Tag Archives: religion

Defining Our Terms: “Marriage” and “Religious Liberty”

You may or may not have seen this headline somewhere recently:
Tenn Bill would permit student counselors to reject clients based on religious beliefs 

This article discusses a problem which previously made national news in Michigan when a student in a counseling program refused to accept homosexual couples as clients. The bill being proposed in Tennessee will protect the rights of students in counseling programs who reject clients because the goals, outcomes and behaviors of the prospective clients conflict with the religious views of the counselor. 

Or this headline:
Florist refuses gay couple’s wedding due to her ‘relationship with Jesus Christ’ 

This article includes a comment by the state Attorney General for the state where the florist shop is located. The AG says, “If they sell flowers to any other opposite sex couple, they must sell flowers to a same-sex couple.”  

Maybe you saw this headline:
New Mexico Supreme Court hears appeal by photographer in gay bias case 

A photography studio refused to photograph a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple on the grounds that the union conflicted with the religious convictions of the owners and that to be compelled to produce such images would violate their right to express their convictions through their art. 

Perhaps you saw this one:
RI marriage equality bill may hinge on extent of religious exemptions

There is general agreement that the law may not compel clergy or religious leaders to officiate at a ceremony that conflicts with their religious convictions. However, opponents to same-sex marriage are proposing  a religious exemption that would permit private businesses as well as religiously connected organization to decide for themselves if they will recognize gay marriage or not. The inclusion of private employers makes this exemption unacceptable to most supporters of gay marriage. 

These four articles are selected from what is becoming a blizzard of cases and legislation arising because of political activism by the LGBT community. (I normally avoid initials and acronyms with a passion, but this is the way this community identifies itself. If that is their preference, then I will accede to it.) The four articles look at two terms that are at the center of the rising pressure from the LGBT community. The terms are marriage equality and religious liberty.

The LGBT community wants to use the term marriage to mean the union of homosexuals as if it were the normal definition of marriage. According to this community, they have a right to redefine marriage this way because marriage is a civil right, and that is at the root of their activism in the name of marriage equality.

The LGBT community includes Christians as well as atheists and other religious persuasions, but the community, including its Christian members, uses a completely secular definition of religion in its attitude toward religious liberty. The HHS definition of “religious employer” in the regulations enacting the Affordable Care Act best states where the LGBT activists draw the line for the religious liberty to reject and refuse to participate in the homosexual agenda. In that narrow view, religion is what happens in houses of worship where the acts of worship and the teaching of how to do it take place. This very secular view of religion disallows any notion that a Christian commits to a way of life by virtue of simply being a Christian. The idea that a Christian who runs a store or a doctor’s office is obligated by his faith to act according to Christian values is rejected by secular thinkers.

If someone believes that marriage means whatever we choose to say it means, and if someone believes that marriage is a civil right, then it follows as night follows day that it is okay to say that an agreement by two homosexuals is a marriage and that in the name of marriage equality they should be granted all the same rights, the same benefits, and the same privileges any other married couple has. If someone believes that religion only happens within a church building where one might engage in worshiping a deity or in learning how to worship the deity, then it just makes sense that one would say that a for-profit business such as a flower shop, a photography studio or a corporate board of directors does not engage in religion and does not express religion.

Not one of the men who served in the Continental Congress or who helped to write the Constitution would agree with anything in the paragraph above. When they wrote the First Amendment, they believed that religious principles permeated the lives and work of believers. It certainly permeated the lives of those men. They would be completely dumbfounded to hear that the federal government says that nothing religious happens in a for-profit enterprise. They would be shocked to discover that not only are homosexuals allowed to marry in the chapel at West Point, but that the academy requires that the chapel host homosexual weddings if asked.

On March 26 and 27, the Supreme Court will host oral arguments on two cases that will have immense impact on all these stories. The Supreme Court may or may not take ownership of the definition of marriage. The two cases cover the issue of the constitutionality of a state’s attempt to prevent gay marriage and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act which attempted to prevent any redefinition of marriage in the federal realm. This case is very important for the definition of marriage, but it will not likely speak to the issue of religious liberty. There are a number of lawsuits in the works relating to the exercise of religious principle relative to the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and relative to the rights of business owners who reject being any part of a homosexual ceremony or union. The cultural and legal battles will likely continue for years.

