Tuesday, February 14, 2012

President Obama's threat to religious liberty

Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan gets it exactly right. President Obama’s administration is in fact attacking the principle of religious freedom in his recent requirement that Catholic institutions provide for contraception in the health plans offered to their employees. Dolan apparently understands better than the President that when the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” it means what it says. 

You can view the excellent interview Archbishop Dolan gave recently on the Today show at:


I’m a Baptist, and birth control isn’t a major point of conscience for me. While I don’t support contraception that amount to de facto abortions—the IUD for instance—other methods I view as both safe and wise for couples who desire to use them. Catholics, of course, see things differently. Catholic theology views birth control as wrong because for them, all life is a gift from God and shouldn’t be controlled or manipulated by human agency.

The Catholic opposition to President Obama’s mandate was passionate, articulate and effective. And in a matter of days he proposed a compromise that would have allowed for the contraception to be funded apart from the church’s financial involvement, a compromise which the Council of Bishops rightly rejected. Just as a point of reference, to offer a “compromise” in this situation isn’t really a mark of sensitive leadership. It’s like someone who sets out to steal your car then when you protest offers to take your lawnmower instead.

So when that didn’t work, the President’s administration adopted a different tack. They tried to frame the issue as one of women’s rights instead of religious liberty. This cynical approach hasn’t worked either and has served instead to focus even more attention on the issue. As political columnist George Will put it, this administration’s intent is to break every mediating institution in the country to the saddle of the state.

How do we respond at the local church level to the growing threat to religious liberty that we see going on around us? Here are a few principles to keep in mind:

1. We can’t afford to be blind. The current controversy over contraception and health care costs is only the tip of the iceberg. From public education to community displays to traditional morality, the presence of religious values is being attacked.

2. Be willing to look beyond doctrinal convictions in order to find allies.  We don’t have to endorse Catholic theology in order to stand with them in the present conflict regarding the President’s mandate. There will be other unlikely allies in the years ahead.

3. Focus more on major issues than on petty ones. It’s silly to get caught up in debates over things like blue laws when essential threats to religious liberty are on-going. We need to keep a proper perspective in mind.

4. Pray for the nation. America is in fact moving in a secularized direction that is different from anything we’ve experienced before. The spiritual foundation that lies at the heart of our nation is being eroded in so many ways that only a move of God through the prayers of his people can move us in a different direction.

5. Remember that our true citizenship is in heaven. The gospel and the church have often flourished most when opposed by those in power. One of the downsides of the Christian faith being embrace—at least publically—by the political establishment is that the authenticity of our faith becomes compromised. The church adopts the same secular values of the surrounding culture. That has happened to some degree to churches today in America. We need to always remember that America, for all its blessings, isn’t our final destination and the gospel is different from our societal standards.

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