“The government's not just walking on the church lawn. It's breaking down the door,” said the Rev. Peter Cage, explaining why his church is organizing resistance to the Obama administration's recent mandate that religious institutions provide employees with free contraception, even forms that cause abortion.
Cage is senior pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in downtown Fort Wayne, which this week launched a website designed to inform and unite Christians and others in cyberspace while encouraging them to take real-world action in defense of the freedom of religion supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment.
People driven by partisanship will no doubt see Cage and others like him as the true threats to the “separation of church and state,” just as they will applaud something called “African Americans for Obama,” which the president unveiled this week while seeking the participation of black churches and individual worshipers as “congregation captains.”
What, no “Palefaces for Paul”?
But to people who still care about principles, the two initiatives could not be more different in their understanding of the proper relationship between God and government.
To a degree, the church itself is responsible for the confusion. Some conservative church groups have been overly cozy with Republicans from time to time, and the U.S. Catholic bishops supported “Obamacare” – until the inevitable happened and the most abortion-friendly administration in U.S. history required them to provide services the church considers inherently evil.
But Cage and St. Paul's are neither endorsing nor opposing a candidate or secular cause. They simply want the church and its affiliated organizations to be free (within traditional limits) to practice what they preach.
Cage said the church's new website and an affiliated Facebook page will “educate our members concerning the real and present danger to religious liberty we have thus far enjoyed, and to encourage them to take at least a small step to stand in defense of this most valuable freedom.”
Cage has sent a letter to area Lutheran congregations urging them to participate by discussing the issue and to send letters to Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades and other potential allies. The website even includes a sample letter.
Why should Lutherans send letters to a Catholic instead of the White House?
“Catholics are currently the main target (we're next),” Cage's letter explained. (That way) the letter can be positive in tone, rather than negative (but we'll send copies to the appropriate government officials). ” Cage also plans to reach out to Rhoades and other religious leaders in an attempt to organize a public event of some sort.
Cage, pastor at St. Paul's for the past five years, said the website is a response in part to media-fueled misperceptions that this issue affects or concerns only Catholics.
“This is an issue for every citizen,” he said, noting that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of which St. Paul's was a founding member does not normally inject itself into politics despite its opposition to abortion (but not non-abortive forms of birth control). “Historically, we produced good citizens and the government kept the peace so the church could proclaim the Gospel. We pray for the president every week, but we're entering new territory here.”
Whether the effort generates “many or a handful” of participants is not the point, Cage said. Citizens do not abdicate their constitutional rights simply because they believe in God. Individual Americans properly participate in both church and state; comingling the two institutions is far more problematic.
The church did not provoke this fight, which isn't about birth control anyway. Americans are free to practice contraception and even abortion if they choose, and government as the authority to subsidize such things. They are free to campaign and vote for the candidates of their choice.
But the same Constitution that is silent on free condoms makes it clear that government has no authority to compel religious institutions to violate the consciences they owe to God, not to Caesar.
Instead of promoting policies that bring even Lutherans and Catholics together, he might be better-served by focusing on congregations compliant enough to “captain” his re-election bid.