personified by the President of the United States of America and the Congress of the United States of America), and 2) people who hold religious convictions prohibiting them from practicing or supporting the practices of contraception, abortion and sterilization. The State has by its actions asserted that to assert that God’s law has a higher claim to obedience than the law of the United States of America is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
It is not farfetched to say that the State wants to be a god for whom citizens sacrifice children.
Historically, when the State requires any citizen to disobey God in order to obey the State, it signals the beginning of real persecution. The path from this moment of truth to some more gruesome evidence of persecution may be fairly lengthy, or it may be so short that we get there tomorrow. In many countries, the path for the State is smooth and unfettered, because many countries have no legal protection in place for Christians. In the US, there should at least be a fairly massive outcry against imprisoning or torturing Christians, but many more subtle and devious methods of persecution exist, and many are already in place in our culture.
This post is about an explosive and obvious moment when our country stood on a precipice and actually appeared to fall over the cliff. Perhaps rescue from this particular assault will appear from somewhere. Perhaps not. Christians cannot count on a drift away from the precipice. When someone with power exerts that power and subdues a powerful opponent, the high is like the first injection of heroin. The memory of that moment always calls out for repetition.
Christians must be faithful in word and deed. We must speak out and stand up for the right to free expression of our faith. In the USA we have that privilege today. We must not let it dissolve before our eyes in a semantic cesspool.
The Declaration of Independence stated that the signers believed God had granted to every person a right to life. Everything that happened after that in the colonies that became the United States of America claimed its roots in that Declaration. When the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America brought the new nation into being, the principles espoused in the Declaration were fleshed out in a form of government that respected citizens and specifically protected the God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. After the passage of 236 years, it now appears that the right to life is being discarded. There have been several years of hints that this right was devalued, but until now, we have not had a president and an administrative team that fleshed out a blatant disregard for the value of human life, along with complete disregard for the value of human liberty.
Christians believe that life is God’s best gift to us. When Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, she showed a blatant disregard for life, too. God had said that on the day she ate of that fruit, she would die, but she forgot all about it in a rush to satisfy the desires her Self foisted upon her. Self is always focused on getting what it wants. That is why she was so eager to believe the serpent when he said, “You will not die.” As a third-grader, I had a similar experience of being lured by a friend into behavior my mother had forbidden, carefully naming the specific consequences of any disobedience. Just like Eve, I wanted to believe that my friend had privately obtained permission from my mother instead of believing that if my mother wanted to give me that permission, she would give it in person. Just like Eve, I wanted what I wanted so much that I believed a lie. Death was not the consequence of my misbehavior, but even if it had been threatened, I believe that Eve and I are kindred Selves who can selectively forget about what annoys us. I know very, very well what it was like for Eve to reject life and choose death. Our national leadership is, wittingly or unwittingly, doing the same thing.
If we had doubts before, they should now be cleared away as we contemplate something that would have been unthinkable till now. The Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng was treated like an unwanted child by the staff at the United States embassy in China.(I use this imagery advisedly. You will see how it fits the situation.) It is hard to imagine, let alone accept as factual news, the scornful and dismissive treatment received by Chen Guangcheng, who speaks out for the right to life and liberty. Chen has exposed the brutal means by which China enforces its cruel one-child policy, reporting on forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and other enforcement practices which most of us would consider both cruel and unusual, yet the United States Department of State did not welcome this man when he fled house arrest that included frequent beatings of him and his wife. They used every means at their disposal to get rid of him. Why?
If you recall the way our president refused to respect the rights of Catholics to decline to purchase for themselves or others insurance coverage for contraception, abortion and sterilization, then you will have a basis for understanding why our president and his administration want to avoid any association with Chen. Unfortunately for all people whose principles include a fervent commitment to protect life and liberty, regardless of whether the commitment grows out of religious or humanist belief systems, our president and his administration have a larger agenda that was heretofore unknown to me. I have not seen it publicized in the mainstream media. I have not even heard it discussed on conservative talk shows. I found it at www.lifesitenews.com.
The Chen affair, however, only threatens an amicable and highly profitable relationship between the U.S. and China, and presents no “upside” for the American bottom line.