Today the Denison Forum reported on the issue of the negative portrayal of Christians in the media, and Jim Denison asked what Christians should do about this. His question applies just as appropriately to the questions about marriage and religious liberty. What are Christians to do? He proposed prayer and even kicked off a prayer campaign among his commenters. This is exactly the right way to think about this problem. First we pray.

Too often Christians wait until they have tried everything else before they pray. They engage in social and political activism, they tell their neighbors, they tweet, they phone, they email, and when the problem continues to escalate and they cannot think of anything to do, then they pray in desperation, “Oh, God, Help us!”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a great little book about Psalms in which he reminded his readers that Psalms was Jesus’ prayerbook. What’s good enough for Jesus is good enough for us. One way to change your perspective on a psalm is to look at a problem in the culture, for example, the assault on marriage and family, and pray the psalm the way Jesus might pray it if faced with the same problem. You can enter into the psalm, pray the psalm and learn from Christ as you pray.

 

Try praying Psalm 53 below as your prayer for guidance in the culture war to save marriage and family from destruction. Substitute your state name and “USA” for the words “Jacob” and “Israel.” Remember that if Jesus prayed this psalm, he was perfect, but we are not. We are made righteous by Christ’s righteousness which we receive because of his death on the cross. Humbly acknowledge where your righteousness in this conflict comes from, and think of all parties to the conflict as Jesus would. Jesus is the one, you remember, who prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” as he was being nailed to the cross. If you are not comfortable with this psalm, find a different one.  

 

1     Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
2     God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3     They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4     Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?
5     There they shall be in great terror,
in terror such as has not been.
For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly;
they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6     O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. 

Leave a comment please and let me know what this experience meant for you. Or let me know any other thoughts God gives you about what we can do to participate in God’s work of preserving his plan for marriage and family and for preserving the right he gave every person to live by faith.

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Religion? Spirituality? Who Cares?

In the culture of the USA there is currently a busy discussion of the difference between being spiritual and being religious. The conversation reveals some fairly huge differences of opinion between people who claim a specific religious connection and those who claim to be spiritual but not religious as well as those who claim multiple simultaneous religious connections. Numerous statements in blogs, comments and articles online make it clear that there are people who practice what might be called identity spirituality regardless of their connections with religion. The practice of identity spirituality is quite similar to identity politics with one very notable difference: identity politics is divisive by design while identity spirituality resolves all differences by simply ignoring them.

In order to contrast identity spirituality with identity politics it is necessary for you to understand what identity politics is. The point of identity politics is to recruit members by identifying commonality of political interest. In fact, activists in identity politics don’t so much make recruitment calls as they project an image with which prospects can identify. The identity Latino is deceptively clear in most people’s minds—a person who speaks Spanish and looks white but not Anglo-Saxon. The reality is that neither the appearance nor the speech of an individual will reveal all the people who might properly be identified as Latino, and the projection of the true factors of identity is actually a call for membership. Identity groups are used in polls and surveys, where participants self-identify with demographic groups and answer questions designed to uncover trends and attitudes within demographic identities.

The practice of identity politics not only demands acceptance and respect for a group’s unique identity (example, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) but it also distinguishes the members of the group from individuals who might fraudulently claim the group’s identity without meeting its unique definition. This practice was displayed when Barack Obama first entered the Democrat presidential primaries. He was easily identified as a black man, yet he was scorned by such public figures as Al Sharpton, because he did not have “slave blood.” His racial identity with other black political figures was marred for his lack of identity with survivors of the civil rights rallies of the sixties. Further, identity politics seeks special consideration for itself as compensation both for past injustices and for the insult of having endured past injustice, a state of affairs that is extended by constantly finding ways to demonstrate that the injustice continues. A prime example is the use of the term racist in the context of events and statements where the obvious intent is not to further an important public conversation but rather to receive the benefit of sympathetic support in words, legislative action and voting power that is occasioned by any perception that real racism persists in public life.

