Christians . . . are able to swallow and devour whatever evils confront them and confidently to expect a thousand advantages for one disad-vantage or loss." Thus Luther lectured on Genesis where Joseph told his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). So it goes with the church in this life. Quipped Luther, "We see only groanings, tears, troubles, and oppression of the poor; we see the devil's behind; we do not see the face of God." And yet just as God Himself worked all for good in the life of Joseph, St. Paul and in the cross of Jesus, so He works all for the good of the church and the Gospel. God is at work in it all, but this remains a matter of faith, not sight.
Things got convoluted very quickly (and intentionally) during and after my testimony before the House Committee on Government Oversight on Feb. 16. I stepped into that "monkey cage" for one reason: The Health and Human Services provision requiring church-owned and related institutions to provide contraceptives (including drugs used intentionally to kill life in the womb) is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of religious people. Moreover, even though our Concordia Health Plan is "grandfathered" in the policyso that we are not forced to provide such drugs to our 50,000 participating church workers and their familiesthis very provision freezes our health plan in perpetuity. In essence, we are stuck between very narrow walls and no longer have the freedom to make the best economic choices for the benefit of our congregations and workers. This, too, is a violation of our religious freedoms.
The bologna came fast and furious. I refused to take the bait when Republicans tried to get me to carte blanche condemn the Obama administration. The Democrats created a sideshow, which worked. The media went on a feeding frenzy. The issue was soon framed in terms of "women's access to healthcare." My photo (along with the four other clergy on the panel) was shown far and wide and used by political opportunists with the most vile of rhetoric. The caption: "The Church does not care about women." No argument in the hearing was truly heard. In fact, our antagonists weren't even in the room. They were busy running out and grabbing the next sheet of talking points to lob the next grenade.
Regrets? None. The issue is simple. We are not telling the government not to provide drugs or healthcare for women. We are not pushing for legislation to limit access to anything. Our own health plan does provide medications for specific health needs (which in other cases are used as contraceptives). I would argue that contraceptives (which the LCMS does not reject out of hand) and abortion-causing drugs are as available as bottled water in this culture of death. The "accommodation" offered by the president is a red herring. "Churches and their institutions won't pay for offensive medications; their insurers will." Oh? Most Catholic health plans are self-insured, just as the Concordia Health Plan is. At the end of the day, the issue is purely and simply about religious freedom.
The government is seeking to narrow and redefine religious freedom down to merely what churches do in houses of worship, and not a matter of their health, educational and other institutions. The U.S. Constitution is on our side. But that isn't what gives me solace.
"Therefore let us learn not to follow our own thoughts or to measure and understand by our own counsels our misfortunes or works and experiences. . . . Before the world Christ is killed, condemned, and descends into hell. But before God this is the salvation of the whole world from the beginning all the way to the end" (Luther).
Pastor Matthew Harrison
Matthew C. Harrison
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Two Kinds of Authority: A Bible Study
April's issue of The Lutheran Witness takes a look at religious freedom and the differences between church and state. Use this free, downloadable Bible study to continue the discussion with your youth group, Bible class or LWML groups.
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