Worse for Chen is his uncomfortable and embarrassing opposition to China’s population control agenda, a policy supported by the Obama administration and in particular the State Department, which is spending tens of billions of dollars on such programs worldwide. Although the administration gives lip-service against coercive abortion and sterilization, it is simultaneously helping to finance the Chinese population control machine with tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which helps to administer China’s brutal one-child policy.
Our president and his State Department are helping to pay for the Chinese population control machine. The taxes you pay and the taxes I pay and the taxes the Catholic Bishops pay and the taxes paid by all citizens are being used to pay to enforce the Chinese one-child policy. Many years ago when the policy was first reported, I remember reading that people who chose to have another child might discover that the government would not allow the child to go to school, or would not provide healthcare for the child. The story was that if the parents were able to pay for whatever services the child needed, everything was fine. Apparently, either that report was incorrect, or the government has simply increased the pressure of enforcement. Today, the one-child policy is enforced by dragging pregnant women away from their families and forcibly aborting their babies, even if the baby is only days from a full-term delivery. Our taxes are paying for this atrocity. Today, men and women are being forcibly sterilized if the government loses patience with their determination to have more than one child. Today, in China there are signs on the walls of buildings that order women to take contraceptive drugs because it is good for the State. Taxes collected from United States citizens are paying for these outrages. Taxes collected from Christians who believe in the right to life and the right to liberty are paying for these policies.
You need to know that in 2002, George Bush withdrew US funding for UNFPA precisely because of this problem. And on March 12, 2009, the new president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, reinstated that funding to the tune of $50 million. On that occasion, he used the same terminology he and his administration used in regard to their determination to force the Catholic Bishops and Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for free contraception, abortion and sterilization: women’s health.
The snarky demon in my heart wants to make some really snide remarks about health services that rip full-term babies from the wombs of weeping mothers and drown them in buckets. I try instead to hear Christ himself tell me to love the people that do these things, to pray for them, to be a blessing to them. I am having a very hard battle with my sarcastic tongue. Still, the calm and balanced analytical part of my mind reminds me that name-calling and insults can turn a tentative opinion into a deep-rooted commitment much faster than any amount of education and persuasion. I pray not to descend to that level.
Rather, I ask my readers and all citizens to think about what it means to define women’s health services around methods of preventing or ending pregnancy. I further ask why we as a nation would ever want to fund murder and torture under the guise of family planning. Above all, I ask if we can reconcile our stated belief that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable and self-evident with a willingness to suppress expression of religious faith and to participate in a population control policy articulated and enforced by acts of extreme brutality. These are questions every citizen must ask.
Citizens who also claim the name of Christ must ask a few more questions.
·How do I learn to love someone who regards pregnancy as a medical complication which must be prevented or forcibly ended?
·If our government continues to fund population control through the UN and to demand that medical means for population control be administered in the USA through health insurance citizens are required to buy, what do faithful Christian citizens do and say about it?
·How do I sustain hope in God and faith that his sovereignty works in all things for good when I see our government and other governments participate in such policies?
·Do I believe that the right to life and liberty are given to humans by God? Or not?
I have a lot of fears for the future, despite my faith that God is sovereign. History teaches me that evil rulers often thrive much longer than the oppressed believe possible. Yet history also teaches me that faithful believers do not give up their faith because God’s judgment on evil is delayed. I pray for you and for me, that we may live our faith and testify to our hope in the love of God who works all things for good and never abandons us, till the end of time. I pray for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and all who have signed on to the agenda that says pregnancy is a disease. May they come to know and value God’s gift of life and his gift of the right to life. If all my prayers are answered, then at least one horror will be reversed.
Each of us lives in a variety of relationships and roles. Our experience in all the various situations affects our behavior in each. Nobody can actually divide all those elements of life into separate non-communicating compartments.
This is the reason I write about political issues along with posts on spiritual growth. Nobody can have a political opinion that has no relationship to his personal values that are shaped in part by spiritual convictions. We human beings are complicated.
This post is about a complicated subject, and some people who like everything in neat, orderly packages will not like this post. Don’t get comfortable. Read attentively. Argue with me if you like. Promise me you will pray about the problem and study your Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States of America for understanding and perspective on this issue. Blast me in a comment or an email. I am open to conversation, but please do not sweep this issue under the rug.