Identity spirituality is a very different concept. People who practice identity spirituality shun identification with any group whatsoever. Yet, in common with identity politics, the practitioners choose the relationship based on an identity. Something in the religion or spiritual practice resonates with something in the individual. The defining element is that the practitioner chooses religious or spiritual practices on the basis of their resonance with the identity of the practitioner. It might even be a resonance with the individual’s search for personal identity.  A person who practices identity spirituality is comfortable saying, “I identify with whatever moves me.” Or he might say,I claim that openness, that exploratory urge, the seeking for “the more,” as my spirituality.” Practitioners of identity spirituality are open to anything that feels spiritual to them, whether it is Christian, Buddhist, or even science. They don’t belong to a religion; they collect spiritual ideas that that they appreciate. The individual shapes a spiritual experience the way a sculptor might craft a mobile. That simile was deliberate, because the choices are fluid and elusive, and most practitioners of identity spirituality prefer it that way. Unlike identity politics where walls are deliberately constructed to foil attempts to reconcile differences between groups, identity spirituality simply ignores any walls that exist between religious and spiritual groups and picks and chooses among spiritual components as if the world of religion and spirituality were a giant shopping mall.

This is a point on the plane of all degrees of religious and spiritual convictions where spirituality fades into agnosticism and atheism. It is a place where ideas that claim a sacred element can be merged with completely secular views. Secular thinkers accept that cosmological hypotheses describe the physical beginnings of the universe, a point in time when no human observer could have measured anything, yet they categorically reject any suggestion of a supernatural power. The practitioner of identity spirituality can comfortably merge an astrophysical cosmology with a Buddhist meditation in the lotus position and consider all of it to be her personal spirituality. This blend of mathematics and mysticism is a place where nothing is firm or solid or predictable. It is the place where Eckhart Tolle took all his readers – that place where a person is his own god. Whether a person says that he is his own god or says that he chooses bits and pieces from the teachings of many gods, the ultimate truth of his spiritual or religious experience is that he chooses elements that satisfy him in some way. The experience is all about the person who experiences it. He may not call himself his own god, but he acts in lieu of any god.

Christianity does not recruit adherents on the basis of identity. There may be people who join Christian churches because of some identity factor, but that is not the teaching of the faith.  People who choose to follow Christ are not identifying with him. They are receiving his forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, but they are giving up self, the very thing practitioners of identity spirituality clutch most fervently. To receive Christ is to be indwelt by God himself. Yet through the mystery of the Trinity, God remains on his throne in heaven, in the eternal and infinite perfection of heaven, while living within each of us messy and sinful human beings in the person of the Holy Spirit. Christians don’t identify with Christ; they serve him. They worship him and learn from him and depend on him. This experience is a life, a way of life, that is not in any way confined to a worship ritual or a worship building.

One of the reasons often given for being spiritual but not religious is that religions are too rigid, too organized and too full of hypocrites. Practitioners of identity spirituality visit a worship service and then say, “I didn’t get anything out of it,” consigning what Christians consider to be a time of focus on God to a time of focus on self. They complain about Christians whose religious principles forbid them to engage in contraception, sterilization and abortion, and they complain even more about Christians whose religious principles against participation extend to the funding of such activities for others. They complain that religions in church buildings are old-fashioned and irrelevant to modern life. Then they complain that Christians are trying to impose their faith on others by expressing it publicly outside the worship space. They say that they believe that people are born good, and they don’t want to hear that people are born sinful.

Is this deep disconnect between Christians and the practitioners of identity spirituality really different from the disconnect between Christians and secular thinkers? What do you think Christians have to say to people who are spiritual but not religious? Do you think Christians need to change the way they worship in order to attract more members? Do you think Christians are giving a rich testimony to Christ that wicked people simply reject? Do Christians themselves need to change in some way? Should we take a survey and find out what would entice people to want to be Christians? Why are more and more people saying that they have no use for Christ or Christians or Christianity? Why do statistics show that Christians are the most persecuted people on earth? What might that have to do with our inability to communicate to practitioners of identity spirituality?

Looking for a good Christian book? Read my review of Martin Roth’s The Coptic Martyr of Cairo

Religion? Or Not Religion? When Doesn’t It Matter?

In 1980, Phyllis Schlafly wrote, “Secular Humanism has become the established religion of the US public school system.”[1] Tom Flynn, author of “Secular Humanism Defined”  uses this and other quotations to point out what he calls a misconception by Christians about secular humanism. This situation is an example of the sort of argument Christians often fall into as they attempt to talk with secular thinkers. Schlafly and Flynn do not really disagree on the principles which separate them. They only disagree about the meaning of the term religion.

