Feb

16

2012

Zach Nielsen|12:02 AM CT

Rome, Obama, and Calm Assurance of Things to Come

You have probably observed the recent firestorm of publicity responding to the changes proposed by the Obama administration concerning contraception and religious institutions other than churches.

Chuck Colson has written that the issue of contraception is in fact only a symptom of a greater root issue:

Because what's really at stake here is whether or not there is any limit to government power.

That's the point made by Daniel Henninger in his excellent piece . . . in the Wall Street Journal. "The American Catholic Church," he writes, "is now being handed a lesson in the hierarchy of raw political authority."

But the question for all of us, Henninger writes, "is whether anyone can remain free of a U.S. government determined to do what it wants to do, at whatever cost."

Friends, the answer to that question depends on whether we the people, and especially we Christians and people of all faiths will rise up and say, "Enough! You may not intrude on our religious beliefs, you may not prohibit us from living out our faith."

I join the chorus of voices that are grieved and outraged at the current proposal and the implications therein for people of faith. It signals an unprecedented shift in the relationship between government and religion that should be vigorously resisted through written persuasion, the voting booth, and if necessary, civil disobedience. Much has already been written along these lines. (See here, here and here.)

In no way should we minimize the current controversy. In my estimation, the current response from many thoughtful writers is warranted---indeed, necessary. But with any potential crisis that looms on the horizon due to the collision of Christianity and secular culture, we have centuries of church history to inform and perhaps, temper our response. Reflecting on church history does not censor our response but should define the tone.

Alarmist Media

Media in our culture tend toward alarmism. When media moguls smell fear they see dollar signs. But Christians are different. We have not been given a spirit of fear. And a view to church history should fuel hope in spite of challenging circumstances.

Let's remember that Christianity emerged in the shadow of a political regime that was the most ruthless force of bloody domination the world had ever seen. Said plainly, the Obama administration is child's play compared to the Roman Empire. Unlike the situation today, there was no limit to their power. Remarkably, contrary to Roman will, Christianity became the most explosive religious movement the world had ever seen. The mere fact that Christianity exists is a miracle of God and testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Though we no longer live in the shadow of Rome, our culture is dark and will probably grow darker. But whether we lose our jobs because we refuse to participate in the abortion industry or, God forbid, one day an anti-Christian government actually murders children in the streets, the light of Christ will never be extinguished.

So let's respond to a political regime that is unjust and out of bounds. We have to. But as we do, our tone should not be driven by fear or panic, since we are receiving a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28). There is no dichotomy between vigorously fighting for justice and a confident, quiet assurance that the sky is not falling. Let's embrace both. We fight for justice, but we know that even when the battle is lost, victory belongs to our God in the greater war. So let's proceed with hope, love, patience, and a superior vision that looks to the past to inform our future.

Zach Nielsen (@znielsen) is one of the pastors at The Vine Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where he serves in the areas of preaching, leadership development and music. He is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Covenant Theological Seminary and blogs at Take Your Vitamin Z.

  • mel

    So many lack discernment, what is more,they do not desire it. It is like putting a frog in a pot of water. While the water is starting to boil, they not even try to convince other Christians they are being silly but they deny the pot even exists. It is very discouraging.

  • Ryan

    Thank you, Mr. Nielsen. A wise and helpful perspective; let us remember Rome, and be amazed at Christ! May the Lord give success to our modern-day "Justin Martyrs" who seek to speak of our faith to the "king."

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  • Aaron Britton

    totally off topic: This is the 4th or 5th blog post I've read in a row on this site that repeats a part of the text (see the beginning of the last paragraph). Is this something netwide? Or just on my computer. I've seen it everywhere lately.

    Aaron

    • http://thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      It's not a problem our editors can see, Aaron, but we've heard about this problem from a few readers. We'll look into it. Thanks for reading!

    • http://tomlarsen.org Tom Larsen

      I think it's a problem with RefTagger (which turns Bible references into links).

  • mel

    @Aaron I don't see what you are seeing. What is repeated?

