Monday, June 2, 2014

Post Removed

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Question of Hobby Lobby and the First Amendment

A lot of discussion was generated on Facebook after I posted a story about Hobby Lobby ( Hobby Lobby evidently pays a beginning wage that is 93% higher than the federally mandated minimum wage. They also pay a higher wage to part time employees.  They are, of course, embroiled in a debate over whether or not they have to provide certain kinds of birth control (that they consider abortifacients) as a part of their health insurance coverage. 

I want to make clear up front that I don’t actually agree with Hobby Lobby’s stance on the birth control methods (at least as far as I am able to determine). But that isn’t the issue.  For me the issue is whether or not a company has first amendment rights. One argument is that they should abide by the laws that the majority has decided on. However, the point of the Bill of Rights was to protect the rights of the minority.[1]  I have also been asked why the owners can’t just privately practice their religion by not using IUD’s or morning after pills. I want to address that question and then provide a scenario to think about.

For many Christians keeping religion private is not a viable option. We believe that Jesus is Lord of the whole world, not just of the church. Now before you go accusing me of wanting a theocracy, let me assure my readers that I want no such thing. A theocracy didn’t work in ancient Israel and it wouldn’t work now.  And Jesus was pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in creating earthly power structures. In my opinion, a theocracy put in place by even the most well-meaning Christians would eventually, if not rapidly, degenerate into a pretty horrible parody of the Kingdom of God. However, we are called to live our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So we are faced with something of a dilemma. If we are trying to live under the rule of Christ, then we have to place everything in our lives under that rule – personal and public lives, home and work.

As far as I can tell, Hobby Lobby has a higher minimum wage than necessary because they have placed the world of work under the Lordship of Christ. Have they done this perfectly? No. But they are trying. And the health insurance is a part of that.  Both the desire to pay better wages and the unwillingness to pay for what they see as abortifacients grow out of the same religious conviction. And, I would argue, they have the right to make that decision.  No one is being forced to work for Hobby Lobby. No one is forced to buy from them. They don’t provide a necessary public service (except for those craft-a-holics out there – you know who you are!). 

So here’s a scenario: the owners of Hobby Lobby lose the case and decide that they cannot contribute to what they see as violating their religious beliefs. So they sell their stores to a non-Christian company (we will call them the “Law Abiding Company” or LAC) that doesn’t try to align company policy with the Kingdom of God. LAC puts the appropriate insurance into place for all at the company who qualify. However, since they are not required to keep the salaries the same, or the hours, they decide (as a cost saving measure) to lower all beginning and part time salaries to minimum wage. Further, they know that it is far cheaper to more part time employees than full time because they would no longer have to provide health care. They could just let their employees, many of whom are now working fewer hours for less pay, buy their own insurance under Obamacare.  Thus, though LAC theoretically provides the “right” kind of health insurance to full time employees who can now get any kind of birth control they want, far fewer of their employees are on that health insurance.

LAC also decides to open on Sundays, since they have no religious reason not to, and they require their employees to make themselves available on that day if needed. Everyone has a rotating schedule, so probably no one has to work Sundays all the time, but if that is your schedule, that is when you show up.  And, of course, prices do not go down because the company owners are interested only in profit, so they are going to take that profit for themselves.

My questions are these: Is society better off? Are the people who work for Hobby Lobby better off? Who actually benefits from the decision not to allow Hobby Lobby to abide by their religious principles?

And a broader question is this: Does our society have to be so rigid that there is no room at all for differences of opinion? This is not an isolated incident and the implications are far greater than simply what happens to Hobby Lobby.  Perhaps there really isn’t room for diversity in our society, but I hope we think long and hard about what we are aiming for if that is the case.

[1] There are cases in which I think that First Amendment rights should be overridden, such as when a person’s life or public health is at stake, but this is not the case here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I think Doctrine Matters: A Reflection on the Trinity

There has been a lot of FB discussion recently about “orthodoxy,” “orthopraxy,” “Inquisitions,” biblical authority” and the like.  In one discussion, a participant made the following comment: “As to orthodoxy, no one has yet to explain how that is relevant or even defined in such a way as to be relevant.” On another post I saw this comment: “I have never quite understood how the Holy Trinity works, and I suspect that you don’t either.”  And there seems to be a general feeling that what we believe has little bearing on how we act. 

At some point I hope to write more completely about how and why I think our doctrines matter; but for now I will offer this brief summary of some of those doctrines upon which I stake my life. Please note that this is a very personal understanding of how the doctrines and creeds of the church inform my life.  I am sharing this because I wish that our discussion could be about these issues instead of about homosexuality. I think it would be more fruitful.