Phyllis Schlafly, and many other Christian leaders, teachers and pastors, use the term religion for any way of thinking or worldview in which human beings value something more than they value God. Secular thinkers only use the term religion for a mindset that includes supernatural or transcendent beings. It is easy enough to end this argument if someone recognizes that the point of the conversation is not the label but rather the very real differences in worldviews that set Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Flynn in opposite corners.

Christians who have listened closely to their pastors for years will remember the sermons in which they were admonished that whatever stands between them and God becomes a false god. Secular thinkers readily concede that they exclude from their worldview anything supernatural, and they will not dispute it if they are accused of not serving God. They limit their worldview to time and space. This outlook prevents them from even acknowledging the existence of God. In that stance, there is no possibility that they will worship him. Christian teaching asserts that the secular worldview, which prevents secular thinkers from serving God, is the god that secular thinkers worship.

Secular thinkers consider this attitude to be preposterous. They assert firmly that they do not worship anything. They do not engage in worship. They believe that by avoiding the nebulous supernatural notion of any god whatsoever they set people free to become all that they can be. They strenuously do not want to be connected with a religion, and they do not want anyone to confuse the secular worldview with a religion.

Given this state of affairs, to argue whether secular humanism is or is not a religion is pointless. Yet many Christians, engaged in conversations about political and social issues persist in arguing that humanists worship something other than God. This argument sounds so ridiculous to the secular thinker that anything else the Christian may say will be dismissed without consideration.

What if it doesn’t matter whether we call secularism a religion or not? What if that label is not the point of the conversation? For example, if the school curriculum is the real issue, why not stay focused on the curriculum issues that separate Christians and secular thinkers? Most people agree that the education of children is crucial to the health of any nation. If any group of adults is asked simply to answer yes or no to the question, “Is good education important to our country?” it would be shocking if anyone in any group answered, “No.” However, the content of that education is a truly divisive issue. Whether the subject is American History, physical science, biology, or even English grammar, there will be a vast universe of different viewpoints, and most of those viewpoints will originate in divergent worldviews. It might be very good for participants in the conversation to recognize that problem before they engage in fisticuffs over sex education or evolutionary theory. Christians who want to be good citizens will certainly participate in such conversations, but it won’t be helpful if the discussion devolves into a religious war.

Christians must be well prepared when they engage in civic disagreements. Inevitably, communities include people of various religious persuasions as well as people who fervently reject any religion at all. There is no value in pointless arguments over whose definition will triumph. In order to participate effectively in government and social issues, Christians must learn to focus on the real issues and avoid verbiage that will be perceived as name-calling.

When Christians are at prayer about community problems, they are at liberty to name the supernatural enemy they face when someone proposes to teach kindergartners how to experiment with same-gender sexuality. In prayer they can ask God for his power to protect them and the children from Satan’s assaults in the voices of people who would vehemently deny his very existence, but in the conversation with other citizens, they must recognize that the community is not served by religious strife.

The solution is to pray before such conversations. Christians always say that they believe in prayer, but very often they forget to pray about the toughest problems. A school board meeting is a really difficult challenge when people of faith and people who reject the whole idea of faith try to talk about the important question, “What do we teach the children?” When Christians pray about these problems, they need to remember that in James 1:5 is a wonderful promise every Christian can claim in time of need. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5) Christians also recognize that the people who most fervently reject the idea of supernatural power are the ones least able to resist its working. Christians need to prepare for such conversations with the armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. They must study and prepare their minds for the conversation, but they must not forget that they live at the intersection of time and eternity. Christian lives are points where God’s infinite power enters into the time/space continuum. This post provides some intellectual grist for the mental challenge of living in a world dominated by secular thinking, but no Christian should attempt that task without taking full advantage of the power promised to those who have received the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a challenge to talk with secular thinkers, but it is a challenge God is ready for. In his power, Christians can be ready for it, too.


 

[1] Phyllis Schlafly, “What is Humanism?,” a 1980 syndicated newspaper column quoted by Tom Flynn in an article entitled, “Secular Humanism Defined at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=sh_defined4

Religion? Or not a religion? When doesn’t it matter?

In 1980, Phyllis Schlafly wrote, “Secular Humanism has become the established religion of the US public school system.”[1] Tom Flynn, author of “Secular Humanism Defined” uses this and other quotations to point out what he calls a misconception by Christians about secular humanism. This situation is an example of the sort of argument Christians often fall into as they attempt to talk with secular thinkers. Schlafly and Flynn do not really disagree on the principles which separate them. They only disagree about the meaning of the term religion.

