LCMS President’s statement on HHS mandate

Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has issued a statement on the federal government’s mandate that religious organizations must provide free abortion pills and contraceptives to their employees in their insurance plans.  He clarifies what this will mean for Lutheran organizations and expresses his strong opposition:

A Statement on Recent HHS Decision and Religious Freedom

We are deeply distressed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recent decision to require nearly all private health plans, including those offered by religious employers, to cover contraceptives. This will include controversial birth-control products such as “Ella” and the “morning after” pill, even though the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that such drugs can cause the death of a baby developing in the womb. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) objects to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception, and we are opposed to the HHS’ decision mandating the coverage of such contraceptives.

This HHS action relates to a provision in the “health care reform” legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) signed into law in 2010. The church’s benefits partner, Concordia Plan Services, which provides health care coverage to nearly 48,000 people, has been actively monitoring this legislation and, as a result, Concordia Health Plan (CHP)—the LCMS church workers’ health plan—has been maintained as a “grandfathered” plan. As such, employers and workers participating in CHP would not be subjected to the mandate. However, many religious organizations do not have grandfathered plans and cannot avail themselves of the extremely narrow religious-employer exemption, which only is applicable to religious employers that primarily serve and employ members of that faith.

For centuries, Lutherans have joyfully delivered Christ’s mercy to others and embraced His call to care for the needy within our communities and around the world. In a nation that has allowed more than 54 million legal abortions since 1973, we must consider the marginalization of unborn babies and object to this mandate.

In addition, I encourage the members of the LCMS to join with me in supporting efforts to preserve our essential right to exercise our religious beliefs. This action by HHS will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law and operating within the framework of their religious tenets. We add our voice to the long list of those championing for the continued ability to act according to the dictates of their faith, and provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to society’s most vulnerable, without being discriminated against by government.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a church body of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus, has affected the lives of millions of people with care, aid, housing, health care, spiritual care and much more. We have been a force for good in this nation, promoting education (the nation’s largest Protestant school system), marriage and giving people the tools and assistance to be good citizens. We live and breathe Romans 13:3–7. The governing authorities are “God’s servant for good.” We pray constantly for our President and those in authority. We have sent our sons and daughters to fight for this country. We have provided military chaplains, elected officials, officers, including some who have held the highest military offices and other appointed positions in this country. Our people have and are serving as congressmen and women and senators.

Increasingly we are suffering overzealous government intrusions into what is the realm of traditional and biblical Christian conscience. We believe this is a violation of our First Amendment rights. We will stand, to the best of our ability, with all religious and other concerned citizens, against this erosion of our civil liberty. Come what may, we shall do everything we can, by God’s grace, to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

via Steadfast Lutherans » Harrison issues “A Statement on Recent HHS Decision and Religious Freedom”.

I would just add that we cannot take much solace from “grandfathered plans.”  Where I work, we have one, but that applies only to 2015.  And if the plan changes–if rates are adjusted or the coverage is modified–the grandfathered status goes away.

Again, this is not just a Catholic issue.  All conservative Christian ministries and pro-life organizations are being put in the position of having to pay for abortion pills.

Pro-abortionists have the money and the power

Russell D. Moore at Christianity Today on the Susan G. Komen foundation’s caving to Planned Parenthood:

This is an important victory for Planned Parenthood and the abortion rights lobby. First of all, the association with Komen is a key piece in Planned Parenthood’s effort to present itself as a “women’s health provider” rather than simply as an abortion provider. Beyond that, the surrender of the nation’s leading breast cancer awareness group to this kind of political pressure proves the clout of Planned Parenthood and their allies.

Evangelical and Catholic Christians, and our pro-life allies of all faiths, might be tempted to draw some wrong conclusions from this tragic affair. After all our years of trumpeting opinion polls showing a “pro-life majority” in the United States, this demonstrates that, when it comes to money and power, the pro-choice forces aren’t sustained simply by the penumbra and emanations of an old Supreme Court decision.

Some pro-life persons might wish that the Christian churches had as much influence in the public arena as Planned Parenthood, that we were able to mobilize as many callers and threaten as many boycotts. Some might see this as a sign that we need more money and respect. After all, if some Christian foundation had more financial firepower than Planned Parenthood, Komen might have stood firm.

