2 questions regarding the HHS mandate and religious liberty

Okay, since the HHS mandate is back in the news again, I’ve got two questions: 


1.  If the owner of a private, for-profit company can make decisions regarding the healthcare coverage of his/her employees based on religious conviction, what’s to keep an employer who is Jehovah’s Witness from refusing to cover blood transfusions or an employer who is a scientologist to refuse to cover any costs related to mental health? How is it preserving “religious liberty” to allow employers to impose their religious convictions onto their employees regarding what they can purchase with their compensation? 

2.    I can’t for the life of me understand this new evangelical preoccupation with birth control. Providing easier/cheaper access to birth control has been shown to dramatically decreases abortions, so it seems like this would be something we pro-lifers would want to support. If cheaper birth control would decrease abortions, why wouldn’t Christians support it? 

 

Related: Christianity Today recently published a short article on how the morning-after pill does not inhibit implantation, but rather blocks fertilization. And for an interesting look at the problem of categorizing the pill as an abortifacient, check out Libby Anne’s piece on the topic, where she notes that “if your goal is to save ‘unborn babies,’ and if you truly believe that a zygote – a fertilized egg – has the same value and worth as you or I – the only responsible thing to do is to put every sexually active woman on the pill,” because the pill actually reduces the number of zygotes naturally rejected by a woman’s body. 

For another fantastic post on this topic—and a third question, really— check out Rachel Marie Stone’s piece, “What if Jesus is saying it’s okay to pay for things that are against your religion?”  I'm against the U.S. drone strikes that have resulted in the deaths of civilians. Should I refuse to pay my taxes? 

Finally, for my views on abortion, see “Why progressive Christians should care about abortion.” 
 

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“God is pissed off and so am I”: Pastor Phil Jackson on Gun Violence

phil_jackson.jpg

I ached as I stood over the casket preaching Marcus’s eulogy. I had known and worked with Marcus for 15 years before he was killed when four bullets found his body while stopping to buy diapers for his child. Sometimes in life, you are in the right place at the right time — and other times you find yourself in the middle of gun fight. 

I told the family and friends who had gathered, “GOD IS  PISSED OFF AND SO AM I. We are not supposed to be here today! We are to be celebrating college graduations, birthdays, and weddings, not mourning at the funeral of a 24-year-old son, dad, nephew, and cousin.” 

The reality of my ministry in Chicago is that I have story after story of young men who have been a part of my world and life who have been both victims and shooters. Yet, every time tragedy strikes, the pain is the same.

If you have never held a mother, father, or crying child who has had to bury a family member because of gun violence, you might not understand the need to make the tough changes. If you have never seen the eyes of a student looking to you for hope as life seeps from their body or sat with a mother asking God why her child is gone — why her child had to die — I doubt you will understand the pain and the effect of what guns are doing on the streets of Chicago. If you have never had these experiences, you might not understand my sense of urgency when I say that I want to see the end of cheap and plentiful guns in my neighborhood. 

There is a passage in Luke 7:11-16  in which Jesus stops a funeral and heals a child from death, brings him back to life, and gives him back to his mother. How I dream of that moment. But, I also believe I can work to stop the funerals in the first place and bring our young men and women back to Christ, back to their families, and back to their communities. This means working for personal transformation of young people’s lives. But it also means looking at the structures we live in and asking how they can change to make our streets a safer place to grow up.  

There is an important theoretical discussion to be had about the Constitution and the application of the Second Amendment in our country today. But, I live in a world in which I cannot solely base my actions on constitutional theory. My thoughts about the protection of constitutional rights are always accompanied by my thoughts of protecting the young people in my neighborhood. My words about the kinds of legislation we should or should not have in our country must be words that I can speak to friends who might own guns and the parents of children who have been shot. I understand that there are responsible and law abiding gun owners in our country — and I want to respect that — but I hope they understand the stories of my neighborhood and my efforts to stop the shooting. 

As a pastor, I know that simply passing laws isn’t going to end all violence. That’s why I do the work that I do to introduce young people to Jesus so their hearts and their lives can be transformed. But our sinful natures feed on opportunities to act on anger and lash out in violence. It is easier for human sin to take the form of a violent shot when you can walk through my neighborhood of North Lawndale on the Westside of Chicago and buy a gun in about 15 minutes. Right now, Congress is considering steps that could make this a little harder to do. Enforceable universal background checks, an end to gun trafficking, and prosecution of straw purchasers (when someone with a clean record buys a gun legally and then sells to someone who would pass a back ground check) are all commonsense measures we can take with action from our elected officials. 

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, more than 4,000 pastors signed on to a letter initiated by 12 clergy in Newtown calling for commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. You can join them.

If you’re not convinced by my words here, then I want to challenge you to take the next step. Come visit my neighborhood, come walk in my shoes, stand at a funeral with me — and then lets talk and pray together to see what God might be calling his church to do in the light of all these deaths. 

