According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, while most U.S. Catholics support both the new federal directive that health insurance plans provide coverage for birth control and marriage equality, about half of those evangelicals polled appear to be more in sync with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on these topics.
A report by the Guttmacher Institute confirms that most Catholic women ignore official Catholic teaching that prohibits artificial birth control. Conservative evangelical teaching on contraception ranges from the Quiverfull movement that promotes natural family planning to the Focus on the Family’s recommendations for select methods of contraception, as well as their teachings on abstinence for those not in a “traditional” marriage” between a man and a woman. (More progressive evangelical organizations like Sojourners do not view women’s reproductive rights and other topics relating to human sexuality as part of their core issues. To date their voices have been largely absent from this debate.)
Just as Catholic women who use birth control ignore portions of Catholic teaching, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich appear to be functioning as Cafeteria Catholics as well For example, their pro-life, pro-death penalty views are held by the National Association of Evangelicals but remain at odds with Catholic teaching that affirms the dignity of all people.
So when former Governor Mike Huckabee and pundit Glenn Beck proclaim, “We’re all Catholics now,” they don’t mean that evangelical Christians, Mormons and Catholics will unite over a common theology. Rather, as noted by Richard Land and others noted on this column, these disparate groups found common ground over what they perceive to be a loss of their religious liberties. On this blog Jordan Sekulow and Matthew Clark state, “No religious institution, and no American, should be forced to choose between obeying the tenants of one’s faith and obeying the law.” Purpose-driven megachurch pastor Rick Warren summed up the sentiments of some conservative Christians when he tweeted, “I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you? Acts 5:29.
Rick Santorum took a more dire tone by proclaiming that President Barack Obama and other liberals are leading people of faith down a path that ends at the guillotine. Also, he joined evangelical thought leaders Chuck Colson and Eric Metaxas in taking historical analogy one step further by equating this battle against the Obama administration over contraception with the socio-political climate of Germany circa 1930.
Such hyperbole should be familiar to anyone who has followed the rise of the religious right as “family friendly” players in U.S. politics. After all, they crafted a myth that these “family values” conservative evangelicals and Pentecostals first came together when they joined forces with like-minded Catholics to defeat Roe v. Wade. In fact, the religious right began to coalesce as a political movement following the court case Green v. Conically (1972) where the court decided that racially discriminatory private schools were not entitled to tax-exempt status. The Supreme Court of the United States referenced this case in its ruling of Bob Jones University v. United States (1983), where it stated that the religious clause of the First Amendment does not protect those religious institutions seeking tax-exempt status if their practices are contrary to government public policy such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional scholar at Cardozo School of Law, offers this observation, “Courts nationwide have repeatedly ruled that religious groups must follow the same rules as everyone else when holding a government contract. Any institution that can’t in good faith follow those rules shouldn’t apply for public funding.”
Hence Obama is not exercising “religious bigotry” or “phony theology” in forcing people of faith to choose between obeying the U.S .government versus following their particular faith tradition. Rather this administration maintains the law as upheld by the Supreme Court which clearly states that religious institutions cannot obtain federal funding and tax exemptions and then refuse to follow the law. To quote Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show,” “You confused the war on your religion with not always getting everything you want...it’s called being part of a society. Not everything goes your way.”
Becky Garrison is an On Faith panelist.