When the wolf and lamb feed together, Scripture tells us, The End is near.
Whether Thursday's anticipated Supreme Court decision means the end for part or all of “Obamacare” remains to be been, but widespread religious opposition to the bill's contraception requirements – the focus of another local rally this Saturday – should remind even the faithful how neither church nor state is safe when they get too cozy.
To be sure, the bill's requirement that religious institutions violate their own doctrines is not only blatantly unconstitutional but socially perverse, exempting organizations that serve only their own members while targeting those who through hospitals, social services and other agencies reach out to people of all faiths, or none.
But the necessity of the opposition does not lessen the irony of the Roman Catholic Church's leadership role, given its initial support of the very kind of government control it now resists. So I put the question to Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend: Why would the church trust the most militantly pro-abortion administration in U.S. history to produce a health-care system compatible with its pro-life beliefs?
Rhoades' written response was, as always, intellectually compelling. Politically, however, he was on far shakier ground – as the current controversy illustrates so well.
“For decades, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. have been calling for health-care reform . . . . rooted in the Catholic teaching that health care is a basic human right flowing from the basic dignity of the human person,” he stated.
To that end, the Bishops' Conference after the 2008 elections established four criteria for “fair and just” reform: a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity; access for all, including legal immigrants; preservation of pluralism, including freedom of conscience; and restraining costs.
Despite the church's advocacy during the legislative process, the act “did not incorporate the three moral criteria the bishops had identified. That is why the bishops ultimately opposed the new law,” Rhoades concluded.
Whether the church's early implied support of Obamacare aided its passage is of course unknowable, but it is worth pondering what might have happened had the bishops simply remained neutral -- or not defined health care as a “right.”
Although the Declaration of Independence does indeed confess that our rights come from the “Creator,” the legal enumeration and protection of those rights is by definition the job of government. Rights cannot be denied without due process and so, having agreed with the president and others that health care is among those rights, the bishops unwittingly undermined their own cause.
They may not think abortion and contraception represent true “health care,” but Obama clearly does. And he – not the bishops – was elected president.
Although individuals do not give up their rights as Americans simply because they are believers, religious organizations should be extremely cautious about breeching that Christ-acknowledged gulf between God's realm and the things that properly belong to Caesar.
The Bible instructs us to help the poor and sick; it does not mandate government-imposed welfare or health care. It says we should care for the homeless and weary; it does not lay out a blueprint for immigration reform. In fact, such biblical admonitions are not directed at government at all, but at individuals and the church itself.
How would Americans react if a less “mainstream” denomination so overtly sought to influence or seek exemption from such an important public policy? Rhoades noted that the Catholic Catechism teaches that the “right to religious liberty is neither a moral license . . . but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty i.e., immunity, within just limits.”
But what are those “just limits,” and who gets to decide?
Rhoades suggests those limits be determined by the common good in accordance with “objective moral order.” But that's just the point. As he acknowledges, Mormons previously claimed a religious right to polygamy. And many Americans today are concerned about the potential influence of Islamic Sharia law. It's appropriate for churches to defend themselves against government intrusion on theological or constitutional grounds, but the effort would seem more principled – and as a result be more effective -- were it not also a response to a failed political lobbying campaign over “rights” that may or may not exist.
No matter what ultimately happens, Rhoades fears the Obamacare debate is just the latest example of government's increased willingness to intrude into church affairs. All the more reason, then, for the lamb to watch the wolf and resist if necessary -- from a safe distance.