Sunday, August 19, 2012

Some Bitter Fruit

The issue has faded off the front pages and slogged into the courtrooms now--the Obama administration's attempt to force religious employers to pay for medical insurance for their employees that includes contraception and abortion coverage.  The only "religious exemption" to be allowed was for actual houses of worship themselves; if a religious group has hospitals, schools, universities or other charitable activities, they were to be outside the exemption.  There was a lot of uproar, and the spectacle of the Southern Baptist Convention siding with the Roman Catholic Church against the Federal Government.  The uproar has quieted down, but the lawsuits have been filed.  One small business even persuaded a judge to grant an injunction against the rule being applied to their operation--something that usually only happens if the judge thinks the plaintiff has a chance of winning his case.

But over time, this to-do reminded me of something I wrote almost exactly five years ago.  It started as a comment on my online friend Steve Sensenig's "Theological Musings" blog.  Steve thought enough of my comment to re-post it as a guest post.  I re-copied it to my own blog as well:   For those who might want to see the original extensive discussion, it's here:

For those who would prefer the quick version, I was pointing out a dichotomy that has existed in Christianity for most of its history.  Is Christianity (a) a set of activities engaged in on Sunday morning, led by official staff with a set of tenets enforced by the staff, or it is (b) a way of living, 24/7/365, in relationship with God and with each other.  Some might say it is both, but I pointed out five years ago that it is not a stable symbiosis--over time, (a) crowds out (b).  In fact, thinking about it now, I would add that in times when (a) dominates, the church is dull, boring, and what we might call "dead"--as well as having problems with internal corruption (pastoral adultery scandals among the Pentacostals and charismatics, a la Bakker, Swaggert, et al., pedophilia scandals in the Roman Catholic church, financial scandals among the Eastern Orthodox--and that's just the modern stuff, history is full of it!).  And in times of renewal and revival, (b) comes to the fore:  people begin to focus on applying Christianity to their daily lives and to the society they live in.  The abolition of slavery in Great Britain and its possessions was one result of this; the growth of abolitionist sentiment in the United States was likewise a result of the early 19th century revivals, and the failure of those revivals to penetrate as far in the Deep South as they did in the North and Midwest was a major cause of the Civil War.  (At Red River Meeting House, the beginning of the Second Great Awakening and the Camp Meeting movement in 1800, attendees saw the Holy Spirit falling on blacks as well as whites and concluded that black people did have souls--contrary to what some southern preachers were teaching--and that slavery was wrong.  That area, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, became an anti-slavery stronghold, and may well have been a factor in Kentucky not joining the Confederacy.  If that revival had spread farther south as well as to the north, the Civil War might have been avoidable.)

Back to the present day:  It came to me that the administration's mandate does make some sense if religion is limited to what you do inside a building on Sunday morning or some other specified time, and is not expected to have any real influence on what you do the rest of the week.  So it is a result of, a "fruit" to use a Biblical term, of the (a) view of Christianity.  But the mandate is a total rejection of (b), claiming to override any place for Christian principles in the workplace or the health insurance market.  So this mandate controversy is a debate over the real nature of Christianity, not just what some in the government think it is, but what it ought to be, and to some extent, who gets to decide?   The fate of real religious freedom in this country hangs in the balance.


ded said...

No doubt in my mind that religious freedom is doomed in this country. That is if such freedom is to be based on the decisions of politicians who seek to ride the current winds.

It seems to me that politics long ago decided that moving moral boundaries of the populace is part of its mandate.

postmodern redneck said...

Long ago is right. It isn't just the politicians, it's the entire upper/academia/elite class. You can see it in the writings of people like George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells from a century ago.

Unless things change, real Christians will have to de-institutionalize, to eliminate as much of their structure as possible. Visible structures can be controlled. That's why the Chinese government opposes house churches (and some local zoning boards do in this country). Rome was unable put down the early church--until it was legalized and encouraged to have buildings and organization.