  • Aaron Britton

    This is how the last paragraph begins as I see it on my screen:

    So let's respond to a political regime that is unjust and out of bounds. We have to. But as we do, our tone should not be driven by fear or panic, since we are receiving a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (So let's respond to a political regime that is unjust and out of bounds. We have to. But as we do, our tone should not be driven by fear or panic, since we are receiving a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28)

    This has happened the last 4 or 5 blogs in a row that I've read. Is this just my mac?

    • mel

      So let's respond to a political regime that is unjust and out of bounds. We have to. But as we do, our tone should not be driven by fear or panic, since we are receiving a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28). There is no dichotomy between vigorously fighting for justice and a confident, quiet assurance that the sky is not falling. Let's embrace both. We fight for justice, but we know that even when the battle is lost, victory belongs to our God in the greater war. So let's proceed with hope, love, patience, and a superior vision that looks to the past to inform our future.

  • samiam

    once you make a deal with the government you have to play along.that's only fair.

    if christian hospitals get fonds and tax releaves (paid for by mostly non christians) it is only fair if the government commands these institutions to provide what the majority paid for.
    if the hospitals were totally privat, this would be another thing.

    we should not talk or think of persecution of situations that might just not go along with what we like. (it would be equally absurd to say that the obama administration is pushing social justice and therefore is forcing an essential part of christianity on everybody.)

    • http://lifeonloislane.blogspot.com/ Lois Kwon

      samiam-

      I have to disagree. The point isn't that we think or talk about the issues stated in regard to "what we like" but instead in regard to the will of God. Where is the biblical basis that by virtue of receiving aid from the government we are obligated to obey and play by their rules? Yes, Christians are called to obey earthly authority in most circumstances (Matthew 22:21), but as the apostle Peter proclaimed, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)

      Christians, knowing that God is the source of all good things, need to understand that although monetary aid seems to come from the government or non-Christian entities, it is ultimately God who provides. The means through which He does so may be un-Christian in themselves, but that does not deter God using them to do His will for His people. I see it as being similar to the Old Testament days, when the Lord used pagan nations to bring Israel back to repentance. Why wouldn't he bless His people in the same manner?

    • mel

      President Obama is an employee of the people. The government belongs to us. We do not belong to the government.

  • http://www.twitter.com/migueljohnson Mike Johnson

    A very well-written piece articulating the future of the debate regarding role of religion in society:

    "Likewise, the church should make every attempt to clarify the misrepresentations about its intentions. For obvious reasons the church will object to being forced to directly participate in activities that violate important core religious teachings, especially when proven alternative pathways already exist. However, in doing so the church is not trying to impose its will on others. " - Bishop Cupich, Spokane.

    http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13263

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Where do you draw the line? If I work for a Scientologist, should they have the right to deny their employees medicine? What about Mormons, should their employees be free of caffiene?

    Not only that, but the whole issue is simply an issue of how close the employer is to paying for an abortion. What if the hospital heals a doctor who performs abortions? Aren't they directly supporting it then? What if the hospital turned them away? Do you have to answer a question before they will give you service as to you stance on birth control?

    Zach uses a lot of war language alluding to the Roman empire and saying to fight. The headline is clearly meant to stir up passions and the comparrison to Rome is meant to get the blood going despite the fact that he is saying the tone needs to be civil. This post is clearly written to excite people and not calm them down.

    • http://lifeonloislane.blogspot.com/ Lois Kwon

      I understand the point you are trying to make about the difficulty of drawing a line, and that is a valid question. But in regard to your examples, I would think there is a difference when stating that one works for a religious organization that in its entirety ascribes to a set of core values. Working for a man who is a Scientologist is not the same thing, as the work you are doing is for the individual man, not for the church of Scientology.

      As for a hospital healing a doctor, I think maybe you're taking the example too far? For it certainly would be violating the core belief that every life is precious to God. Isn't that part of the basis of the Catholic's church's stance on abortion and contraceptives in the first place? That even an embryo that has just been conceived is another human life to be preserved? Perhaps another analogy would work better to illustrate your point here.

