Violating our Conscience: God and Obamacare (Part 4)

Violating our Conscience: God and Obamacare (Part 4) June 14, 2012

My two previous arguments for a God-oriented take on the President’s signature health-care law were both matters of degree. Far from being clear expressions of right or wrong, they pointed out the danger of significantly tilting toward an unbiblical result. In such cases, it can be hard to tell exactly where that line gets crossed, but history tells us it will get crossed eventually. Somewhere. By someone.

The wisdom from Scripture can be summed up in the Biblical warning to “avoid it, don’t go near it, turn from it, and get away!”

Here is my fourth protest that I believe God clearly shares against Obamacare :

4. God demands that we respect each person’s right to a clean conscience before Him.

I’m thinking it won’t take much to convince this Patheos audience of this fact. A few Scriptures should suffice as a reminder:

  • “And looking intently at the council, Paul said, ‘Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.’ “(Acts. 23:1)
  • “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16)
  • “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12)
  • “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:9)
  • “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5)

Clearly if Obamacare compels us to do something we believe to be morally wrong, it fails to respect our duty to live before God in good conscience. Obamacare sets the table for a lot of scorched consciences to be served up, beginning with those who oppose abortion.

Why the Obama administration chose this fight in this election year instead of waiting until next year when most of the other unpopular parts kick in, I’ll never know. But choose it they did, in spite of promises made to Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats that abortions would not be funded.

The HHS mandate is no secret by now, of course. Through a verbal sleight-of-hand, the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that religious instituions pay to provide abortions for their employees. But for these people of faith, to comply with the mandate would be a blatant violation of their beliefs. The mandate attempts to compel them to violate their conscience before God. Unacceptable.

Don’t buy the line that it’s about contraception. It’s about the government being able to force anyone to pay for something that violates his or her conscience. That is the issue so many Christians have with the mandate — and, the greater moral issue so many people of all faiths have with the unpopular law.

Well over 40 lawsuits have been filed by Catholic organizations. Even today, the Catholic bishops gathered in Atlanta to coordinate their strategy of resistance. It’s not just a Catholic issue. If they go down, organizations connected with this Patheos Evangelical portal go down behind them because they represent the largest body of religious organizations in the nation.

When I spoke recently with someone close to the Obama administration’s faith-based office, I asked if the Obama administration even “got it”? Did the Administration understand the moral dillemma created by how HHS applied this 2,0o0 page law? The answer was essentially that they didn’t then. But they do now. Sort of. However, it’s become a political calculation. They think they can’t walk back from the decision without paying too high a price in political capital. So they’ve chosen to take a stand.

But the Catholic bishops and countless other religious leaders must also take a stand. Like Luther of old, their choice is far more vividly clear — and not for political purposes. The divine mandate of a clear conscience before God trumps all other cares. Here they stand. They can do no other. Unless this law is overturned by the Supreme Court in the coming weeks or the mandate voided in other courts of men, these leaders and millions like them will be forced to say with Luther:

Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other.  So help me God.

What would you do if you led an organization directed to violate your conscience by the law? Do you think they will stand or blink if the mandate is not overturned? Leave a comment below to join the discussion.

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  • Jennifer

    Are you sitting down, Bill? …. I agree.
    I am not Catholic, but I stand with the “people of many faiths” you mention who oppose this aspect of the law. If I were to lead an organization forced by law to violate my conscience I would have to go to jail. I hope that the religious organizations opposing abortion stand firm.

    • Jennifer,

      I was sitting down but also sipping coffee when I read this. Not good. So how does Canada handle such issues?

      • Jennifer

        I usually enjoy your posts over a morning cup of tea.

        Issues such as these usually get handled by the Supreme Court of Canada. We are currently facing an issue in Ontario where the Catholic schools (publicly funded by catholics and non-catholics alike) are protesting a new law that gives homosexual student groups the right to form in Catholic schools.

        I don’t know whether church run extended health coverage insurance plans cover contraceptives. Contraceptives are not covered by our government run insurance programs but are frequently covered through workplace insurance plans. Abortions are covered by the government run program. This is due in part to an old abortion law being struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada on procedural grounds. It was not found to apply equally in all areas of Canada and thus violated the security of the person guarantee in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No new abortion law has been passed. Only a small percentage of hospitals provide abortions (None in PEI – though they will cover abortions sought elsewhere where the Mother’s health is at stake). Doctors are not obligated to perform abortions or to refer patients to doctors who do as it is considered a matter of their own conscience.

