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Obamacare and the Catholic Church: It Isnít About Contraception!

February 13, 2012
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For more than ten years I have purposefully avoided partisan politics because it too often serves to politicize the faith and distract the church from its principal purpose of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.

However, this government’s recent volley across the bow of religious freedom—in the form of the birth control mandate placed upon religious institutions—is nothing less than a direct assault on individual freedom of conscience and religion. For the Christian, this is not a partisan issue involving rival political parties nor is it a matter of women’s reproductive rights. Nowhere in the Catholic Church’s response to the federal government mandate is there a denial of access to contraception. 

The Catholic Church is simply and rightly saying that they should not be compelled by force of law to provide services that violate their moral convictions. To be sure, this is first and foremost an issue of sphere sovereignty between church and state—and the stakes cannot be overstated.

Sphere sovereignty rests on the idea of an all-encompassing created order, designed and governed by God. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the Dutch statesman and theologian, was most influential in working out the theological foundations of sphere sovereignty by clarifying the distinct roles and responsibilities that were assigned to the various arenas of social and civic life. Kuyper pointed out that within their respective spheres the church, the state, and the family (among others), had specific functions and authority that should not be hindered by any other domain. Thus the family should not be encumbered by the state, the state should not assume the role or impose the doctrines of the church, and the church should be free from interference by the state. 

A more limited formulation of this idea was expressed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which separated the powers of the church, the individual, and the state.

Many Protestants—as well as other religions—may be inclined to think this is a “Catholic issue,” but it isn’t! This has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s doctrinal stand on contraception. Instead, it has everything to do with the state trying to impose its will upon the church when the state’s social and ideological agenda conflicts with the church’s moral and religious beliefs.

Regardless of whether or not the administration compromises on this issue (and so far they haven’t), the government’s ideological convictions and intentions have been made clear. This government has become so committed to the progressive ideological agenda that it can justify the assertion of its power over any and all opposition, including that which is protected under the Constitution. This should awaken concern within every American, religious or otherwise, because liberty is rarely lost in one fell swoop and tyranny toward one class eventually reaches the broader society.

What may appear to be an inconsequential issue involving contraception and who’s going to pay for it is in reality a small but incremental step toward diminished individual liberty and the suppression of any opposing ideology, which in this case is religious. 

Even recent history offers numerous examples of nations, some of them democracies, whose freedom gave way to tyranny following a seemingly inconsequential series of events and actions. More often, the loss of freedom and essential human rights occur incrementally, barely noticed by the population until it’s too late.

Christians of every tradition, let us take notice and let us stand together with the Catholic Church. This most recent action should convince every thinking man or woman that our government has become contemptuous of restraint and too powerful. Unless this government is returned to the constraining power of the Constitution, we will travel the hard road to statism and lose our essential liberties and our rights to think, speak, and live in obedience to God. 

©2012 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Bob Geiger  

February 13, 2012 10:10 AM

Michael, thank you for the excellent article, and for nailing the true point of this situation. Can you imagine the administration informing Jewish delicatessens that they begin to serve pork products? Or Amish folks that they must adapt to the use of motor vehicles?
While this particular issue is broader than the question of the morality of contraception (a topic which was agreed upon by all Christian denominations until the Council of Lambeth in 1930), and if left unchallenged, opens the door to forcing the churches and church affiliated organizations to pay for actual abortions, euthanasia and probably sex-change operations eventually.
Your insight and support are most appreciated.

Response from : William R Garrard, Jr  

February 13, 2012 11:02 AM

As you state the issue, it seems so clear cut but it isn't. What if the religion is acting in ways that resemble secular institution such as in education and medical care and they use the resources of all kinds of citizens who pay for their services and have employees who do not and are not required to be in allegiance to the religious tenets of the sponsoring religious institution as is in the case of this decision. What if the tenet of the religious organization is that persons of color are inferior to white persons and yet must they comply with laws against discrimination? What about religions that espouse polygamy or child brides? I could go on and on.. Before one raises the banner of the slippery slope toward tyranny in this decision, one has to understand that our republic continues to sort out the proper role of government as it relates to religious organizations and their tenets and the freedoms associated in this arena.

Response from : Martin  

February 13, 2012 11:07 AM

It was so pleasing to encounter the term "Sphere Sovereignty" in your column. Sphere Sovereignty removes hierarchies. For one person to indicate how things are done AND to have 'blinded' (influenced) followers implement matters is the road to self-destruction and a cultural context destruction.

Sphere Sovereignty promotes a collective voice of response to that which is best and correct. Hierarchies is a quiet erasure of freedom. We seem to be caught in a dilemma... is it a matter of 'independence' or a matter of 'dependence'? Or is it a matter of 'inter-dependence'? God speaks to ALL areas of life. You and I need to work (respond to God) together.

