A Further Perspective

Religiously Supporting Obama’s Mandate

Expressions of solidarity with the anti-Catholics -- but also signs of pro-Catholic solidarity from leading Evangelical figures.

By 2.9.12

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Many Protestant and evangelical leaders are standing with the Roman Catholics bishops against the Obamacare mandate to compel religious hospitals, schools and charities to purchase insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization. 

Although modern conservative Protestants have been accepting or ambivalent about birth control, they recognize a clear infringement on religious liberty. Mandatory coverage for abortion-inducing drugs is doubly troubling for pro-life Protestants.

"I'm not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers and sisters to practice their belief against government pressure," tweeted Rick Warren, a California Southern Baptist who is perhaps America's most popular megachurch pastor and religious author. He bracingly added: "I'd go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do."

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and National Association of Evangelicals have all denounced the Obamacare provision. "The Obama administration has declared war on religion and freedom of conscience," warned Southern Baptist officials. "This will not stand."

The head of Intervarsity, a large evangelical campus ministry, pronounced himself a political "moderate" who disagrees with Catholic teaching on contraception while having "grave concerns" about the morning after pill. But he focused on religious freedom. "I'm upset because the mandate compels a religious community to act contrarily to its understanding of Scripture," he said of the Obamacare policy. Noting threats to his own group on increasingly secular college campuses, he warned of a "new era where the majority will increasingly impose its views upon beliefs it regards as backward." And he concluded: "Let us stand in solidarity with our Catholic friends on the health care mandate."

But some Religious Left groups are remarkably defending the Obamacare mandate, apparently believing that government control and subsidized sexual freedom take priority over religious liberty. "This is a great day for women in the United States," enthused the chief lobbyist of the United Methodist Church. "This act goes a long way in increasing the overall maternal health in the United States," he claimed, emphasizing that women must be free from "living by the dictates of their employers." He boasted that "historically" his denomination has espoused "firm" support for contraception and family planning.

Actually, Methodism only endorsed contraceptives in 1956. An attempt in 1936 aroused such controversy that church progressives retreated. In 1908, President Roosevelt shared his belief that birth control equaled "race suicide" when addressing the church's governing convention. The United Methodist Church first endorsed abortion rights in 1970. But the recent Methodist lobby endorsement of the Obamacare mandate focused exclusively on the supposed right to contraceptives while completely ignoring religious liberty concerns. 

So too did a new coalition of "mainstream" religious groups while announcing they "stand with President Obama and [Health and Human Services] Secretary Sebelius" behind the new Obamacare mandate. "Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals' conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service," the coalition insisted, inviting other "religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception." They affirmed "individual religious liberty," but evidently only for employees, not employers, or employees who agree with their religious employers.

This new religious coalition for the Obamacare mandate included mainly just radical caucus groups within liberal religious bodies, but almost no actual church officials, except for the presidents of the dwindling United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Even the United Methodist lobby office evidently declined to sign. Two seminary presidents signed. The chief organizer, herself a Unitarian minister who heads the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, boasted of having received a White House phone call one evening before their news release. Another coalition member was the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which touts abortion as a "religious" right.

For much of the Religious Left, the instrumentalities of the Sexual Revolution are themselves holy rites more sacred than any civil right or protection from government interference. And having largely denied the ethical teachings and historic doctrines of their own faith, these religious voices have largely distilled religion down to mandating, usually by government coercion, the fulfillment of various physical needs. They offer a religion without soul or transcendence. More disturbingly, their material demands ultimately entail suppressing or coercing more traditional religionists, not to mention all who cherish individual rights of speech and faith. If all their wishes were fulfilled, the ultimate result would be more authoritarian than any theocracy of the Middle Ages, unmediated by grace or charity. 

More promisingly, the much wider religious coalition against the Obamacare mandate overturns historic interfaith resentments, sets aside doctrinal differences over contraception, and prioritizes religious freedom and protection for the individual conscience. This interfaith coalition recognizes that liberty is more sacred than any government mandate.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.