WHY: Politics Matter for Religious People (or, why I love the Catholic Church)

Recently, Obama went head to head with the Catholic Church. Unless you’re Martin Luther or want burned at the stake as a heretic, that’s almost never a good idea. In early February Obama announced that every employer who provides health insurance would also be required to pay for such things as contraceptives and abortion causing contraceptives. Almost immediately, the Catholic Church rose up as an institution and gave Obama  a rather emphatic “NO.”  The Catholic Church, especially in America, is often a sleeping giant. But when that giant wakes, the great institution is quite a force to be reckoned with, as Obama will be reminded through this and the continued ramifications of his healthcare plans.

Heres a bit more on the story:

When Obama announced this, a letter was written by the Archbishop for Military Services, Fr Timothy Broglio. The letter was to be read by Catholic Chaplains regarding Obama’s edict. The church, within her exercise of religious rights, denounced Obama’s proposal and explained why they and their charities would not be willing or compelled to provide care that went against religious convictions. Functioning from the church structure of top-down theology, the message was intend to alert believers under her umbrella to how the political regime had begun to interfere with religious affairs.

And the story gets better. The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out an email to chaplains in the military, to inform them that the letter was not coordinated with their office and then asked that it not be read from the pulpit. The office was afraid that it might cause civil unrest. No one wants unrest. Especially not within the armed forces of a nation founded on civil unrest.

It may not seem like this is important. After all, Evangelicals gripe about policy all the time. Why is it different in this instance, except that it’s being done by Catholics? Why is it such an issue that the Army didn’t want Catholics disrupting the way things were with this letter? It makes sense, on some level, to keep religious fervor from infiltrating the military.

But it is quite a problem for believers, especially those who vote. Obama, for all his merits, championed a policy that violated the right to exercise religious freedom in their health and use of finances. The policy required Catholics and other religious groups to go against conscience. Catholics, in their institution, are rigidly pro-life and entirely against contraceptives. To force them (and others) to comply with such legislation is an attack on first amendment rights.

Not only so, but the Office of Chaplains censored free speech. If it isn’t rectified, this action could set a precedent  for future governmental actions regarding free speech. Archbishop Broglio had a right to put his pent to paper and his chaplains had a right to follow his leading and read that letter at their masses.

This thing violated rights all over the place in the First Amendment. But the Catholic Church stood up and told Obama he couldn’t do this and thus, some things have changed. Not as much as they should, but there’s been a bit of progress. Primarily, the police has taken the responsibility from the shoulders of the charities/hopsitals/etc that are run by the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. Instead, it now requires health insurance companies to cover the controversial issues, like contraceptives and those that can cause abortions. It’s a bit of a difference, but not a big enough one. It just puts the glove on the other hand since the Church is still paying for those health insurance companies….

This is why people of religious conviction should pay attention to politics and to intricate details of political power plays. If the government can censor free speech now, what might it lead to later? If they can dictate the way that a religious institution spends its money and provides for those who work within it, then what might they try to do in the future? It’s a problem of precedents, you see. It’s a matter of, if we start with this now, where will it lead?

But it’s okay, because the Catholic Church wouldn’t take it. And you don’t mess with that, especially as a politician–it’s too many votes to risk losing. Which is why, even though they do things wrong occasionally, sometimes when that ancient institution throws her weight around, it’s a really good thing. While Evangelicals are sorting out controversy over the new Calvinists, the Catholic Church is taking care of business and protecting our rights to argue: did he die only for the elect? or did he really die for everyone?

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*I do not hate Obama. I said he has merits. I think he’s done some decent things. And I’ll give him the credit he’s due for being an incredibly charismatic person. He made me hopeful when I heard him speak, standing in the cold outside Key Arena. Me, hopeful, and I’m a cynic. But this was not okay.

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