Until today I was only vaguely aware of the news articles about Chen Gaungcheng. I knew that the Chinese government did not like him. I knew that the US government was waffling in their appearance of support. I knew that human rights activists were outraged that the US did not rescue him.
When I know only a little of any news item, I am hesitant to have an opinion. Today I took the time to dig a little deeper. I asked myself why our government would tiptoe around this man that human rights leaders around the world support so strongly. After doing a little research, I think I see the problem. It can be summed up in one word: abortion.
Well, the problem is larger than that one word, but that word is the touchpoint for everything else. It is the word that stood out in all the reports of Chen’s activity, and it appears to be the gruesome pinnacle of China’s efforts to control its population. After our president’s confrontation with the Catholic Bishops over contraception, sterilization and abortion, I don’t believe I expect our government to come out publicly as the champion of a man who resists China’s rules about contraception, sterilization and abortion. Chen Gaungcheng and his family have been imprisoned and tortured for objecting to and exposing to the eyes of the world China’s one-child policy and the procedures by which China enforces that policy. The Chinese government uses forced abortion, forced sterilization and other severe punitive measures against Chinese citizens who do not comply with that policy. Our own president and his administration strongly support contraception, abortion and sterilization under the fraudulent heading of “women’s health.” The fact that no executive order declaring a one-child policy in the US has been issued yet does not mean that it has not yet been contemplated.
I do not expect our government to advocate that China let up on someone who objects to exactly the same thing the Catholic Bishops object to: government policy requiring contraception, abortion and sterilization.
Why should Christians in general care about this dissident or the president’s policies? Unless they are Catholic? Or at least practicing Catholics?
Christians, and Hindus, and Muslims, and atheists should all be appalled at the president’s blithe disregard for the religious convictions of any American citizen. Our Constitution was written specifically to assure the right to liberty claimed in our Declaration of Independence. Liberty was understood to be something the government could not grant, because God granted it, and the government had no right to take away freedoms. The recognition of the freedom and dignity of the individual has shaped even the way our nation treats prisoners who have been convicted of horrendous crimes. One of the important freedoms protected by this declaration was the freedom to exercise faith or no faith as the citizen freely chose to do. Freedom like this is not protected in China, and in China, religions believe and act as they are allowed to do by the government. When our president flattened a fundamental tenet of the Catholic faith by requiring Catholics and Catholic institutions to comply with a policy in complete opposition to their faith principles, he emulated the cold oppressive force applied to Chinese citizens by a government which is not loathe to do physical harm in the name of enforcing its laws. In that moment he behaved more like the president of China than the president of the USA. We can look to that moment for some idea of his reaction to Chen’s behavior.
The fact that our president cannot in good faith come to the rescue of Chen Gaungcheng is simply one more evidence that the culture of the USA has undergone some dramatic changes in recent years. We used to believe that our Declaration and our Constitution accurately defined the shape of our government. Until recently, we would all have assumed that our country would speak out and even act in opposition to the flagrant abuse of the God-given rights of women who choose to celebrate life and fertility and become pregnant and have more than one child. We would furthermore have expected our Secretary of State and our president to speak up and demand that such abuse be stopped. We used to believe that our Secretary of State and our president would be vocal and active in their support of a person being persecuted for the “crime” of exposing such human rights abuses. But then, we used to believe that our government would never bulldoze anybody’s freedom to exercise his religious principles.
Not anymore. Not if the “crime” interferes with the administration of a policy using the “women’s health services” of contraception, abortion and sterilization to assure that no baby rejected by the government or by the parents lives after they decide to get rid of “it.”
In Christ, no baby is “it.” Before that baby is conceived, that baby is loved and planned for by our heavenly Father. In our limited understanding, we may call a baby an “accident,” but no baby is an “accident” in God’s eyes. The whole idea of aborting a baby is repugnant to a Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty and his love. The idea of forcing a woman to abort a baby against her will is an extreme example of government run amok, acting to destroy rather than protect the citizens it exists to serve. The evidence of disregard for Catholic principles in opposition to contraception, abortion and sterilization make me fear that our own government today does not stand for what is right. God will not force either Barack Obama or the Chinese government to do things against their will. God gives people freedom to choose their behavior. That is the God-given right to liberty claimed in our Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, I will pray that the Holy Spirit works in this situation to make people world-wide recognize the extremes to which advocates of contraception, abortion and sterilization will go to enforce their will on other people, with or without their consent.