Phyllis Schlafly, and many other Christian leaders, teachers and pastors, use the term religion for any way of thinking or worldview in which human beings value something more than they value God. Secular thinkers only use the term religion for a mindset that includes supernatural or transcendent beings. It is easy enough to end this argument if someone recognizes that the point of the conversation is not the label but rather the very real differences in worldviews that set Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Flynn in opposite corners.

Christians who have listened closely to their pastors for years will remember the sermons in which they were admonished that whatever stands between them and God becomes a false god. Secular thinkers readily concede that they exclude from their worldview anything supernatural, and they will not dispute it if they are accused of not serving God. They limit their worldview to time and space. This outlook prevents them from even acknowledging the existence of God. In that stance, there is no possibility that they will worship him. Christian teaching asserts that the secular worldview, which prevents secular thinkers from serving God, is the god that secular thinkers worship.

Secular thinkers consider this attitude to be preposterous. They assert firmly that they do not worship anything. They do not engage in worship. They believe that by avoiding the nebulous supernatural notion of any god whatsoever they set people free to become all that they can be. They strenuously do not want to be connected with a religion, and they do not want anyone to confuse the secular worldview with a religion.

Given this state of affairs, to argue whether secular humanism is or is not a religion is pointless. Yet many Christians, engaged in conversations about political and social issues persist in arguing that humanists worship something other than God. This argument sounds so ridiculous to the secular thinker that anything else the Christian may say will be dismissed without consideration.

What if it doesn’t matter whether we call secularism a religion or not? What if that label is not the point of the conversation? For example, if the school curriculum is the real issue, why not stay focused on the curriculum issues that separate Christians and secular thinkers? Most people agree that the education of children is crucial to the health of any nation. If any group of adults is asked simply to answer yes or no to the question, “Is good education important to our country?” it would be shocking if anyone in any group answered, “No.” However, the content of that education is a truly divisive issue. Whether the subject is American History, physical science, biology, or even English grammar, there will be a vast universe of different viewpoints, and most of those viewpoints will originate in divergent worldviews. It might be very good for participants in the conversation to recognize that problem before they engage in fisticuffs over sex education or evolutionary theory. Christians who want to be good citizens will certainly participate in such conversations, but it won’t be helpful if the discussion devolves into a religious war.

Christians must be well prepared when they engage in civic disagreements. Inevitably, communities include people of various religious persuasions as well as people who fervently reject any religion at all. There is no value in pointless arguments over whose definition will triumph. In order to participate effectively in government and social issues, Christians must learn to focus on the real issues and avoid verbiage that will be perceived as name-calling.

When Christians are at prayer about community problems, they are at liberty to name the supernatural enemy they face when someone proposes to teach kindergartners how to experiment with same-gender sexuality. In prayer they can ask God for his power to protect them and the children from Satan’s assaults in the voices of people who would vehemently deny his very existence, but in the conversation with other citizens, they must recognize that the community is not served by religious strife.

The solution is to pray before such conversations. Christians always say that they believe in prayer, but very often they forget to pray about the toughest problems. A school board meeting is a really difficult challenge when people of faith and people who reject the whole idea of faith try to talk about the important question, “What do we teach the children?” When Christians pray about these problems, they need to remember that in James 1:5 is a wonderful promise every Christian can claim in time of need. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5) Christians also recognize that the people who most fervently reject the idea of supernatural power are the ones least able to resist its working. Christians need to prepare for such conversations with the armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. They must study and prepare their minds for the conversation, but they must not forget that they live at the intersection of time and eternity. Christian lives are points where God’s infinite power enters into the time/space continuum. This post provides some intellectual grist for the mental challenge of living in a world dominated by secular thinking, but no Christian should attempt that task without taking full advantage of the power promised to those who have received the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a challenge to talk with secular thinkers, but it is a challenge God is ready for. In his power, Christians can be ready for it, too.

 


[1] Phyllis Schlafly, “What is Humanism?,” a 1980 syndicated newspaper column quoted by Tom Flynn in an article entitled, “Secular Humanism Defined at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=sh_defined4

The Terms of Religious Liberty

Many of the arguments people have about almost anything actually boil down to dictionary problems. A lot of differences of opinion hinge on differences of definition. 

