The Münchhausen martyrdom of Rick Warren, Chuck Colson and Fr. Jonathan Morris

The Münchhausen martyrdom of Rick Warren, Chuck Colson and Fr. Jonathan Morris February 19, 2012

These folks aren’t driven by religion. They’re not really even driven by politics.

It’s just a big fantasy role-playing game.

Rick Warren, Charles Colson, Richard Land and Father Jonathan Morris all might as well be playing World of Warcraft.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s Rick Warren, boasting of his own courage in a tweet allegedly responding to the news that health insurance for women must include health coverage for women:

I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you?

Ooh, so bold! What a profile in courage! What a valiant stand against oppression and persecution!

That’s what Rick Warren thinks of himself, obviously, but it’s not clear why anyone here in reality would share that view.

You can’t take a valiant stand against oppression and persecution when no one is oppressing or persecuting you. Standing up against threats that exist only in your own imagination does not constitute bravery or courage.

“I’d ride a cannonball rather than cave in to a government mandate.”

Rick Warren is a fantasist. That fantasy allows him to stroke his own ego, but it also makes him appear ridiculous to anyone not caught up in the fantasy with him. He claims to be a martyr but reveals himself to be Baron Münchhausen.

Even more embarrassing for Warren is that his hypothetical courageous stand has, for the past 13 years, been a case of actual cowardice. Warren boldly proclaims that he would “go to jail” rather than to submit to such an allegedly outrageous “government mandate,” but he’s been submitting to exactly the same law since 1999.

You see, Warren’s ministry is located in Lake Forest, California (Orange County). And a birth control mandate has been law in California for a long time. Since 1999, actually.

Cal. Insurance Code § 10123.196 and Cal. Health & Safety Code § 1367.25 (1999) require certain health insurance policies that already cover prescription drugs to provide coverage for prescription contraceptive methods approved by the FDA. Religious employers can request health insurance plans without coverage of approved contraceptive methods that are contrary to the employer’s religious tenants. (AB 39)

Now, California allows churches to opt out, but so does the federal one. In fact, the federal law was modeled after the exemption offered by California and other states.

So either Warren has somehow been persecuted for 13 years without noticing it or else he’s transparently puffing himself up over something he knows is completely fabricated.

Markos Moulitsas is having some fun with Warren’s pompous pratfall. Kos has started an online petition: “Rick Warren, please report to jail.”

Rick Warren, you claim that you would rather go to jail than comply with a law requiring health insurance policies to cover contraception without co-pays.

However, the state where your ministry is based, California, has had such a law since 1999.

So we’re just wondering why you haven’t you turned yourself in to the authorities yet. You have only had 13 years to do so.

The problem, though, is that even if Warren believed his own scam, he still couldn’t “report to jail” because no one is trying to send him there. The law that upsets him does not in any way threaten him. There is no “government mandate” that would force him to violate what he thinks God commands him to do.

Warren is just fantasy role-playing.

Just as grandiose and just as foolishly self-congratulatory are the ministerial Malvolios tripping over themselves to declare that health care for women is cause for “civil disobedience.”

Charles “homos and queers” Colson sounded the call in solidarity with his Manhattan Declaration buddies:

We have come to the point — I say this very soberly — when if there isn’t a dramatic change is circumstances, we as Christians may well be called upon to stand in civil disobedience against the actions of our own government.  … I’ve made up my mind — sober as that decision would have to be — that I will stand for the Lord regardless of what my state tells me.

Colson is singing their favorite tune, so the usual suspects have to get up and dance. Folks like Southern Baptist ethics czar Richard Land rushed to join in the self-congratulatory role-play of Colson’s fantasy.

In their imagination, they are being heroic and brave. See how bravely they stand up to the oppression they’ve concocted in their imaginations? See how courageously they vow to withstand this non-existent oppression?