I have heard this question more than once in my life, but every time I hear it I think of Pontius Pilate asking Jesus this question. This scene is quite instructive. It puts the emphasis right where it belongs, and it demonstrates the problem we all face every day. What is truth? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it all depends on what the meaning of ‘truth’ is.
Truth. We think that when we hear something that accords with the facts as we know them, we have heard the truth. When I ask my child if he took a cookie out of my cookie jar, knowing that a cookie is missing, and knowing that nobody is in the house except me and my child, I think the child is not telling truth if he says he did not take the cookie. I know the facts, and I know he is the only person who could have taken the cookie. I feel that I know the truth, and he did not speak the truth. To know truth in that setting seems very easy. It is not so easy in other situations. If I want to live my Christian faith in a culture that is at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile to Christian teaching, I will discover that there is no such thing as ‘the simple truth.’
Bill Clinton’s answer about the meaning of ‘is’ actually does illustrate an important factor in truth-telling. Words have meanings. For any word in the language, there is at least one dictionary definition. There is a cloud of connotation, interpretations and relationships that color my understanding of the word when I see or hear it. Most of us know to look in dictionaries and thesauruses for enlightenment on this sort of understanding of a word. Yet even these perspectives do not provide the whole story on words. Words that come to be used in daily speech because of their common use in some current political issue take on meanings that can only be described as political. The same thing is true with religious beliefs and practices. Christians who use the word ‘prayer’ almost certainly mean something different than a Buddhist might mean when using the same word. Because of all the usages and relationships a word may have, it is quite difficult at times to know if someone is telling the truth. We might well ask “What is truth?”
This problem is well-developed and clearly exemplified in the current political conversation about what our political leadership calls ‘contraception.’ The set of all political speech about ‘contraception’ has intersected with the set of all political speech about ‘the free exercise’ clause in the First Amendment and with the set of all political speech about ‘religion.’
The conversation is about the ‘truth’ about contraception, the ‘truth’ about free exercise of religion, and ‘the truth’ religion itself.
I will start by saying that I would never have taken any contraceptive medications if I had known that they did not prevent conception from occurring. Is that not the natural assumption when you hear the word ‘contraception?’ Yet the medications that are labeled ‘contraceptives’ actually do not prevent conception. Despite the fact that the drugs are designed to prevent ovulation, they actually do not reliably achieve that goal. Studies have found that the medications sold to prevent ovulation, and thereby to prevent pregnancy, successfully prevent ovulation between 40% and 70% of the time. If ovulation is not prevented, sexual intercourse can result in the fertilization of an egg. The moment of fertilization, the moment of conception, is the moment a baby first exists. If an egg is fertilized, a living human being is created. Medications that do not prevent fertilization may still prevent implantation, but if a living human being exists, then a failure to implant becomes an abortion. Contraceptive medications and devices cannot be relied upon to prevent conception. This is the first lie – the first challenge in our search for truth. The word ‘contraceptive’ was chosen as the label for the medications in order to lead people to conclude that these medicines prevent conception – ‘contra’ means ‘against’ and ‘ception’ means ‘conception.’ Women have been taking these medications for more than fifty years, and it is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of them, like me, assumed that when they took those medicines they would not conceive a baby. The truth is that contraceptives do not prevent conception.
The first lie has led to a second one. After pharmaceutical companies recognized that conception could still occur despite the fact that a woman faithfully took the medicine as prescribed, they were made aware that some women were quite sensitive to the life-threatening situation that existed if conception had taken place but the resulting embryo could not implant due to the second effect of the medications – the thinning of the uterine wall. The drugs in the ‘contraceptive’ medications caused the uterine wall not to thicken and become ready for the implantation of an embryo. Embryos which came into being due to the failure of the drug to prevent ovulation might very well be aborted due to the success of the drug in preventing implantation. Using this situation as an opportunity, the drug companies redefined the word, ‘conception.’ They defined ‘conception’ as what occurs when an embryo successfully implants in the uterine wall. The embryos that fail to implant have not, by that definition, been conceived. Contraceptives, by this definition, do prevent conception, and the companies can safely continue to use the label ‘contraceptive.’ This statement, too, is a misstatement, due to the fact that some embryos do, in fact, implant despite the use of contraceptives. Contraceptive drugs do not reliably prevent conception, the formation of an embryo, and they do not reliably prevent pregnancy, either, the implantation of an embryo in the uterine wall.