In all of this, though, we can gain an opportunity to see what the abortion culture is all about: cash. Planned Parenthood and their allies use the thoroughly American language of freedom of choice and women’s empowerment, but what’s at stake, as seen here, are billions of dollars. That’s why, despite their talk about adoption as a “choice,” Planned Parenthood and others hardly ever lead women through an adoption process relative to how often they promise them the “fix” of a “terminated pregnancy.” There’s a profit motive involved in every abortion.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Money and power, abstracted from the lordship of Christ, always lead to violence. Pharaoh ordered the execution of the Hebrew children because they threatened his position in “the 1 percent” of ancient Egypt. Herod carried out the same decree because he wanted to protect his kingship, a kingship that carried with it the financial support of the Roman Empire.

No one, Jesus told us, can serve both God and Mammon. In saying this, Jesus personalized money in a disturbing way. When capital becomes God it, somehow, is no longer something, but someone. The demonic force of rapaciousness so distorts the soul that, when it’s threatened, someone is going to die.

The answer for those of us who cherish the lives of women and their children, regardless of stage of development, isn’t to long to compete with Planned Parenthood in the influence that comes with massive amounts of wealth. It’s instead to see, first of all, how our own captivity to Mammon devolves us in the same way.

via The Pink Ribbon and the Dollar Sign | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

The author goes on to exhort Christians to stop their emphasis on money and power.

He is surely right to criticize the worldliness of contemporary churches–manifested especially in those that proclaim the “prosperity gospel,” but also in the general deference we tend to pay to wealth and power.

And yet, if we are to battle legalized abortion, don’t Christians have to pursue the power to change the laws?  Don’t pro-life organizations need more money?  Might we become so spiritual that we withdraw from the world’s concerns and thus become complicit in the institutionalized slaughter that is the abortion industry? Don’t the world’s battles require the world’s weapons, and isn’t this legitimate in our vocation as citizens in God’s kingdom of the left?

By the way, I like Dr. Moore’s phrase” Evangelical and Catholic Christians, and our pro-life allies of all faiths.”  This is not just a Catholic issue!  All conservative Christian organizations will be put into the position of having to pay for not just birth control pills but also abortion pills.

UPDATE:  See also Mollie Hemingway’s more hopeful article in Christianity Today entitled “The Komen Fiasco’s Silver Lining.”   She points out how at least the affair unveils (1) that the Komen foundation funds abortions (2) that Planned Parenthood, contrary to the common assumption, does NOT provide mammograms  (3) that the media is flagrantly biased in favor of abortion (4) that Planned Parenthood practices extortion.

Wouldn’t you rather have Santorum?

Rick Santorum has won the Missouri. Colorado, and Minnesota delegate battles last night.   I know we’ve talked about his faults.  But all things being equal and leaving Ron Paul and electability out of the equation, wouldn’t you rather have him than Newt Gingrich?  Wouldn’t you rather have him than Mitt Romney?

Charles Dickens at 200

Yesterday, February 7, was the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens.  (As well as being the birthday of our oldest daughter.)  His novels are still gloriously readable after all these years, combining seriousness and humor in a way that has not been equaled since.  Here is a worthy tribute, which compares the novelist to Augustine:  Happy Birthday to our Mutual Friend » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

What are your favorite bits from Dickens?

Join us for morning prayer & devotions online

I am always saying how I appreciate my congregation, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, and our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite.  I would like to invite you to join us online for our daily morning prayer and devotion.

It starts at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time (I know, that’s really early on the west coast) and lasts for 20-25 minutes.

What we do is begin with the opening of Matins, then we do the readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer (a Psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, a  classic spiritual writing, a hymn verse, a collect), followed by prayer (including for prayer requests).  (If you don’t have a Treasury, you can follow along in your Bible.  A list of readings is given for every day.)

Go here: Daily Morning Prayer on the Web.  You’ll need to download a bit of free software the first time you come, but you can do that ahead of time.

I think it’s kind of cool that the online technology allows me to invite you to participate in an activity of our church.  I am not advocating “online church,” as if clicking on an online site is the same as actually meeting together, as the Bible calls for.  This is just morning devotion and prayer, not a worship service.  But I think you might find it helpful, edifying, and meaningful.

This might be something your own congregation could do.  (Are there other ways that your congregations are “reaching out” by using the web?)

Has Castro become a Christian?

George Conger reports stories in the Italian press that Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba, may have “rediscovered Jesus” and will be reconciled with the church from which he was excommunicated:

Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story. It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

via GetReligion » “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider.

If this turns out to be true, it would be arguably a greater miracle than the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union:  the collapse of communism in the heart of one of its most bloodthirsty adherents.  It would also be one of the most dramatic conversions of an atheist in recent memory.  The man put untold numbers of Christians in front of firing squads.  How amazing is a grace that would accept him, forgive him, and accept him as one of those Christians as he faced his own death.