Opportunistic “persecution”

Normally on Fridays I don’t write anything on my blog because I’m hard at work on my sermon. But the whole contraception quagmire has gotten me too churned up to focus. There are countries in our world right now where Christians are actually being murdered for their religious beliefs. This is particularly the case in Egypt, where the Coptic Christians are being brutally attacked by Muslim lynch-mobs. It is profoundly disrespectful to the genuine martyrdom that these Christians suffer when American evangelical celebrities like Rick Warren try to fan the flames of our government’s contraception debate for politically opportunistic reasons. And it’s abominable for recent Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographer Eric Metaxas to try to make an analogy between contraception and the Holocaust.

As I related in my last post, I share the sacramental worldview that is behind the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception. Though I use birth control, I don’t think churches should have to pay for it. What I’ve found as I’ve had a reasonably civil conversation with people who disagreed with my perspective is that there’s more than one legitimate paradigm for analyzing this issue. Pregnancy isn’t a disease, but it is apparently something that insurance companies try to weasel their way out of covering. I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the issue, but I’ve read enough to know that it’s a completely dishonest caricature to cast the pro-contraception side as consisting in secular zealots who are trying to attack religion. What I can’t stand about our political system is that people who engage in hysterical outrage-promotion never seem to suffer any consequences for the real violence that they inflict on our civil discourse. If there were ever a good reason to hope that God is storing up wrath, this is definitely one.

Obama has retreated on the issue, seemingly addressing the Catholic concerns, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because it’s too delicious an opportunity for people who desperately want to make him into an anti-Christ. I don’t agree with Obama’s decision. I just want for Christians to stop being sleazy spin-doctors, because it’s a stumbling block that keeps others away from the saving love of Jesus Christ. Don’t you understand that your myopic lust for political power is the reason that so many people won’t come to church? Yes, I understand that your megachurches are growing 1000% every year (with people who have a vested interest in agreeing with your ideology), but overall religious affiliation is in free fall in our society. Why are you so unconcerned with simply being above reproach in how you conduct yourselves politically for the sake of being a witness of Jesus Christ above all else? I just want for us to have integrity. That’s all.

Consider this passage from 1 Peter 2:13-17:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Honor the emperor? Peter wrote this when Nero was the emperor. Nero barbecued Christians inside giant torches that he used to light up his garden banquets. And Peter was saying that for the sake of Christian witness, in order to “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people,” Christians should “honor” an emperor who was zealously trying to kill them and destroy their movement. So what about a president who considers himself a fellow Christian and is trying to weigh multiple paradigms for understanding a complicated issue? It is a complete farce to call this complex debate between legitimate women’s health concerns and a religious doctrine that I happen to support “persecution” compared to all the real persecution that Christians have suffered historically. It’s kind of like the national political equivalent of flopping melodramatically on the basketball court when you know good and well the other guy’s elbow didn’t come within a foot of touching you.

So please step back and ask whether you’ve gotten sucked into the spiritually devastating partisan meme war that may end up being the reason that our country is just as secular as Europe 30 years from now. If you’re a Christian, represent Christ not just by having so-called “Biblical” opinions but by how you conduct yourself and treat other people. I know that Romans is the favorite Biblical book of the people I’m addressing (who may or may not read this), but it seems like many of you haven’t read past Romans 11, so I’ll close with a passage from Romans 12 that captures the culminating purpose of all the systematic theology we love to argue about from the opening chapters:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.