For more than 10 years I have purposefully avoided partisan politics because it too often serves to politicize the faith and distract the church from its principal purpose of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.
However, this government’s recent volley across the bow of religious freedom — in the form of the birth control mandate placed upon religious institutions — is nothing less than a direct assault on individual freedom of conscience and religion. For the Christian, this is not a partisan issue involving rival political parties nor is it a matter of women’s reproductive rights. Nowhere in the Catholic church’s response to the federal government mandate is there a denial of access to contraception.
The Catholic church is simply and rightly saying that they should not be compelled by force of law to provide services that violate their moral convictions. To be sure, this is first and foremost an issue of sphere sovereignty between church and state — and the stakes cannot be overstated.
Sphere sovereignty rests on the idea of an all-encompassing created order, designed and governed by God. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the Dutch statesman and theologian, was most influential in working out the theological foundations of sphere sovereignty by clarifying the distinct roles and responsibilities that were assigned to the various arenas of social and civic life. Kuyper pointed out that within their respective spheres the church, the state, and the family (among others), had specific functions and authority that should not be hindered by any other domain. Thus the family should not be encumbered by the state, the state should not assume the role or impose the doctrines of the church, and the church should be free from interference by the state.
A more limited formulation of this idea was expressed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which separated the powers of the church, the individual, and the state.
Many Protestants — as well as other religions — may be inclined to think this is a “Catholic issue,” but it isn’t! This has nothing to do with the Catholic church’s doctrinal stand on contraception. Instead, it has everything to do with the state trying to impose its will upon the church when the state’s social and ideological agenda conflicts with the church’s moral and religious beliefs.
Regardless of whether or not the administration compromises on this issue (and so far they haven’t), the government’s ideological convictions and intentions have been made clear. This government has become so committed to the progressive ideological agenda that it can justify the assertion of its power over any and all opposition, including that which is protected under the Constitution. This should awaken concern within every American, religious or otherwise, because liberty is rarely lost in one fell swoop and tyranny toward one class eventually reaches the broader society.
What may appear to be an inconsequential issue involving contraception and who’s going to pay for it is in reality a small but incremental step toward diminished individual liberty and the suppression of any opposing ideology, which in this case is religious.
Even recent history offers numerous examples of nations, some of them democracies, whose freedom gave way to tyranny following a seemingly inconsequential series of events and actions. More often, the loss of freedom and essential human rights occur incrementally, barely noticed by the population until it’s too late.
Christians of every tradition, let us take notice and let us stand together with the Catholic church. This most recent action should convince every thinking man or woman that our government has become contemptuous of restraint and too powerful. Unless this government is returned to the constraining power of the Constitution, we will travel the hard road to statism and lose our essential liberties and our rights to think, speak, and live in obedience to God.
© 2012 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.