Tag Archives: living by faith

The President of the USA Still Does Not Understand the Christian Life

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

Matthew 7:24-25 

On Friday, February 1, the President announced a new rule for the administration of the Affordable Care Act. Last February, when the original rule defining religious exemptions from the employer mandate was announced, the government also created what it called a “safe harbor” for some employers for a period of one year while the government reviewed the problem posed by employers whose religion rejected certain required coverage. However, the safe harbor only applied to employers with some religious connection to the business itself, and the newly-announced accommodation in the rules implementing the Affordable Care Act retains that limitation. A university operated as a ministry of the Catholic Church can be exempted from paying for health insurance that provides contraceptives to employees, but a hardware manufacturer who lives by the teachings of faith is still required to fund that coverage.

The President and his administration still do not understand that a Christian lives by the teaching of his faith at all times, not just in church. The administration remains of the opinion that religious convictions apply only within the bounds of religious organizations. The original conscience exemption definition was limited to the walls of a church or its organization, and this new announcement barely reaches outside to ministries that are governed by or closely attached to the church body. Clearly, the President and his administration share a common secular misconception about the Christian faith. They all believe that people express their faith inside a church and its organizations. This is a solidly secular view of religion of any sort. It is not true of Christianity, despite the secular perception that Christianity is defined by church rules and hierarchy. Jesus called people to live selflessly, putting obedience to God ahead of all other loyalties in every area of life. The US government does not understand that when a person receives Christ the commitment to serve Christ applies to every moment of life. A Christian does not divide life into sacred and secular partitions. Every part of life is sacred. Christ is Lord at all times. Jesus died to redeem all of life, not just the part that takes place in a church building or a denominational organization.

The men who wrote the Constitution understood what it meant for all of life to be subject to God. This is the reason they wrote in the First Amendment that Congress could not write any law to limit or proscribe the “free expression” of religion. That freedom is not bounded by the location where religion is expressed, by the organizational connections of the group expressing it, or by the work that the individual is doing while expressing it. The religious liberty protected by the First Amendment applies to all citizens at all times.

The Sermon on the Mount is a long speech by Jesus. It is a guide to life that clearly covers every facet of life. Nobody reading this text would confuse it with a worship guide. It is about business and family, friends and neighbors, life and death. Most students of Christianity, whether or not they put their faith in Christ, recognize that in this sermon, Christ called people to a way of life, not a ritual. The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the birth of the nation that became the United States of America recognized that religion was not simply an obligation to attend worship on Sunday morning. They knew that whether a person put his faith in Christ or Vishna, the faith teachings shaped a way of life, not a worship schedule.

Until recently Christians believed that the First Amendment protected Christians, and all other people of all faiths, from the kind of oppression that other governments in the world showed toward religion. Some governments suppress all religion, preferring that citizens not put any loyalty ahead of service to the government. Other governments favor one religion above all others and suppress any competitors. Sometimes the suppression is expressed by government order, and sometimes the suppression is expressed by allowing violence against religion to proceed unacknowledged by government. In the US, we have believed that our government protects all citizens and restrains itself from interfering with anyone’s faith convictions because of the First Amendment. We are learning that it is possible for the government to say the words of the First Amendment without meaning what we think the words mean. This latest announcement makes it clear that we must continue in prayer and action to assert the full religious liberty protected by the First Amendment.

History teaches that when citizens permit any government to restrict freedom, the restriction only grows tighter with time. If we want the freedom to live our faith unhindered by government, then we must exercise both our civic responsibilities and our Christian faith. As citizens, we must use our right to speak with our elected leaders and influence them to comply with the Constitution. As Christians, we must pray for our elected leaders and for our own courage to stand firm in faith.