Take religious liberty for example. If you ask any ten people today if they believe everybody ought to have religious liberty, it is unlikely that even one will answer No. However, if you ask ten people if they believe the Catholic Bishops have a right to dispute the president’s order that Catholic hospitals must provide health insurance coverage for services that Catholic theology defines as sin, then you will stir up a hornet’s nest. It is obvious that the man in the street and the man in the White House do not necessarily define religious liberty the same way as the Catholic Bishops do. 

The question we are discussing is this: Does the Constitution of the United States protect religious liberty 

There is no way to have the conversation unless we understand what we are discussing. What, exactly, is religious liberty? 

In China, the government says that its citizens have religious liberty. Chinese citizens may belong to any religion they choose – if the religion they choose is authorized by the government. For example, the Chinese government says that it grants complete religious liberty to Christianity. An American hearing those words would immediately ask why there are so many rumors about religious persecution of Christians in China if Christians have religious liberty. The answer is that Christians have the liberty to belong to the Christian organization named and regulated in Chinese law. They may worship in locations registered with the Chinese government. They may listen to sermons preached by pastors trained in the Christian seminary authorized by the Chinese government as long as those pastors read from the Bible in the translation authorized by the Chinese government. If a group of Christians decides to get together in somebody’s house which is an unregistered location for prayer and Bible study with a study leader who is not licensed by the government and if they choose to read from the wrong translation of the Bible, they can all be arrested and imprisoned, and their Bibles will be confiscated. China’s definition of religious liberty doesn’t sound much like anything an American would define as religious liberty. Just a little research will reveal that it is not at all uncommon for governments to enforce religious liberty by specifying the religions people are free to join. 

The confrontation between the President of the United States and the US Catholic Bishops is entirely about the definition of religious liberty. It should be easy to figure out whether the religious liberty of Catholics is being infringed if we look at the Constitution. It isn’t. Any legal document is written in words that are subject to be defined differently by the parties to the agreement. Our Constitution is no different. The history of our country is a history of wrangling over the meaning of the words of the Constitution. The discussions about the term religious liberty and another commonly-used term, freedom of religion, are actually arguments about the words in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  

The First Amendment says:

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. 

In the present conflict the phrase at issue is the free exercise thereof in which the word thereof can safely be rephrased for purposes of discussion as of religion. When the president and the Catholic Bishops argue about the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, they are arguing about the free exercise of religion.

Because the US is not like China, the Christian religion is not defined and regulated in US law. Houses of worship are not registered in some bureau. The theology of Catholics is not required to comply with a government-authorized document in a government-authorized seminary and administered by bishops who are licensed by the government to administer the government’s version of Catholic teaching. The Catholic Bishops are completely free under US law to teach their own understanding of Catholic theology. In their interpretation of Catholic theology, they teach that every Catholic Christian is obligated to live by Catholic Christian teachings all day every day, not just during mass. They teach that Catholic Christians must not only comply with the ethical and moral standards taught by the Catholic Church at all times, but that Catholic Christians must not participate in leading non-Catholics astray, either. For a Catholic individual or a Catholic institution to promote contraception or to provide and enable contraception, just for one example, is a sin. The teaching about contraception is not simply a topic in the Sunday morning homily during worship; this teaching is about the whole life of a Catholic Christian, the whole character of any institution or individual associated with the Catholic Church. In order for a Catholic Christian to be able to engage in the free exercise of the Catholic religion, that Christian must not promote or participate in contraception either personally or as an institutional act.

(Some readers will immediately remember that many Catholics do use contraception, and some of them are just as incensed at the Bishops as the President is. This fact does not change Catholic teaching any more than people who exceed speed limits change the speed laws. Catholic teaching is not changed by the fact that some members fail to live up to it. In fact, I know of no religion where the deficient practice of members changes the teachings of the religion.)

The President of the United States demonstrates by his decision about the employer mandate that he does not understand the free exercise of religion the same way the Bishops do. Our president believes that he has allowed the free exercise of religion by granting a conscience exemption to houses of worship. The Holy Family Catholic Church in Jacksonville, for example, would be exempted from providing health insurance coverage for contraception, but its school, in the President’s eyes, is a providing a secular function, and would not, therefore, be exempt. The president clearly believes that worship is a protected exercise of religion but education in English grammar and composition is not. Notre Dame University is, according to the President of the United States, engaged in secular work, not religious, even though that university would not even exist if the people who founded it had not intended it to be permeated with the teachings and principles of the Catholic faith. The President likewise sees the work of hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens as secular social work, nothing to do with religion. The administrators of these institutions must comply with a secular law that may require them to disobey teachings fundamental to their religious life.

