How deep are your religious convictions? Are religious beliefs merely a colorful veneer decorating the exterior of an individual’s life, or are they more akin to a rudder guiding the course and direction of the whole person? Questions such as these might be ones that we ask ourselves individually as we wrestle with the role of faith in our own lives. But they are also being debated at a societal level. And the worldview of government officials specifically on these questions affects their willingness to either protect religious freedom or to disregard it. Stated simply, our leaders believe either that religious faith is something that shifts and changes with the times like uneducated opinions, or they believe that religious faith forms the very identity of who we are as individuals and must be protected at any cost.
This issue surfaced with a ferocity unseen in American history when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that religious organizations and employers provide coverage for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans. As most of you are aware by now, the “HHS Mandate” as it is popularly known, has sparked a defiant outrage among people of faith who are being forced by the government to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. For many religious organizations and employers, there is no escape from this mandate. They either comply or are punished.
The starkest example of the worldview of our governmental leaders was on display in the remarks of Kathleen Sebelius, the head of HHS, when she announced the implementation of the HHS Mandate. Ms. Sebelius stated: “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law…. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.”
Did you catch that? According to the head of HHS, religious beliefs can simply be adapted if given enough time. Put simply, Ms. Sebelius is telling religious organizations that they have a year to drag their timeless and unchanging religious beliefs into the 21st century and to change them to fit the times. But what she really means is that religious beliefs must conform to a government official’s view of the world; that religious beliefs must evolve to fit the times as the government sees them. Her message was unmistakable – either get with the program and make your religious beliefs flexible or we will mandate this on you anyway. Either comply or be punished.
Such blatant disregard for the depth of religious convictions has not been seen in American history. Never before has government attempted to force people of faith to either violate their religious beliefs or be monetarily punished if they choose to abide by them. The framers of our Constitution, who made the free exercise of religion our “first freedom” by placing it in the First Amendment, would be appalled at the utter disregard shown to people of faith by Ms. Sebelius and the HHS Mandate.
This is where the Church in America must speak out. Our government is experimenting with actions that, if left unchecked, will result in the destruction of the free exercise of religion. John Murray, a Presbyterian preacher of the 20th century once stated, “The church lives in the world and it lives within the domain of political entities. If it is to be faithful in its commission it must make its voice heard and felt in reference to public questions.” The greatest public question facing the Church today is whether government will respect religious freedom or exercise its power to destroy it. The importance of the outcome of this debate cannot be overstated. The future of religious freedom in America depends largely on the Church making its voice heard loudly, clearly, and forcefully on this important issue.
Although the HHS Mandate does not directly affect churches because churches are exempted from the mandate, it does affect every church member and most religious ministries and organizations. The Church must protect those within its ranks subjected to the mandate. If the Church is the conscience of the nation, which it is, then it must stand against this unconscionable act.
One way that can happen is by participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. On October 7, 2012, hundreds of pastors will unite their voices against the government’s desire to control religion. Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an excellent opportunity for the Church to come alive and speak boldly to government.
The Church must stand united to protect religious freedom. Faith is timeless and forms the bedrock foundation of our lives. It does not change with the culture or by the whim of the government. And that’s a message our governmental leaders need to hear loud and clear.
If you are a pastor, go to www.pulpitfreedom.org and sign up to participate this October 7. The website contains resources and answers to questions you may have regarding Pulpit Freedom Sunday. And if you are not a pastor, please get the information about Pulpit Freedom Sunday to as many pastors as you can.