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

February 13, 2012 11:20 AM

Dear Mr. Garrard,

I do understand your concern. On the surface it seems reasonable. However your examples of racism and polygamy are not constitutionally protected values or behaviors. Likewise, there is no constitutional requirement to provide contraception or even healthcare for that matter. Thus the argument is unrelated to the issue at hand. As to the source of what is and what should or should not be protected and/or promoted under the Constitution, this is an entirely separate issue involving moral theory, the source of ethics, etc. Historically, constitutional interpretation drew upon the principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview. With our changing culture, this will likely continue to prove problematic leading to increased moral confusion.


Response from : Martin Rossol  

February 13, 2012 11:35 AM

Last paragraph could be read to suggest that "Christians" are other than "Catholics" or that there are no Christians in the Catholic Church. Actually I know a number of genuine Christians in both traditions! Maybe: "Christians in and outside the Catholic Church, let us take notice ..."?

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

February 13, 2012 11:54 AM

Dear Martin,

I do not interpret the paragraph in question that way in the slightest nor was it intended to suggest that there is a distinction between being Christian and Catholic, which is precisely why I address the matter to the "Christian." Protestants think of the church (Christians) primarily in terms of the visible body of Christ apart from the institution. However, Catholic Christians distinguish between the individual believer and the magisterium or "Holy Roman Catholic Church," which is why I used that closing address to indicate inclusion of both traditions. There are many Protestants that falsely think the matter is unrelated to them because they have no conviction against contraception. Likewise, there are many Catholics who, because of their personal acceptance of contraception, think the issue is an institutional matter unrelated to them personally. I am trying to show that both are wrong in their assumptions because the issue affects the entire body of Christ and religion in general.


Response from : John Daniels  

February 13, 2012 6:19 PM

With the greatest respect, Mr Craven, I do not believe the Catholic church is being "asked to provide services that violate their moral convictions". Certain Catholic establishments (not Churches, as I understand it) were (until yesterday) being asked to help pay towards medical insurance premiums that may be used to provide contraception for employees who want it.

Every committed Christian in this country is expected - and most of us do - pay towards the provision of things that others may choose to use, that violate our consciences. Libraries contain "sinful" books, literature, videos etc. Social Security payments may be used by those who choose to spend it "immorally", and any time I purchase anything at all, who knows what my money may be funding in the life of the recipient! If I were a pacifist (quite in keeping with the Biblical views of many committed Christians) I might want to object in the same way to spending on arms. No doubt many of your readers pay for Cable / Satelite TV (I don't, incidentally) Ö. need I say more? I understand that something around 80% of Catholic church goers use or have used contraception at some stage, and the long-gone days of 15 or so children filling up every Catholic family's church pew area certainly attest to that.

The working out of a Christian walk which is 'in the world, and not of it' necessarily means dealing with that which constantly violates the conscience in this fallen society in which we live. No, this is political.

Response from : Warren  

February 13, 2012 6:41 PM

I agree with the writer, but I think that the church should have woken up long ago, when the state intruded into its duties of caring for the poor, and redistributing wealth from the poor and middle-class to the politically well-connected and organized. Like murder, theft is a sin, and our federal government routinely steals in order to satisfy the religous views of some, at the expense of the many. This latest umbrage is one of quantity, not quality. I welcome all of my Christian brethren to the world of the politically awake.

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

February 13, 2012 6:43 PM

Dear Mr. Daniels,

With all due respect in return, you couldn't be more incorrect in your assessment. Since I assume you are a Protestant, I'll use an analogy closer to home. This is analogous to a Protestant Christian school being compelled by force of law to teach same-sex marriage as a legitimate expression of the marital relationship. If that were the case, and you were the administrator of said school; would you agree to the government's demands with the justification of "being in the world but not of it?" I hope not for to do so would be to give to Caesar what belongs to God. Individuals are at liberty to purchase cable television or not, they are not compelled by the state to violate their conscience. To be sure, the marketplace of ideas in a fallen world includes false and pagan ideas, our libraries no doubt contain these ideas but no person is compelled by law to even read much less embrace these ideas. As far as pacifism, our government does in fact allow exemptions for those who posses a conscientious objection to war. These examples bear absolutely no relationship to the issue at hand. The issue of compulsory contraceptive services relates to the respective sphere sovereignty of the church and state that is protected by the First Amendment. It is not so benign as you suggest.



Response from : Linda Howard  

February 13, 2012 9:22 PM

Thank you for articulating what most of us
believe. If the people of America standby and accept this blatant assault on our liberties, then same on us!

Response from : Linda Howard  

February 24, 2012 9:20 PM

Thank you for your brilliant and much welcomed response to this issue. How should the body of Christ respond? Beyond writing letters that fall on deaf ears,I'm at a loss to know what to do.


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