  • Jay Saldana

    Yes, if that was the law, I would stand with you too. But that is not the law – although you declare it to be 2000 pages the part that you are talking about is 4 pages and mostly in 6 paragraphs. Secondly, since you raise “men of conscious”, then we have to accept ALL people of conscious as valid since that is the criterion. So Muslims and multiple wives are OK. And Atheism is a strongly held point of view of conscious so we will go with that as well (there goes Christmas and Easter)…not to mention I know some totally devout Wiccans who want to go nude, I means now there is a “Here I stand” that will make a strong presentation.
    Ok, enough with the jokes. You go from personal point of view and shift seamlessly into the general (from I to we). We don’t know that the “we” agree with you. In fact the data shows otherwise, especially the Roman Catholic data. Yes, the bishops agree with you about 30% of them in fact. You don’t allow for the internal politics with the Roman Church or explain their theology (their moral theology of “Lesser Evil” as an example) or the need of the managerial clergy to reestablish a sense of control and moral superiority over their flock after a devastating ten years of moral ineptitude. Not to mention the need for the cardinals in their ambition to make a high profile stand so they can take a run at the soon to be vacant Papacy. You also don’t mention the bishops calling the Ryan budget an “immoral document”. I assume since you agree with them on this and their power of moral rectitude you will agree with that call as well. This argument is just not well thought out. Emotionally on a knee jerk level it is great. Of course, we agree with you. But once you examine the facts your argument disappears in a puff of smoke. Your first two arguments did not in any way show that God would have a “negative” evaluation of the health care law. As for your current argument, if as you argue that God wants our conscience protected then God would have supported the Pharisees and their protection of the temple (Acts 7). Would that not be the ultimate example of protecting a “holy” object of conscious? But I think you are on the wrong side of that argument.
    And what is this argument you present of a “verbal slight of hand”. Yes, I know you are going to be “right” no matter what I say but that does not mean we have to agree with you. We can still be conservative and not assign evil intent to all the legislators of our land. We don’t have to assume they are out to get us, and there is some secret plan to make us agree with abortion without our consent (“those atheistic liberals are out to fool us”). Yes, it happens but the vast majority of the time the law is just the law and it works as written. It is time we grew up a bit and stop being victims of our own paranoid fantasy. Power is not something we as religious lack in this country.
    As for your agreement with the Bishops, I assume you know there are as many bishops and Roman Catholic organizations (actually a significant majority) who disagree with the activist conservative bishops point of view. As for your “countless other who support”, I have seen nothing that gives that factoid any weight.
    Your question at the end is a different question than the one you started out with and is a great example of writing a polemical statement rather than inviting a discussion. Of course, if invited to violate a cherished belief or my faith I would gladly suffer for my refusal. Unfortunately, you have you have only emotionally bruised the topic but have not gotten close factually to demonstrating that we have a problem. If anything your arguments prove the need for a law to keep people from using demagoguery on the issue.

    • Jennifer

      Hi Jay,
      It sounds as though you and Bill are arguing different things. Bill seems to be arguing that the church should not be required by law to pay for something that goes strongly against their morals – something that would cause then to sin. Yes, there are many groups that do NOT consider abortion a sin, but it would be as though Atheists were forced to buy Christmas trees for their neighbours and fund church services and Wiccan groups were forced to buy clothes for those that wanted them (to use your examples).

      I can’t comment on the Ryan budget as I have no idea whatsoever what it is.

      I, too, disagree with some of Bill’s arguments. He brings up the opposition to specific aspects of this healthcare plan by Catholic bishops and other catholic institutions but seems to argue against the Pope’s call for guaranteed healthcare for all citizens:
      (From the Catholic News Network)
      “Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.

      Access to adequate medical attention, the pope said in a written message Nov. 18, was one of the “inalienable rights” of man. […]

      “The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights” are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

      Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”

      “Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care,” he said, adding that the provision of minimal levels of medical attention to all is “commonly accepted as a fundamental human right.”

      • Jennifer

        Just so I’m clear…
        I know that the Pope is opposed to President Obama’s healthcare plan. I was referring to Bill’s arguments regarding personal responsibility and guaranteed access to healthcare.

  • jerry lynch

    No one can be forced to go against their conscience; Nonviolent civil disobedience is the response and it is biblical. Wish the Catholics and evangelicals leaders (and the others of this precious conscience) in Nazi Germany showed their conscience when and where it mattered.

    “It’s not just a Catholic issue. If they go down, organizations connected with this Patheos Evangelical portal go down behind them because they represent the largest body of religious organizations in the nation.” “If they go down”? What? “Go down” where? And why is that important? Lose of money and time? This seems irrelevant to the issue.

    If you are quoting someone who said this, “it’s become a political calculation. They think they can’t walk back from the decision without paying too high a price in political capital. So they’ve chosen to take a stand,” you should name your source. If not, you are representing the other side of this question as merely shallow people who care nothing about the moral questions or the possible great things this bill could do but only re-election.
    Like it or not, abortion is the law of the land. If actual abortion is funded by the bill, it is lawful and you said in another post, although disagreeing with the law in place, that the law should be strictly adherred to and that would fix things.
    “Don’t buy the line that it’s about contraception.” This little tidbit needs an explanation, such as, something to answer “Why not?”
    If Christians would care as much and look as deeply into, say, edicts for war, I might buy this argument about conscience. I have not seen a lot of evidence of it in other areas as well.
    The other three arguments strongly suggest that the fuel for this article is more political than religious. So many of the empty and popular rightwing talking points it is hard not to reach that conclusion.

    Bill, trying to ride that fence of being an American and a Christian produces the murkiness between godliness and worldliness I see in these arguments. America is an earthly power, just like all the others in the world. One of its ideals is equality under the law, which should give a woman as much control over her own body as a man and should grant same sex marriage. That is American.

    • Jerry,

      Hold on to something… I agree with you. Wow! First Jennifer agrees with me and now this! On one point anywyay. No one can be forced to go against their conscience. That
      is true enough. They can always choose to take whatever consequences may come their way ratehr than violate their conscience.

      Such as abortion funding. One coudl choose to not fund abortion or participate ina system that funds abortion and let the heavens fall. Right?

      I suppose that is always an option. Just not one either of us would cheer if it had to happen.

    • So are you an American?