Several of my friends and colleagues have been writing about the controversy about the requirement in the Affordable Care Act to provide women and men with contraception, including birth control pills, with no co-pays. Among them are Richard Heyduck and Frederick Schmidt. I’ve responded to both either in the comments following the article or on Facebook. I appreciate the opportunity to think through the challenges presented by the controversy and their thoughts about it.
In further discussion, Dr. Schmidt continues his thoughts about prejudice against Catholics in a personal way that includes some of his own family history. I had objected in his first post that calling Protestant failure to stand with the Catholic bishops prejudice went too far. I will not deny that prejudice against Catholics exists and much of the volatility of the rhetoric against the Roman Catholic Church and the US Council of Catholic Bishops has its roots in that prejudice. Equally, I think we have to own the misogyny in the rhetoric, typified by the infamous picture of the five men at the table to testify at the hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Chairman Darrell Issa’s refusal to let a woman speak in favor of the US HHS ruling. Each form of prejudice is painful to its victims and leads many of us to respond to the controversy from wounds that are chronic and deep.
Where do we go in the conversation if prejudice is where we start? It’s a little like the Christian guitar player who says, “God gave me this song” which everyone knows means “therefore you can’t criticize it”. Is there a way to offer arguments for or against the ruling that aren’t about prejudice, but really are arguments about religious freedom or birth control? Obviously, I think there is, or I wouldn’t be writing. I won’t go into the things I love about the Roman Catholic Church or offer assurances that “some of my best friends are Catholic” because I would only be digging myself deeper into the ditch of prejudice.
So what if we offer a similar argument that’s not about birth control or about Roman Catholics? What if there were a large, powerful denomination that had a moral objection to safety regulations on construction sites because it’s God’s will that accidents happen? What if they insisted that they shouldn’t have to pay for hard hats because it’s a violation of their religious freedom? What if it was a hardship for a worker to have to pay for his own hard hat, but he didn’t qualify for assistance through other organizations that supplied low cost or free hard hats? What if he did qualify for a free hard hat, but the organizations that provided the hard hats were in jeopardy because the large, powerful denomination was also lobbying to decrease their funding based on the aforementioned objection to safety regulations? If the majority of Americans believe, and there’s research to prove, that the use of hard hats on construction sites save lives, should this denomination be given a waiver in their construction projects because of their religious objection to safety regulations? Churches aren’t excluded from building codes or labor laws on the basis of religious freedom. Why should the RC Church be excluded from providing medication and devices that are considered protective for women and men by the medical community?
Part of the problem is that many see women who use contraception as wanton floozies who deserve what they get. There are many statements I’ve read and heard that relate contraception to inappropriate sexual activity rather than considering it a normal supplement to health care that includes family planning, disease prevention, and alleviation of suffering caused by hormonal imbalances.The majority of women who use birth control are married, in committed relationships, or are among the 58% who take the Pill for medical reasons like relief of migraines & endometriosis. I think it helps to picture the average American housewife when talking about contraception.
I appreciate that Dr. Schmidt is trying to encourage us to think theologically and ecclesiologically about the issue and agree that we’re not getting there. But I wonder if it’s because this is one of those times when it’s really about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Was Jesus supporting the Erastian notion of the church being subordinate to the state when he suggested that there are things that belong to God and there are things belong to the empire? If this argument is a matter of religious liberty, then it seems to me that there is a conflict between the liberty of the RCC and the liberty of non-Catholics in their employ. Catholics are entitled to believe, to teach, and to practice a theology of life that prohibits birth control, but the government has the responsibility of protecting all of its citizens. Many denominations employ thousands of people who do not adhere to their beliefs through organizations structured in such a way that they can receive billions of tax dollars without violating the establishment clause. In doing so, they put these affiliated organizations under the realm of Caesar. While they may be doing good works in the name of God, they’ve intentionally funded themselves through Caesar. It’s no wonder we’re having a difficult time thinking theologically and ecclesiologicaly about the controversy when the churches themselves have taken it out of that realm.