      • http://LostCodex.com DRT

        OK, it is the Church of Scientology, or the Church of Mormonism LDS.

        And the doctor example works quite well. They are directly enabling abortions.

        How about this. They give their employees compensation, and their employees buy birth control with it. It is the same thing because money is fungible. They are paying for birth control. Do you still have gas money in your pocket compared with money for groceries? That is a silly idea. Compensation is compensation.

        • http://lifeonloislane.blogspot.com/ Lois Kwon

          Say I choose to work for the Church of Scientology. Isn't it within their rights to have me to sign a contract stating I will follow their rules and core values? I do that anyway with jobs that are nonreligious - they state what they hold to be important to the company, and I sign an agreement about it saying that I will work in accordance with it. So that becomes my problem, isn't it? To choose work for an organization that goes against my personal values?

          I still don't understand how the doctor example works well. We pay the hospital to save his life; we do not pay the doctor to perform abortions. That's a separate issue to be addressed after he is no longer in danger of dying. Yes, by saving his life we allow him to perform more, but it is not directly the same thing. By categorizing this example in this way you are removing his identity as a human being, and it sounds like at this point the value of his life is purely based on his occupation.

          I'd like to point out that I currently do not have a firm stance on the political issues regarding whether the government has or has not the right to do what it is attempting, and how our response should be in the light of Christ. But I am thankful for the discussion; it is certainly making me think. And after having written this I ask, are we getting too technical?

        • Tim

          "They give their employees compensation, and their employees buy birth control with it. It is the same thing because money is fungible."

          No - it is not the same thing. To me, on the political side, the issue here is the *federal* government is over stepping its bounds.

  • Jane

    I think that some fail to see the issue clearly.

    How about we take a step back and look at a different issue which perhaps can shed some light on this one.

    Here's a question: Are books banned in the United States? Well, if you go into a public library during the ALA's Banned Book Week you are likely to think that books are indeed banned. That is, until you head over to the table at the library that is full of specially featured "banned books". Anyone with intellectual honestly has to admit that (other than the most hard core pornography) we do not ban books in the U.S. Now there are times when books are not available in an elementary school library, but that doesn't mean that you can't go to Amazon or Ebay or the public library and get that book. We have such an abundance of books it would be physically impossible for a single school library to possess a copy of each and every book ever printed for school children. So a school librarian has to use some level of discrimination in what he or she puts on those shelves. I am sure that a librarian worth his salt at a private Christian school would use several different criteria in choosing books. So we all know that just because a particular book is not available at a particular library do not mean that it is banned -- despite what the ALA wants us to believe for one week a year.

    Now here's the corelation: Just as banned books are available at some places but not all places, so is birth control. It is not hard to acquire birth control. Drug stores sell it, doctor's offices dispense it, health departments provide it, and Planned Parenthood will use tax payer money to give it away for free. Anyone with any intellectual honesty has to admit that birth control is widely available.

    The argument that seems to be picking up steam in the left-leaning circles, is that Catholics want to eliminate the availability of birth control. That is simply not true. Catholics just don't want to pay for it - or pay the insurance company that will pay for it. Should our government take away their right to make this decision that is based in their deeply held moral convictions? No.

    Our government should protect these rights, not undermine them.

    • http://LostCodex.com DRT

      But what about the Scientologist? Or is it only Christian charities that you will give an exemption.

      • mel

        They do not care about morality. They care about denying mental health and taking money. No one is going to force them to provide mental health. Society picks the things that goes against God. They don't bother with the other. It comes from the heart.

      • Jane

        Is anyone forcing someone to work for a scientologist? I've never worked for a scientologist, but if I was to work for one, I think I would have the common sense to know a little bit out them before I accepted the job. I would want to find out what, if any, coverage they provide and then make my decision on whether or not to work for them based on the entire compensation package. In my case, I would remain on my husband's benefits, so the benefit package (or lack of it) would not be a huge part of the equation for me.

        Best I know, most people consider the entire benefit package before they accept a job offer. I have to believe that most people who accepted their jobs at a Catholic school or agency knew from the get-go that birth control would not be a benefit.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Jesus lived under a brutal Roman occupation. How much did Jesus talk about the Romans and the need to overthrow or change the government?