The same issues arise with many denominations of Christians and with other religions as well. There may be a religion that is only about worship, but I am not aware of any. Hindus, for example, do not eat beef. Muslims must abstain from pork. Orthodox Jews must serve meat in different dishes than milk. None of these teachings is practiced during the worship activities of these religions. These teachings are about daily life. For our president to ignore this very basic truth about all religions betrays a serious deficit in his knowledge of religions. The exercise of any religion extends far beyond the form and practice of worship. In fact, it can properly be said that a great deal of what happens during worship in any religion is intended to shape and guide daily life outside of worship.

We who serve Christ certainly know this to be true. We know that Christ did not die in order for our worship experience to be richer. He died because our whole lives need to be redeemed. Our attitudes and behaviors all day every day are touched and shaped and guided by our growth in relationship with him. Our relationship with Christ does not take a break when we leave the sanctuary and resume when we return a week later. Christ goes with us into the world where he has commanded us to tell the good news and make disciples. The Holy Spirit dwells within the temple of our bodies, and wherever we go, our service and our whole lives grow out of an ongoing relationship with that Holy Spirit.

This is why people of all religions, Christian or not, must resist this restriction of the Catholic faith. If the government is free to compel Catholics to provide and enable contraception, what stops it from forbidding a Lutheran congregation to march on sidewalks funded by a municipal budget on Palm Sunday singing hymns and praying in unison? Can a Baptist Sunday School teacher be forbidden to mention her faith to a man sitting next to her on the plane mourning the death of his sister, just because she is not in a house of worship? Can the federal government issue a regulation forbidding religious jewelry, such as a necklace with a cross-shaped pendant, to be worn in any public place? Can a Jewish child be compelled to eat a hot dog made with pork in a school lunch, on the grounds that he is not in a synagogue?

The issue of free exercise of religion was important to the people who wrote the Constitution. The original writers believed that if the federal government were not authorized by the Constitution to establish or control religion, then the federal government did not have that power. They did not want the government either to mandate or restrict the practice of religion. Many citizens, however, recognized that it would be easy for national leaders, such as our president, to assume powers not granted to the federal government precisely because they were not specifically forbidden. Even though the Tenth Amendment says in plain language that any power not specifically granted to the federal government is, therefore, forbidden to it, the tug-of-war among the states, the people and the federal government continues to this day, and the current confrontation over the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act is a good example of a way that this tension continues.

Christians need to be very aware of the problem. Christians need to make this problem a matter of prayer. In the USA we have been proud and privileged to be free of religious persecution, but the current issue, arising over a simple definition, shines a light on the likelihood that other issues around this same definition will arise.

The notion that worship is a protected form of exercise of religion while education, healthcare, and social services are not, is the outgrowth of secular philosophy. To a secular thinker, religion is belief in an imaginary deity. To someone who believes that faith in God is equivalent to believing in the tooth fairy, the idea that morality or ethical principles grow out of a relationship with God is completely ridiculous. Such ideas must not be permitted to impact public life. A secular thinker is quite willing to respect the existence of houses of worship or even of private prayer and Bible study, but for anyone to seek to modify public behavior because of what the secular thinker regards as private, personal quirks is unthinkable. To our president and to those in his administration who have spoken publicly on the subject, it is clearly absurd to allow any religious exercise to interfere with public health principles they believe to be rooted in reason alone. Many people, even non-religious people, might dispute whether the services the administration defines as necessary for prevention of the disease called pregnancy are rooted only in reason, and that is an argument in the definition of reason. Christians may or may not engage in that argument, but all Christians must recognize that whether or not they agree with someone’s religion, they must agree with the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.

If people of any faith want to remain free to live their faith in the USA, they must all be vigilant to protect the free exercise of religion. If they want religious liberty, they will need to work for it. Christians will want to add this concern to daily prayers and petitions before God. In the best Christian tradition, those prayers will produce change in word and deed of daily life.

What do you plan to do today to protect your right to freely exercise your faith?