- Pastor Phil 

 Pastor Phil Jackson, is part of the Emerging Voices Project and a pastor at Lawndale Community Church & The House Covenant Church   

The House Development Corporation  
Red Letter Christians  

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6 Things Christians Must Keep in Mind on Inauguration Day

1.     The president was elected through a non-violent, democratic process. This may seem like a given, but it’s a reality that many people around the world long to share, and one for which we should always be grateful.

2.     As Christians, we are called to pray for our leaders, a privilege made even sweeter by the fact that our president is also a Christian.

3.     On a day when we remember the work of Martin Luther King Jr, we are struck by the fact that we have reelected an African American for president of the United States. To celebrate the justice this represents is right and good. May it be a catalyst that moves us toward more acts of justice and mercy in our communities and in our culture. There is still much work to be done.

4.     As Christians, we are reminded today that our ultimate allegiance belongs not to a political party or even a country, but to the Kingdom of God, where the first is last and the last is first, where the peacemakers and the poor are blessed, where enemies are forgiven and slaves are set free, where our King washes feet, where abundant life grows from a tiny seed into a tree—not by power or might but by the Spirit. If this Kingdom can flourish under the Roman Empire, it can flourish under any government, in any country, and in any circumstance. We are never without hope.

5.     There is no place for followers of Jesus to be consumed with either hate or adoration. Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies, to bless and not curse, to reserve our adoration for God alone, and to humble ourselves in the face of power. Responding to today’s events with either despair or unbridled glee communicates to the world that our trust is in the government, not in Christ.

6.     Either way, if you don’t want to be tempted into sinful anger, I recommend staying off Facebook.

(We’ll pick up our series on sexuality and the church tomorrow. Meanwhile, enjoy the day!)

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The Real ‘Evangelical Disaster’

When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.” 

Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.” 

"If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community," he told NPR. "And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ."

As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians.  The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become. 

 The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.

This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.

It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns.  It's this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot. 

When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?”  Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world.   And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party. 

The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This happened long before the 2012 presidential election. 

It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin. 

It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus . 

It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp. 

It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.

So I will try one last time. 

Want to win young people back to evangelicalism? 

Then start preaching the Gospel again. 

Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not. 

Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side. 

Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us. 

Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.  

Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love. 

But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass. 

If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.  

We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

We will be evangelists, bearers of good news. 

And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world. 

We will be true evangelicals. 

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God and our political platforms...

'God Bless America' photo (c) 2009, Clyde Robinson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In a rare unscripted moment at the Democratic National Convention this week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a voice vote to pass an amendment to the party platform reinstating language that identified Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel and that referred to people’s “God-given potential” in its preamble. Though reinstating the language was supported by many democrats, including President Obama, not everyone on the floor agreed that it was useful or necessary, and so when Villaraigosa declared that the “ayes” had the necessary two-thirds majority, the room erupted into boos from dissenters. 

And so we end up with video footage of a room full of liberals “booing God and Jerusalem”—otherwise known as “Christmas” at Fox News. 

Within hours, my Facebook feed erupted with fellow Christians using the moment to prove the religious superiority of the Republican party: “See!” they said.  “Democrats boo God!”  

Blog posts were written. Tweets were issued. E-cards were pinned. 

Now, I’m a Christian, who loves Jesus and who hopes to honor God with my life, but frankly, after hearing about 100 “God bless Americas” shouted between the two conventions, and dozens of biblical references dropped by both parties, I was just fine with seeing God’s name removed from yet another piece of political propaganda. 

Because God is not a flag pin. 

God is not a beam in a political platform. 

God’s name is not something to use to score political points.  It's not something to throw around lightly or to use as a weapon against a political opponent. 

As Christians, we need not be threatened by alterations to the wording of a political platform because we don’t measure Kingdom growth by where we find God’s name, but by where we find God’s presence.  And no political party has a monopoly on that. 

There seems to be a misconception among many American Christians that fighting the good fight of faith means keeping God’s name on our money, in our speeches, in our pledge, and on our bumper stickers.But this is the danger of civic religion: it convinces us that God’s name is the same as God’s presence; it convinces us that we’ve “won” when we hear the right words, regardless of whether we’ve seen the  right fruit. 

But God’s name is not enough, and America has a troubled history of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the destruction of creation to show that invoking God’s name is not the same as earning God’s favor.  As Susan B. Anthony so wisely put it, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” 

Ironically, we render God’s name more meaningless each time we use it carelessly to advance our own agendas. 

Ironically, we lose  when we count each forced “God bless America” as a win. 

When Jesus was asked about taxes, he didn’t hold up a coin, point to it dramatically, and shout to the crowd, “WHY ISN’T MY NAME ON THIS?! I NEED YOU GUYS TO GET MY NAME AND PICTURE ON THIS THING—STAT!” (...or whatever the Aramaic equivalent of “STAT” would have been).

No, Jesus, when pressed to use his authority to make a political point said simply,  "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.” 

War, division, power, and greed—these things are Caesar’s. 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—these things are God’s. 

Against such things, there is no law; and for such things, there is no single earthly political platform.   

***

So how have you responded to the religious overtones at each convention? What has encouraged you? What has discouraged you? 

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