Tag Archives: Catholic

How Does Persecution Begin?

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.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, which became part of the Constitution in 1791, reads as follows:

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.

 

It sounds quite straightforward. Congress may not make any law that prohibits the free exercise of religion.

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.

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What Chen Gaungcheng and the Catholic Bishops Have in Common

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.

What do you think?