I am hesitant to write this post. I fear it could damage me and my level of influence. However I fear not doing something I sense I am called to even more. So I have to write this. I will try to be as soft as possible and pull punches where I can yet I feel many things here must be said and inserted into a current national cultural conversation.
From the start of Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the federal government over some provisions in the health care bill or Obamacare if you will, I have had quite a few uneasy feelings and a sense that something is not just right. In the past few days I have seen an onslaught of tweets, status updates, and blog posts concerning the Hobby Lobby issue. This social media barrage coupled with the regular news coverage of the story has escalated those uneasy feelings. Those uneasy feelings as unpacked and explored have revealed three areas where I have concerns with what has been said and argued.
The initial area of concern is that of the Green family’s general attitude about the whole thing. Every time I have read about their desire to willingly subject themselves to the over $1.3 million daily fine I have been stunned by their level of defiance. A Shakespearean phrase rolls through mind every time I read about or think about this. “Me thinks ‘they” doth protest too much.” As believers we are to obey the civil governments set before us. Paul writes to the believers in Rome who were under a government far more hostile to Christianity than our own:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7
Again I want to point out that this was written to those living under a government that openly sought to eradicate Christianity. They saw the followers of Christ as enemies to the good of the state and wanted them gone. Now there are those who make their money yelling at cameras on certain right leaning TV stations and into microphones filling conservative radio air waves that would try to convince you that our government is even worse. I am going to leave the absurdity of those claims alone and assume that you can decipher that for yourself. We are explicitly called to follow our government as we follow God.
Now I know the natural response and push back to the preceding paragraph is what about civil disobedience? That is a valid claim. There are instances in the Bible where people openly defy the government as they follow God. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego, John & Peter are just a few examples of this. The concept though is never explicitly laid out as a direct command in scripture; rather we are given the principles of it in these and other examples. What constitutes a valid case for civil disobedience? An instance where we are told to do something that would directly lead to us not following God in that instance. The Green’s claim that is what Hobby Lobby is being asked to do. They say that providing health insurance that covers all classes of birth control violates their conscience as followers of God.
I want to strongly push back at this point. But before I do I want to unequivocally state that I am anti-abortion. As I write this I am sitting on the couch with my almost 4 week old daughter in my lap. Babies are such a precious gift and the thought of killing one while in the womb is a horrific thought. However I do not think that providing the type of insurance that is in question should violate the moral conscience of the Green’s. Here is why. They are a for-profit business. What ultimately drives their decisions is their bottom line. (If this were not the case they wouldn’t carry so many crack pot end times and prosperity gospel books in the Mardel division of the company, they carry them because they sell and make them money.) This leads to a culture where decisions are based fiscally and not always by faith. This is why they have truck drivers working on Sunday and a non-air conditioned warehouse that routinely exceeds 125 degrees or more during the work day in the summers. This also means they hire the best person for the job, not the best Christian for each job. There are potentially scores of non-Christians currently employed in the Green family line of businesses: Hobby Lobby, Mardel, & Hemispheres. It is safe to say that many of these employees are also women and that many do not share the same convictions that the Green’s or you or I do when it comes to abortion. Now here is the ultimate question to decide whether or not the Green’s are facing a valid case for civil disobedience. Is it their place to make the moral decision for each and every one of their employees? If they followed the law and allowed for the type of insurance coverage called for by Obamacare to be in place would they be forcing their female employees to take abortifacient contraceptives? No they would not be. That decision would still be left to each individual employed by Hobby Lobby. Who has the right to make that decision, the individual or their company owners? As you consider that question I want to illustrate my answer in two ways. I have two children, an 18 month old son and a newborn daughter. Right now I have covers on all of our exposed outlets and we are in the process of putting locks on our cabinets. We do this to protect them at this stage of their lives. As they get older we will remove the outlet covers and the cabinets will no longer have the child locks on them. We will teach them and expect them to make good and right decisions. God did a similar thing in the Garden of Eden. He put the tree of life there and told Adam & Eve not to eat of it. Have you ever wondered why He put it there in the first place? Why not just remove the temptation? I won’t go into a full-blown extended theological treatise here (my daughter will be hungry shortly), however I will simply say that without the ability to choose wrong, we would be following God robotically and not out of love and true commitment. So is it the Green’s place to make moral decisions for unbelievers? I would say no. Rather as business owners their duty is to provide a safe and friendly work environment that allows their employees to be productive yet also be strongly connected to their families while providing a fair and sufficient salary.
The final and sometimes loudest objection is that the government is infringing on the rights of the Green family to practice their religious beliefs. Is the government coming to the Green family and saying they can no longer attend their church, or even that they themselves have to be a family that routinely gets abortions? No, that would be absurd and would be a direct full-on assault of their right to practice religion. Nonetheless, is instituting laws and mandates for their businesses to follow an attack on their religious freedom? I think there are several ways to look at this question. The first revolves around the question of whether or not a for-profit business is afforded the same level of religious liberty as an individual or religious institution. I would say no. This is the first line of the government’s attack of the lawsuit and one with which I personally agree. Hobby Lobby and the other Green family businesses are for-profit companies. They are established to make money. Fiduciary concerns drive their business decisions. If this were not the case their products would be free or close to it, or they would give away 100% of their profits to various charitable causes (I know, I know, the Green’s give away a lot, but not 100% of their company’s profits). I would say as long as they are a fiscally led company (as are all businesses) they are a secular business and not privy to the rights of religious freedom that we as individuals are.
I think there is a deeper way to look at this question of whether or not their religious liberty is being attacked though. It revolves around the concern of who holds and guarantee’s our religious freedom? Are we free to worship and follow God because of the United States Constitution or because of the Cross? I would argue it is always the latter. It is the truth of the Gospel that has set us free and nothing can ever trump that. No law or decree of man can ever jeopardize or infringe upon the freedom we have in the Gospel. When we look to anything other than Christ to protect our freedom’s in Him we are looking at the wrong place.
I know many people disagree with the things I have said here and that is ok. I hope I have caused you to think deeper and to look at this issue from a much broader and a much deeper level.