Thursday, July 24, 2014


The decision in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood cases has been rendered by the Supreme Court and the petitions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Catholic broadcaster EWTN, and Wheaton College are in the wings. While the rulings/injunctions pleased conservatives, they infuriated the Obama administration, Democratic Party loyalists, and progressives, particularly women.

In a July 5th op-ed, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu observed “The ironic result of this wrongheaded ruling may be that business-owners of every faith will claim a religious right to discriminate, in decisions from health coverage to employment to buying, selling and accommodations.” A few days earlier, Emporian Janet Brassart called the decision “another crack in the Constitutional wall between Church and State that sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Unfortunately, that’s the tenor of our times. We’re living in an age when more and more of us are abandoning religious faith. The result is a public square that’s increasingly “bristling with hostility” toward religion. For example, in her dissent Justice Ginsburg basically told people of faith they should just shut up and sit in the pews. Others are parroting the “religion isn’t important to me, therefore I will not allow it to be important to you” mantra.

While it may seem that this hostility is recent phenomenon, the historical record reveals that it’s not. In 1980, Francis Schaeffer (“A Christian Manifesto”) described the growing fault line between historical Christianity and Secular Humanism. In 1984, Father John Neuhaus wrote about what he called “The Naked Public Square.” He asserted that the public square without religious influence was a vacuum, “begging to be filled.” He further asserted that in an environment where religion is viewed as something detrimental to the public square, “a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church.” This may make secularists feel they’ve set things in order, but “having cast out the one devil, they unavoidably invite the entrance of seven devils worse than the first.” (see Matthew 12:43-45)

About a year before he died, Pope John Paul II wrote a wonderful book titled “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way.” In a section titled “Caritas” (virtue/charity), he described the essence of the Christian life as “the mystery of evangelization through love of neighbor springing from love of God.”

I believe that mystery is meant to be expressed to humanity’s most vulnerable and needy, including the unborn. As a practicing Christian I’ve tried to think of how I can possibly be true to my faith in our current political and social environment. How can I express “caritas” when it’s deemed by many of society’s movers and shakers to be detrimental?  How can I fulfill my obligations as a citizen without compromising deeply held principles in the process? Is accommodation the price I’m now being asked to pay as a condition of my citizenship? If so, I’ve concluded that the differences are irreconcilable, like trying to square the proverbial circle.

This wrestling with accommodation has been going on for thousands of years. The cosmic contest between Moses, God’s representative, and Pharaoh, began with blunt words. Moses told the king that the children of Israel needed to go into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh’s response?  “Shut up and keep working.” “More bricks; less straw.” When the blunt words failed, Pharaoh tried accommodation. “You can go, but don’t go too far.” “The men can go, but the women and children can’t go with them.” “You can all go, but you can’t take your possessions with you.”

Every accommodation was rejected.

I think this is where we are today. People of faith are being told, “Don’t get too carried away with this religion business.” “You can do as you like, but we get to take your kids under our wings.” “You can all do as you please; all we want is your money.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m certain today’s accommodations must be rejected. If our faith is to be lived out meaningfully, it must be lived out in the face of rejection, intimidation, or loss of societal privilege.

Over time, people of faith face the very real possibility that our political system will become increasingly adversarial to us and that the public will be less and less in tune with the language and life of Zion. We may find ourselves cut off from meaningful participation in the public square. There will be a temptation for us to find avenues of accommodation, but we must stand fast. We must remain faithful to the first principles of our faith.

The attitude that people of faith must cultivate today was expressed beautifully in Saint Augustine’s “City of God,” written during the dying days of the Roman Empire - “So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the Church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world's hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God.”

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