A Lutheran, a Jew, a Baptist and a Catholic Walk Into A Hearing
Right now, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is having a hearing titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" Witnesses include the head of my church body, the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod).
Also there: Dr. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori of Connecticut.
The hearing included many of the members (on both sides of the aisle) engaged in grandstanding, but that shouldn't take away from the unity shown by the many religious bodies taking the threat to religious liberty very seriously. This is routinely treated as an issue for bishops or a Catholic issue, and that is far too narrow. This is an issue that poses serious threats to all religious groups. In fact, we're talking about threats to our individual freedom that go well beyond religion -- the federal government telling individuals how to run their businesses with no detail too small.
At one point, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., suggested that the religious leaders were lying when they said they were concerned about religious liberty and called the hearing "a sham."
How wise of a political strategy is it for Democrats to shake their finger at Catholic, Lutheran and Jewish leaders while calling them liars? It didn't sit particularly well with me.
Rev. Harrison revisited the topic later by saying that he loathes politics and reminding the members that 98% of what we Lutherans do has nothing to do with politics and that our church is full of Democrats and Republicans. We are focused on preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, rather than politics. We pray for President Obama daily, he noted. He said he was there for one reason and one reason only: the HHS threat to religious liberty. Other leaders echoed those sentiments.
I believe that the church has much more important work to do than weighing in on politics every day. I can't emphasize how rare it is for our church to get involved. I don't know if the head of our church body has ever testified before Congress before.
And we do think this is a worthy fight. Earlier today Rep. Nancy Pelosi told reporters she believes the federal government should require the Catholic Church itself to pay for free birth control. And Rep. DeLauro claimed, in the hearing, that religious liberty doesn't extend beyond the right to worship. She basically said that so long as religious people keep their beliefs secret and private, she won't bring the boot heel of the state down on us. Why thank you! It's really amazing we're complaining at all, isn't it!
We don't want to engage in these politics, but we will if forced to. And it looks like we're being forced to.