You can read the details of this information at http://www.prolife.com/BIRTHCNT.html where the research is documented with resource listings where you can dig as deep as you like into the research.
All this verbiage is clearly a way of masking, if not completely hiding, truth. At what moment do the sperm and egg change from being zygotes to an embryo? They change at the moment that a fertilized egg contains the DNA that codes for a complete human being. As soon as this happens, the fertilized egg is an embryo, the first cell of a complete human being. I have been involved in discussions in which some participants questioned if a fertilized egg were even alive. Some questioned if the embryo were even alive when it failed to implant. I defer to the scientist called The Father of Modern Genetics, Jerome Lejeune, who said, “Each of us has a very precise starting moment which is the time at which the whole necessary and sufficient genetic information is gathered inside one cell, the fertilized egg, and this is the moment of fertilization.” From that moment forward, a human being is growing, a process which continues until that human dies. If that human is unable to implant in the uterine wall of the mother that human will die. The death is not the end of “it.” The death is the death of him or her. The embryo has gender, among all the many other traits of a human being.
Contraceptives do, in fact, produce abortions when they prevent the implantation of an embryo, conceived because they failed to prevent conception, the process implicit in the label of the drugs – contraceptive.
None of this matters if a person chooses to believe that an embryo is not a human being, or that a fetus is not a human being, or that a newborn baby is not a human being. There is no way to deny that an embryo is living, because only living cells grow and divide. However, in order to get past that truth, the argument has now devolved into an argument about when the living cells become human. Unlike Dr. Lejeune, who considered the fertilized egg a human being, people who find babies inconvenient have devised any number of new definitions that diminish the humanity of a baby sufficiently to fool people into a willingness to kill them. Last week I saw the first suggestion that people ought to be allowed to kill newborns they don’t like. I am shocked by this suggestion, but not surprised. If the embryo is not human, and if the implanted fetus is not human, when exactly does that ‘product of conception’ (another semantic word game) become human? What is the truth?
All my concern with definitions and truth is rooted in exactly the same issue which has led the Catholic Bishops refuse to comply with the President’s edict. They contend that the conception of a baby is an act of God’s will that human beings must not tamper with. They believe God has the right and the authority to decide who lives and dies. They believe that human beings should not try to usurp God’s will by interfering with the creation and birth of human beings. Whether you agree with them or not, the point is that this conviction about the will of God and the right of a human being to live is a conviction rooted in their faith. It isn’t a personal principle; it is a religious conviction. Just as Jews believe they must mourn their sins on the Day of Atonement, Catholics believe they must not interfere with God’s work of creation in the act of human procreation. Catholics believe that the only godly method of birth control is abstinence. They do not support contraception, and they would not support it if it did prevent conception. They reject contraception, abortion and sterilization, considering them to be sins against God. For the federal government to compel them to pay for and distribute and provide and counsel contraception, abortion and sterilization is to attempt to compel them to deny their faith and commit sin against God. If any Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim or Baha’i ignores this problem because this conviction is not holy to him or her, be careful. What will you do when they come for you?
The second set of speech in this search for truth is the set of speech related to the concept generally labeled ‘freedom of religion.’ The First Amendment to the Constitution states that Congress may not “make a law … prohibiting the free exercise of [religion].” In 2010 Congress passed a law more than 2000 pages long, and it is reasonable to assume that nobody who voted for it envisioned it as a law that might breach the protections of the First Amendment. However, the law gives extraordinary powers to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who ruled that an exemption from certain requirements of the law would be available only to worship entities, the entities we all call ‘churches.’ Only churches could opt out of the requirement to pay the premium for coverage of services designated as preventive services that included contraceptive medications, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs such as the medication commonly called ‘the morning after pill.’ The Secretary acknowledged that there might be churches whose ethical teachings prohibited them from even encouraging the use of such services, but the Secretary drew the line at houses of worship. She dismissed the idea that schools, hospitals and charitable services founded and operated by the churches had any right to the exemption. Churches one and all found such institutions as an outgrowth of their obedience to God to love and serve their neighbors. They consider the institutions acts of ministry. This ruling raised a huge outcry, and the President subsequently announced an accommodation that would force insurance companies to pay the costs being rejected by the institutions, but that accommodation was also rejected. In the end, the original ruling was published in the Federal register, and that is where things stand today.