I don’t think I could get out of bed every day and go about my life if I did not believe in the Trinity. That may seem like a hyperbolic statement, but it really isn’t. One of my favorite prayers is “St.Patrick’s Breastplate” which begins, “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, By Invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.” I wake into a world where I count on the Father to seek us, love us, judge us, and remake us. I couldn’t live in a world where I thought that God was not “Almighty” and where I didn’t understand the world as created to be God’s home, the place where God meets us and is in relationship with us.  What gets me through interactions with some people is the knowledge that everyone is created in the image of God, no matter how diminished I think that image might be. What keeps me striving towards what Wesley called perfection (and might be understood as completion) is the knowledge that I too am created to be in God’s image and God is constantly trying to mold and shape me into that image.

Any sense of justice I have grows out of the belief that everyone is created in the image of God and that God loves creation.  It is why I am ecologically aware.  It is why I oppose abortion, war, and the death penalty.  I try to approach all people with respect, even if I don’t like them, because, whether I like it or not, they bear the image of God, however dim.

I rely daily, hourly, on the knowledge that the Son came into this world as God incarnate.  That is what grounds my hope and my ability to look forward. Somehow, God loves this creation, God wants to live here with us. I don’t always understand why God would want that, but evidently God does. Incarnation, for me, fits perfectly with the idea of God as Creator. Creation was intended for Incarnation. Jesus was not Plan B. God has always intended to walk with us; but the way and time in which God chose to become incarnate was a function of God’s deep desire and plan to put the world right.  Jesus was the most fully human person who has ever lived not in spite of being divine, but because he was fully divine. He bore the image of God the Father perfectly, as God intended. And in the resurrection we have the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise that one day heaven and earth will once again be one. We will need resurrected bodies to live in this completed world.

I live my life believing that Jesus is Lord. Jesus isn’t just my Lord, but Lord of the earth, Lord of the universe.  This has implications for how I view politics, economics, science, psychology, philosophy, astronomy, you name it.  Someone asked me recently if the discovery of life on other planets would shake my faith.  How could it? If there are other worlds, civilizations, out there, then they too are created by God and whatever persons inhabit them are created in God’s image. I love science and I think everyone who believes in God as Creator and Lord should love science. God is the one who established the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry.  Nothing that we learn in science can harm faith as long as we are seeking truth, because God is the author of truth.  (I do however have a quarrel with those scientists who venture into philosophy/theology with statements about whether or not God exists.)

Because I think Jesus is Lord, I think the “gospel” is the good news about the establishment of the Kingdom. I sometimes shudder when I say the Lord’s Prayer because of that line: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In praying that prayer I am making the claim that I am willing to place myself in the service of God to be used for the work of the kingdom.  And sometimes that scares me. I fall woefully short of living a kingdom life that reflects the will of God, but I am trying.

In some ways the Holy Spirit means the most on a daily basis, because that is how I experience the Trinity. The presence of the Father and Son are very real to me in the Spirit. Metaphorically speaking, I think that if God stopped breathing the world would die. I say that because I think God is as close as breath. I don’t believe in a God who set up the universe and then went off and took a nap.  I believe that God continues to be intimately involved in this world. Make no mistake; I do not believe that Creator and creation are one and the same. But I believe that creation depends on the continuing care of the Creator.

For me the Trinity is the root of my understanding that relationship is fundamental to being in the image of God. Do I perfectly understand what that relationship is within the Holy Trinity? Well, no. But I do think God has revealed enough to us to make a belief in the Trinity coherent. In fact, I think the idea of a “unitarian” God is awful. To me, such a God would be a lonely, terrible, unapproachable God. I think I would be a very different person if I believed in a unitarian God – fearful and solitary, and much more rigid than I am.

One more thing my belief in the Trinity does for me – it helps me cope with suffering. I have actually suffered very little in my life; I can say that even though I have just lost my husband, whom I dearly loved. Many people have suffered so much more. But that doesn’t tell me that God is absent. It tells me that we misunderstand what it means to be God.  However much any of us suffer, God is the one who suffers the most. God took all of our suffering upon Godself on the cross and the Father raised the Son from the dead to show us in the most obvious and dramatic way possible that even though suffering seems to be a part of the work of creation, God is working toward a time when peace and joy will reign and life will have overcome death.

Contemplating the intimacy and mystery of the Trinity leads me to the belief that God cares for every peasant slaughtered in war, every child that has died of malnutrition, every unnamed and unknown (to us) person in the history of the world. God knows each of them by name and has a place for them in the Kingdom. They may choose not to take that place, but you will not convince me that God has not prepared a place.  God’s will is for the blind to see, the lame to jump for joy and the imprisoned to go free. As the Holy Trinity is a mysterious and joyous relationship of sacrifice and obedience, of the outpouring of love and abundance, so our lives with each other are meant to be.

I understand that many of you will not see how I drew some of these conclusions from a belief in the Trinity. All I can tell you is that is how it has worked for me. The more I contemplate the Trinity, the more deeply connected to the reality of life I become.

I hope this will spur others to share how the Trinity and other doctrines of the faith ground their lives, hopefully with more coherence and clarity than I have managed here.  I will continue trying to clarify and will share more as I am able.