One footnote. Some Christians have said that they do not agree with the employers who reject the employer mandate for religious reasons. They are quite comfortable in compliance, and they see no need to speak or act in support of individuals and businesses who feel persecuted by the mandate. We do not need to hold the same beliefs in order to agree that every person has the right to express his faith in his life. The issue is not whether we agree theologically; the issue is whether we will give up the freedom to live by our faith. If one faith loses that freedom, all faiths lose that freedom. Pray. Speak. Act. Do not permit our religious liberty to be lost forever because it is not your toe that is being stomped. 

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29

 

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Freedom of Worship does not equal Religious Liberty

We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29 

Over my lifetime I have heard many people use the term freedom of worship as if it were synonymous with the freedom protected by the First Amendment. Certainly that freedom is protected, but the words of the First Amendment protect a much broader freedom than the right to worship. The First Amendment is about the freedom to live by the tenets of your faith. Secular thinking defines religion as the act of worship and thinks of religion as acts of worship that take place in a space dedicated to worship. Because secularists view religion this way, they tend to see advocacy for freedom to live religiously in all contexts as a demand for privilege, not freedom. The culture of the USA is becoming increasingly secular. Many secular thinkers hold high elective office and serve in a variety of administrative, legislative and judicial posts. As a consequence, interpretation of the First Amendment is at risk. More than forty lawsuits currently making their way through the courts are attempting to affirm the original principle stated in the First Amendment. In the court of public opinion there is a great deal of fractious rhetoric. This post will focus on the text of the First Amendment and the threats to its intent in one government regulation.

The motivation for this post is a definition of religion that is buried in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act:

a religious employer is one that—
(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;
(2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets;
(3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and
(4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

This definition is found in the Federal Register /Vol. 77, No. 55 /Wednesday, March 21, 2012. It applies to DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, 45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9968–ANPRM] RIN 0938–AR42 and the title of the rule is Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act.

The definition of a religious employer is probably a reasonable one. What is unreasonable is the way this definition is being used. In the administration of the Affordable Care Act, widely and uncharitably known as Obamacare, a religious employer is entitled to have a conscience objection to some features of the law. There is no provision, however, for any other sort of employer who has religious principles which shape his life. The First Amendment protection says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The free exercise of religion is not limited in the First Amendment to exercise by religious employers. The First Amendment protects the right of every citizen to choose and to exercise his religion. The exercise of religion permeates all of life. People exercise their religion when they use its teachings to decide what is right and what is wrong. They exercise their religion when they act on the determination that something is right or wrong. The right to make these decisions and act on them is granted by the Constitution to every citizen. This protection applies whether a citizen is an employer or an employee or unemployed. The definition of a religious employer applies a regulatory limit to religious liberty that is at odds with the Constitution.

To limit a conscience exemption this way is to say that the federal government respects freedom of worship but it does not respect religious liberty.

For more than two hundred years, the USA has been the place where people seeking freedom of religion ran for refuge. If the definition of religious employer in the regulations of the Affordable Care Act is allowed to override the First Amendment, religious freedom in the USA will be dramatically reduced. Many Christians who do not live according to the teachings of Catholic theology think this struggle has nothing to do with them. They should not feel this way. Every person of faith, Hindu, Muslim, Catholic or Baptist or any other religion, is affected by this act. If the Catholics can be compelled to disobey the tenets of their faith by the federal government, then no person of any religion can claim protection for the right to live by the teachings of that religion. Christians and all people of any faith must resist the attempt by the federal government to force any person to disobey the teachings of his faith. In Laos today, some government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of their government for Christians to be compelled to drink water blessed by a shaman and then to renounce Christ. In the US today government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of the government for Catholics to be compelled to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion, services they believe to be sin. Persecution for religious reasons takes many forms in many places. Today in the USA it takes the form of a pretense that freedom of worship is freedom of religion. 

What should you do about it? Please pray for God’s guidance. You can write your Senator or Representative. You can even write to the President. You can blog or write a letter to the editor of your local paper. You can call a local talk radio host. Trust God’s guidance and follow it. Everybody can pray about this problem, even people who are not religious employers.

Choose this day whom you will serve. Joshua 24:15