    Not much.

    We have two kingdoms. Let us do all we can to improve our government for the sakes of ourselves and our neighbors. But let's not ever hitch that wagon to the gospel.

    Too much is at stake to have political gospels.

    • Patrick

      Steve,
      Just how brutal was it? A rebellion put down here or there. What real impact did the Romans have in their lives? They didn't interfere in religious life. They were brutal, but only when they were challenged. I, as many other Christians, are content to live with a secular authority governing us, but, as we constitute that secular authority, should we allow the government to circumscribe our faith? Jesus didn't say much about these things (actually he said a lot in the "render unto…" passage), because I'm sure it wasn't much of an issue except to the zealots. We don't want a theocracy. At least I don't.

      • Bob Ross

        How about the time the Romans destroyed the temple? Does that count as religious interference?

  • mel

    Obama has no more constitutional right to tell a private business that they have to provide something for free than he has to tell a religious organization that they have to provide something that goes against their conscious. Who is he King Obama? Lord Obama?

    • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

      I hope he'll be Adios Obama come November.

  • Brett Gleason

    The Gospel Coalition has a wonderful reputation of holding to the centrality of the gospel. It is unfortunate that the comments of this blog posting are so very one sided. Churches are not being required to have health insurance that covers contraceptives. Institutions who serve a broader purpose (like hospitals) are being required to provide this coverage. This is really a constitutional issue. Do elected officials have the authority to mandate this? The courts will decide It is not a religious freedoms issue. It would be a religious liberty issue if employees of these institutions were being required to take contraceptives. Again a certain arm of the media wants to create outrage in the hopes of getting people to vote against President Obama. I hope that future blogs will stay central to the mission of the Gospel Coalition or provide for a more balanced presentation of opinions when issues of public policy are discussed.

    • http://thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      Brett, how would you argue before this group of scholars that they have misunderstood this issue to threaten religious freedom?

      • Brett Gleason

        Thanks Colin for your question. I can argue against this impressive group of scholars the same way I can argue against the Supreme Court that independent spending by corporations and unions is protected by the first amendment. Instead, by allowing this independent spending our elections can now really be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

        I simply respectfully disagree with their collective opinion and do not see the threat to religious freedoms. I think many who are fanning the flames of this issue, not the scholarly writers of this document, are doing so out of purely political motives. An essential part of our democracy is compromise. This decision to me seems to be a legitimate compromise in a pluralistic society. Although it is not a one to one comparison, one could make a similar argument regarding paying taxes. I don't want my tax dollars going to support various things that are funded by the federal government. Likewise, there are many things that I think should be better funded. I don't get to make those choices - our elected officials and the various governmental agencies that have been given certain authority by our elected officials make those choices. I simply am required to pay my tax bill.

        If churches were being required to purchase insurance that covered contraceptives then I think there would be an infringement upon religious freedoms. Again, to me the distinction is a legitimate one. It is appropriate that there is a difference between what the law requires of the Lutheran Church versus what the law requires of Lutheran General Hospital. It is probably one area where we will need to agree to disagree. Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement on this issue.

        • Patrick

          Here's my question. As a Christian and a participant in a democracy, why would you want Lutheran General Hospital to be burdened by such conscious-restricting measures? Forget about the law for a second. This is ultimately about Christian service providers asked to work against their conscious. They don't have to do it. That's fine. But there will be fewer Christians in that space in the years to come. That will be the result.

        • http://thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

          I think we've entered extremely dangerous territory when Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is treated altogether different by the government than the Unitarian congregation across Half Day Road. Keep in mind that your tax dollars support all churches, too, through exemptions for charitable giving. Speaking in constitutional terms, what distinguishes the church from the church-supported seminary? I don't see how we as Christians can say conscience should be protected in our churches but not in our seminaries or any other religious institution animated by the same religious belief. We as Protestants might not have a problem with contraception, and this so-called compromise might make political sense for the President, but I'm thankful for these Christian leaders who help us see the consequences of this precedent-setting decision.

