Folks, this might be a long one. I’m a little angry.
It’s generally a good idea not to talk (or write, in this case) when you’re angry. I would agree, but this is not a hot anger, the kind of anger that makes you fly off the handle and say things you don’t mean. No, this is a cold anger, the kind of anger that has been building for months.
I’m not sure when it started. It might have been when notorious Christian politician Sarah Palin went on national television and proclaimed that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” It might have been when city ordinances started passing, designed to keep people who are homeless from sleeping outside buildings and in public parks. It might have been when I read about Christian citizens being harassed by law enforcement for feeding those same homeless persons.
Perhaps it was reading about Miriam Ibrahim, threatened with death for simply being a Christian, while people like Tony Perkins and Ralph Reed loudly proclaim that religious freedom in America is under attack. Or the constant barrage of environmental disasters that these same people blame on the fight for marriage equality.
In any case, this cold, building anger came to a head this morning. I woke up and read about the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Hobby Lobby’s legal mandate to provide health insurance to their employees that covers birth control. In case you don’t read the Internet, or haven’t been following this story, the owners of Hobby Lobby have erroneously claimed that some of the contraceptives that their health plans would cover for female employees were “abortifacient” – meaning that they prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting (scientifically false, if anyone is keeping score.) Hobby Lobby being a “Christian business”, claimed that they should have the right to exempt themselves from the law, because the 1st Amendment guarantees their right… to not give female employees birth control.
Let’s pause for a moment, and exam some things, before I move on to the more theological implications. First, let’s examine the idea that birth control somehow conflicts with Christian belief. There are certainly sects of Christianity that have maintained longstanding opposition to the idea of birth control, preferring to use what is called Natural Family Planning, or simply letting God decide how many kids they have. That’s wonderful, as an individual choice. However, a large (and I can’t statistically tell you how large) number of Christian women believe that birth control is a gift from God, a way to control the size of your family, so that we can properly feed and care for the children that we choose to have. In a country with untold thousands of abortions, children awaiting adoption, and other children living in absolute destitution, it would make a lot more sense (from a Christian standpoint) to support controlling the number of children actually conceived.
That’s only Christian women, though. There are also a lot of non-Christian women who consider it both their right and their responsibility to only bring life into the world on their terms. Again, from the standpoint of concern for abortion, adoption and poverty, Christians should be thankful that women are desiring to be responsible for their own reproductive decisions.
What happened today wasn’t a case of Christian rights being protected. Today was a case of Christian privilege being affirmed. The owners of Hobby Lobby – and, by association, every Christian in America – have been named a special class of citizen, untouchable by federal mandate because of their “rights”.
And it makes me so terribly angry.
Despite all claims to the contrary, Christians enjoy a tremendous amount of religious freedom in America. Not only do we enjoy religious freedom, we enjoy a ridiculous amount of influence in America. The 10 Commandments are on federal and state property. There are gigantic, tax-free churches on thousands of Main Streets in America. The words “In God We Trust” are enshrined on our currency. We open up every legislative session, high school graduation, and city council meeting with a public, Christian prayer. Chaplains (overwhelmingly Christian) are a paid and protected position in our Armed Forces. Christmas (one of our most sacred days) is a federal holiday.
Contrast that to Egypt, where Christians are being slaughtered by the hundreds. Or to the case of Miriam Ibrahim. Or to the Christians over the years in communist or Muslim countries, where every prayer uttered, every Bible verse read, every word spoken about Jesus is a death sentence waiting to be carried out.
Contrast that to 1st Century, Roman-occupied Israel, where the Jews were an oppressed class of people, where Jesus of Nazareth was brutally killed as a common criminal.
The story of Jesus means many things to many people, but here is a lesson that the owners of Hobby Lobby (and the rest of us) should draw from it:
God does not care about your rights.
I don’t mean to imply that God doesn’t care what happens to His children. On the contrary, I believe that God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and thus He weeps at the plight of Miriam Ibrahim, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christians in Egypt, Buddhists in Tibet, Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria, the homeless in America, the children who grow up without any hint of parental love, LGBT persons who are unceasingly discriminated against…
But I seriously doubt that God will shed one tear because a multi-billion dollar corporation is forced to pay for birth control for its female employees.
I’ve taken fire in the past for being “too negative” about the state of Christianity in America. I don’t want to suggest that all Christians in America are selfish, greedy, opportunistic, oppressive or whiny. What I do want to suggest is that when the name of Jesus gets dragged in front of the Supreme Court for selfish, greedy, opportunistic, oppressive and whiny reasons, the entire message of the Gospel gets lost in the process.
When a people who worship, revere and follow a man who was not only persecuted by killed by civil authorities for the very appearance of disobedience to civil law – when those same people demand special protections under the law for their faith, the word hypocrisy isn’t strong enough.
And the whole non-believing world sees this. Can we blame anyone for refusing to listen to our message, when our loudest and most oft-repeated message is that we deserve more rights than they do?
Federal, state and local authorities pass laws and ordinances that lessen aid to the poor, and we say nothing.
Those same authorities pass laws and ordinances that actively harm the poor, and we say nothing.
We demand the right to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation.
We demand the right to discriminate against women for daring to control their reproductive cycle.
We have become the oppressors, and yet claim to be oppressed.
I’m not calling for a boycott. Boycotts never punish the owners of a company, only the employees.
I’m calling for something far more radical.
Next time you shop at Hobby Lobby, if you are served by a female employee, give her money for her birth control.
Put it in an envelope, with a note explaining the gift.
Don’t make a scene.
Don’t try to score political points.
Just give, in a small effort to make right the terrible injustice that has been done to women in the name of Christianity.
Perhaps one day, we’ll learn that political power doesn’t equal moral authority.
Maybe one day, we’ll learn that sacrificial service is far more powerful than rights and privileges.
May we learn, on that day, to be like the Man who gave up His rights, so that we might be made whole.
My love to you, wherever you are,