Take a Stand for Religious Liberty — How Pastors Can Organize Grass Root Efforts in Their Congregations
I was greatly encouraged to receive a copy of a letter a Lutheran pastor in Indiana has sent out to his fellow pastors in that state. He is encouraging them to organize grass-root protests and actions in their local congregations. I strongly encourage all parish pastors to do something similar in their congregations and encourage their fellow pastors to do likewise. There has rarely before been in our country such a serious threat to religious liberty. We can not simply sit back and expect, or wait, for somebody else “to do something” about it.
February 27, 2012
Dear Brothers in the Office,
In his February 3 letter, Synod President Matthew Harrison wrote, “I encourage the members of the LCMS to join with me in supporting efforts to preserve our essential right to exercise our religious beliefs.” I am writing in response to this call.
A recent federal Health and Human Services Department “mandate” requires all healthcare plans to include “preventive care” that includes even abortion-inducing drugs. It also mandates several other practices that violate sincere and long-held moral teachings of other major Christian denominations. Although religious institutions are not required to list these “services” explicitly in their insurance policies, their insurance carriers must provide them to all persons covered by their health plans at no additional charge. This so-called “accommodation” announced on February 10 merely enables the pretense that those who have profound, faith-based moral objections can avoid providing these services. In fact, the rules were adopted with no change whatsoever from the version published months earlier.
It is not only religious institutions that are forced to violate their beliefs and their consciences. Faithful Christian employers who acknowledge the sanctity of life are not permitted even the fig leaf of pretending they are not implicated in these abortions or other practices that violate the teachings of their faith.
Our own LCMS healthcare plan is among the few that have a “grandfather” exemption. For the moment we are exempt from this requirement. Our exemption is, however, very fragile. Already our costs are higher than necessary because we have been unable to adapt our plan to changing circumstances and possibilities. As soon as we make any substantial change, our exemption vanishes. Even if we ourselves were totally unaffected by this mandate, however, we ought to stand with those whose freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion are being violated. Unless we defend religious liberty, we shall surely lose it.
Saint Paul’s has agreed to sponsor a “grassroots” effort to respond to President Harrison’s call. This plan grew out of conversations among members of several area congregations, and especially the CTS community. Further discussions followed President Harrison’s February 14 letter, in which he urged again that we “.fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces..” We are encouraged and strengthened by his clear and courageous stand before Congress on February 26.
The plan is an Internet-assisted effort to educate our members concerning the real and present danger to the religious liberty we have thus far enjoyed, and to encourage them to take at least a small step to stand in defense of this most valuable freedom. Although American Lutherans have traditionally avoided involvement in affairs of the State, today the State is invading the realm of the Church. This violates both our Constitution and our American traditions, as Pastor Harrison has noted in issuing his call to action.
The plan is quite flexible. Each congregation can adapt it to its own situation and interests. It is interactive in that some aspects are yet to be finalized, depending on the response from our pastors and congregations. The proposed general approach is as follows:
* Saint Paul’s is in the process of gathering, preparing and posting extensive background materials and resources on an Internet site and a Facebook page. These are meant to facilitate congregational and individual study of this and related issues. This material is now beginning to be posted at www.scandhouse.org/liberty<http://www.scandhouse.org/liberty> and on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/sureLiberty<http://www.facebook.com/sureLiberty> ). The website offers the advantage of stability and organization, while the Facebook permits quick, if somewhat chaotic, response. Particularly if a reliable moderator emerges, a forum feature may be added to facilitate discussion and interaction – based either on Facebook or the website. * More in-depth resources and analysis will be added in the coming days (and weeks). This is an interactive effort: members may offer additional high-quality materials that may be added to the site (as time and stamina permit). These resources are being developed under leadership of Chris Barnekov, a St. Paul’s member with a doctorate in economic policy and four decades’ experience as a senior policy analyst for six different federal agencies. In recent years, Dr. Barnekov has focused almost exclusively on issues of Church and State (a brief bio will be posted on the site). * Congregations are encouraged to discuss these issues in adult classes or other appropriate forums. The resources are meant to facilitate these discussions, gathering background information and analysis in one place, with several layers of depth. * Each congregation is encouraged to send a letter signed by as many individual members as wish (a sample letter is attached and posted on the website, but of course congregations may write their own: we simply urge that letters be kept succinct and positive in tone). * For strategic reasons, we suggest that the letters be addressed to Fort Wayne’s Roman Catholic Bishop Kevin Rhoades. The main reasons for this are (1) Catholics are currently the main target (we’re next), and (2) the letter can be positive and encouraging in tone, rather than negative (as a letter to HHS would have to be – but we’ll send copies to appropriate government officials). See the sample attached to this email. * Congregations are encouraged to send their letters to St. Paul’s by shortly after Easter. They will be presented in a public event including as many pastors (and members) as wish to participate, with media invited. * A precise date will be set and announced on the website and Facebook page, depending on how many wish to take part in person (they may choose to bring and present their own letters at that time). This event may include congregations from the wider Christian community (parallel efforts are being considered in some other denominations). * The tone of this event, as of the letters, is meant to be joyful, a celebration of thanksgiving to Our Lord for His gracious blessings of liberty. We do not, of course, have in mind a public worship service (it will involve other denominations), rather a celebration that will have the effect of a demonstration, but not the tone of a protest. * The more precise details of the proposed event will depend largely on feedback from pastors and congregations. Many interesting possibilities have already been mentioned. We will use the Internet site and Facebook to have a “conversation” about this.
The media is falsely portraying this controversy as a concern of only a few “reactionary” Catholic bishops, and claiming it is all about contraception or an assault on women’s rights. The true issue is religious liberty, and this is a serious concern to all believers. We want to demonstrate this by standing, literally, with those who are currently the main target of this unprecedented assault on Freedom of Religion.
It is our hope that, if the Lord wills, we can shock the media by the unusual sight of Lutherans and other denominations rallying in support of our Roman Catholic brethren. This falls into the category of a “man bites dog story,” which the media generally finds irresistible (even though they might otherwise choose to ignore us). We wish to counteract the negative image the media typically presents of Christians, and get past the usual media filter to help Americans understand the significance and danger of this assault on liberty.
More importantly, we wish to educate our own members and raise their awareness of these increasingly important issues of relations between Church and State. In past years, we could safely ignore these issues because in America the ‘Kingdom at the Left Hand’ largely remained within its own ‘bounds.’ Sadly, this is no longer true today, and we now face the unprecedented need to “defend” our boundaries. We hope to do so with the means provided by our Lord, the Gospel and the Sword of the Spirit.
We invite you to consider joining with us in this most atypical excursion into public policy, and helping us bring a Christian perspective into this controversy. I would appreciate your feedback and thoughts.
Sincerely in Christ,
Pastor Peter C. Cage Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church Fort Wayne, Indiana