  • Doug Bishop

    I agree with Chuck Colson's point in the article referenced. The real issue here is that President Obama has reached into the affairs of private entities with an edict that they do his bidding in a particular way.

    Under what authority can the President do such a thing? And, if it is allowed to stand, then what is next?

  • paul

    While Mr Nielsen brings up many good points, at times I feel that he loses touch with reality.

    "Media in our culture tend toward alarmism. When media moguls smell fear they see dollar signs. But Christians are different. We have not been given a spirit of fear."

    >Yes, love casts out fear, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we Christians are so different from this world that we cannot empathize with them and their thinking. Our hope is in Christ to redeem humanity, but history has shown us that the world can get frightening when the proper measures are not taken.

    "Though we no longer live in the shadow of Rome, our culture is dark and will probably grow darker. But whether we lose our jobs because we refuse to participate in the abortion industry or, God forbid, one day an anti-Christian government actually murders children in the streets, the light of Christ will never be extinguished."

    >Do you believe that this is the direction that our culture is headed? That this society would allow the govt to murder children in the street? The devil is more conniving than that, and he will come as an angel to deceive. Why do you view non-believers as if they are demons waiting to create chaos out of enjoyment. I don't wish to bash on a fellow Christian brother, but I am tired of Christians misdiagnosing our society and creating delusions.

    We are all made in the image of God, but fall short of the glory of God because of sin. Understand that not everybody is a serial killer waiting to pounce on a victim. Understand the height of God's holiness and objectively weigh the moral status of our society, and you will have more compassion for non-believers and realized that we aren't so different from them... we, children of grace, are not that different from the normal person, but we are called as sons of our Father in heaven through Christ.

  • Tim Wang

    Twenty-eight US States, including New York and California, require all health insurance providers to cover birth control. These state laws have been in effect for years. Obama's change only extends these to cover the rest of the union. The fact that this issue has only now been raised is a clear sign that it's a political, not a moral issue. Why haven't Christians been up in arms about this since 2000? Is it just because the Church is being played by the Republican party (Yet again!) because it's an election year?

    • Tim

      Exactly...the STATES have chosen this. The issue here is that Obama is trying to bypass the states. The message to the federal government needs to be to get their hands out of these affairs.

  • Zach

    The new legislation does not merely extend the laws current in 28 states. The twenty-eight states that require health insurance providers to cover birth control allow for exemptions. For instance, employers can self-insure. Some States like Maryland allow "religious organizations" to leave off contraception and abortifacients if there is a conflict with the organizations beliefs. This language: "religious organization" is significantly broader than the current HHS rules allow. Furthermore, MSNBC host and frequent Obama cheerleader, Lawrence O'Donnell maintained that the 28 states statistic was dishonest. He sited an exemption from the state of Georgia that permits employers from opting out of prescription drug coverage altogether. The bottom line is that current State legislation allows religious employers freedom to operate within the bounds of their conscience. The proposed federal legislation does not.

  • Concerned

    Dear Protestant brothers and sisters,

    This is a good opportunity to learn why indeed you have few qualms with artificial contraception when, historically, it has been universally condemned by Christians for 2000 years--until 1930 with the Anglican communion. Check out this article (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/contraception/) and peruse more sources.

    Why has the Catholic Church stood alone in defending traditional morality, where many Protestant denominations are folding on the inerrancy of the Bible, homosexual "marriage," homosexual ordination, ordination of women, the intrinsic evil of abortion? While we should fight the HHS mandate vigorously, it is a good idea for Protestants to learn the history of their beliefs in the so-called "neutrality" of artificial contraception.

    In Christ.

  • http://www.windleshelton.com windle Shelton

    Obama and this administration have only contempt for traditional Christians and Families. He is unchecked by the media and , to my amazement. is blindly followed in his arrogant disrespect for the Constitution by virtually all Democrats..Is this not Demonic ?
    How could ANY informed believer vote for any Democrat at any level who does not reject Obama and his ideology . Please Counsel your family.