Part of the problem here is that none of these preening posers seems to understand what civil disobedience means.* They’re upset about a mandate from which their ministries are exempt. I don’t understand how they intend to disobey a law that does not apply to them. It would be like me trying to use civil disobedience to protest the designated hitter rule.

I suppose they might decide to broaden their scope to include the whole of the Affordable Care Act, courageously standing up for the right of insurance companies to deny coverage to sick children. They might be able to disobey that law by refusing to provide any health care coverage for their employees.

Technically, that might be a form of civil disobedience, but it would introduce a possibility that Thoreau, Gandhi and King never imagined: an act of civil disobedience that constituted a graver injustice than the supposedly unjust law it was meant to protest.

Plus, I seem to recall the Bible having something to say about employers who deny their laborers the wages they have earned. It starts with “weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you” and then it gets really harsh.

So they might want to keep that in mind.

But as fatuous and ridiculous as the fantasies of Colson, Land and Warren are, they’re exceeded by the new champion of pomposity: Catholic priest Jonathan Morris.

Morris seized the throne of King Laughingstock by declaring that he was “willing to die” to defend his right not to live in a country where women have access to preventive health care.

Morris has apparently failed to notice that no one is threatening to kill him. Or to harm him. Or even to make him pay the taxes that the rest of us pay.

Morris seems to think that defying a non-existent threat makes him appear brave rather than appearing divorced from reality. He has forgotten that in order to be martyred, someone has to be trying to kill you. And the government simply refuses to oblige his great desire to be horribly oppressed.

I’m pretty sure Catholic doctrine forbids self-immolation, so even that path to martyrdom also doesn’t seem available for to Morris. But even that wouldn’t make him a martyr — it would just make him “that messed-up priest who offed himself because Blue Cross stopped charging co-pays.”

Morris desperately wants our admiration. He certainly admires himself — so much that he assumes the rest of us will join him.

But while this sad, ridiculous man doesn’t merit anyone else’s admiration, he has earned my attention. I can’t wait to see how he intends to nail his second hand to the cross-beam all by himself.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

* This is what civil disobedience looks like:

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, [Rosa] Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. … Parks’ civil disobedience had the effect of sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

… By refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man, Parks was more clearly in violation of custom than of law. Nonetheless, her refusal amounted to an act of civil disobedience, resulted in her arrest and conviction by a local court, and proved to be the spark for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

… Blake … said, “Why don’t you stand up?” Parks responded, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Blake called the police to arrest Parks. When recalling the incident for Eyes on the Prize, a 1987 public television series on the Civil Rights Movement, Parks said, “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.'”

The law was unjust. The law directly applied to Rosa Parks. Parks broke the unjust law, was arrested and convicted.

We have many laws that I believe are unjust. The Citizens United ruling, for example, which effectively legislated into existence the corrupting and un-democratic Super Pacs, giving corporations and billionaires undue influence in our elections, is unjust. The policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for those held at Guantanamo Bay is an atrocity against the Constitution. But I am not engaged in civil disobedience against those laws because they do not apply to me in a way that requires me to obey them or enables me to disobey them. Since I cannot disobey those laws, civil disobedience is not an option for me to oppose them.

I could announce that I planned to demonstrate my opposition to such laws by trespassing on corporate or military property. My arrest might serve to bring attention to my concern, but it would be political theater, not civil disobedience. The law I would be disobeying would not be related to the law I was protesting. I would be, in effect, violating a just law in an attempt to draw attention to an unrelated unjust law.

And but so, the point being that Rick Warren and Chuck Colson are pretending they’re Rosa Parks. They’re not. Not even close.

These men are pretending their the heirs to Martin Luther King Jr., penning their own “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” But they’ve forgotten the salient point about that inspired epistle — it was a letter from jail. King was really being persecuted. They are not. They imagine themselves to be the heirs to his legacy, but in actual fact they are the heirs — precisely — of the white clergymen who were standing in the way of human rights.

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