What is the truth about the definition of the phrase ‘free exercise of [religion]?’ (I bracket the word ‘religion’ because the amendment itself has the term ‘thereof’ which refers backward to the word ‘religion in a prior phrase.) What exactly constitutes ‘free exercise’ for purposes of applying the First Amendment protections? It is a question which would never have come up in a culture where the dominant life patterns of the people were permeated with Christian teaching. People just assumed that if a school or a hospital was started by a church, everything the church taught was embodied in that institution. In fact, if the institution did allow anything contrary to church teaching, people were shocked, even dismayed. It seemed as if some very fundamental truth had been violated. Yet today, the President has invented a separation between churches and the ministries of churches. He says the reason is that the institutions serve many people who are not ‘coreligionists’ of the churches, and that many employees of the institutions are also not ‘coreligionists’ of the churches. Because the population employed and served by the institutions is not confined to ‘coreligionists’ the President has declared that exemption of the institution from certain requirements of the healthcare law by reason of conscience does not apply. Many, many citizens think this declaration is nonsense, but our culture that is no longer dominated by Christian teaching includes many very vocal citizens who think this decision is very good.
What is the truth? Is an institution founded and operated by a church an extension of the church or a completely separate entity from the parent church whose ethical standards may not be imposed on the institution?
Which leads to the third set – political language about religion. The usage of the term ‘religion’ is much murkier than you might think at first glance. Several years ago I read an article about bookstores in which I learned that, at the time, the most popular subject in the store, after ‘self-help’ category was ‘Buddhism.’ The reason? Customers said they liked to read about Buddhism because it wasn’t a religion; it was a way of life. Christians rebut that image, saying that for them, the way they live is the substance of their religion, but many non-Christian citizens do not see it that way. It is a subject for some other post to explore why people feel this way, but the fact is that they do. In the political discussion under way, many people, including the President, believe that Christianity is what happens in churches while what happens in hospitals and schools is something else, no different from the humanist concept of charity. It will take a Supreme Court case to sort out the issue, maybe more than one, but the fact is that it is not the simple truth we might think it is. What is truth? How is a Christian to respond to this issue while remaining true to his faith?
What I see is that living our faith openly has become a minefield. If religion is what happens in churches and if religion may not legally be expressed in public, then we have serious challenges ahead of us. I don’t think we have quite reached that place. Yet I find the whole confrontation between the President and the Catholic bishops very disturbing. I think this situation, along with the language around contraception, abortion and sterilization will require all of us to pray and think and be alert.
The followers of Christ in the first and second centuries would think we are timid cowards. They knew real persecution. They were imprisoned and tortured and thrown into battle with animals and gladiators. Their property was confiscated. They had to meet in secret and dared not even speak the name of Christ in the hearing of a non-believer. Not all the threats were legal. As in any culture, the legal climate set the stage for private vendettas against Christians. The current legal battle over the freedom of the church institutions to express the same religious principles as the parent churches creates a climate that some individuals view as a green light to disparage and belittle Christianity and Christians in general. I will write more in future posts about the way we live in such a climate. For now, I simply repeat my opening question: what is truth? Jesus said that when we knew the truth about him, that truth would set us free. The current political ‘truths’ are the sort of lies we need to be free from, but do not imagine that our freedom is a license to abandon our wits. Jesus also said that we need to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves. We may have thought for two hundred years that our country was a place where Christian faith expression would never be threatened. We are discovering that it is possible to twist the language, to pervert ‘truth,’ in such a way that the government and the culture can attempt to suppress free faith expression under the guise that our First Amendment freedom means something it never used to mean. We must love everyone who is twisting the language and perverting the truth. We must wisely act in defense of our freedoms as long as it is possible to do so. We must pray for God’s will to be done, and we must pray to be ready for whatever comes.