Last week, in light of Catholic institutions moving more towards Civil Disobedience in light of certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act, we looked at Acts 4 to see if there was any guidance we could get in this. We talked about how (1) Civil Disobedience is not warfare against the laws of your geographic home, but simply living in light of your spiritual home–the Kingdom of God. We also pointed out (2) that the State is not around to comply with our every theological preference and whim, and therefore some discretion needs to be used to evaluate what’s “worth” Civil Disobedience.
Today we keep going. I want to offer some summary conclusions, but first let’s point out the last thing the Acts 4 passage helps us see: the work we do in society prior to our Civil Disobedience.
3. Prelude to Defiance
I think it’s key that the Jewish leaders in Acts 4 who want to punish Peter and John feel that their hands are largely tied because of the profound good that these Christians have done in the world around them. So far in the story (Acts 1-3), all that Peter and John have done has evoked nothing but human flourishing and praise of God in their society.
In a sense, Christians have to earn their voice in society. They have to create their own place at the table rather than complain how nobody is listening to them and their concerns for society. And how do Peter and John do this? They heal and proclaim. Do you think the American Evangelical Church is known for that? Well, they’re probably know for “proclaiming” lots of things, but do their proclamations bear any resemblance to Peter and John’s?
What would healing in our own society look like? Think of all the things that need healing: political rifts, racial tensions, economic inequality, health care access, immigration policy, rapid global urbanization at the expense of sustainable economics and social structures.
What if the American Church was known for its constant service and pursuit of healing in our world? Would that not give our social presence and voice more impact, power, and respect?
These Jewish leaders who want to stop the preaching feel like they can’t punish these Christians because the society around them thinks so positively of them. If the broader world thought these Christians were simply judgmental, arrogant, and caused more frustration than flourishing, you better believe that these authorities would have felt more freedom to act against them.
Civil Disobedience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Before Christians ever come up against the civil authorities there is societal work they should have been doing prior to that moment.
It’s so frustrating when Christians seem to only magically remember that this is the case when it’s a specific political party, pet issue, or culture war topic at stake. Too many American Christians are completely fine living under the rule and reign of civil actions that perpetuate injustice, encourage greed and corruption, cause wars, and kill more of their own citizens, but the second it’s time to talk about taxes, federal spending, gay marriage, or abortion, suddenly that is the time to speak up.
What about the contraception thing? A case study.
When it comes to this particular Catholic issue with contraception coverage in Obamacare, I’m a little torn. On one hand, at least on this point I talked about above, Catholics are great. Their work and advocacy in societies around the world is consistent, counter-cultural, and unwavering. I can’t help but give them respect when they decide to step up to fight something politically.
On the other hand, I absolutely disagree with Catholics that most all contraception is sinful or abortive in any way shape or form (and many of their own Church Fathers, like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, didn’t believe life began at conception either).
So while I can disagree that this is something worth fighting the government on, I can still respect Catholics that want to do this. And I can do that because of their other work in society.
With Evangelical Protestant organizations, however, it feels completely disingenuous when they try to lead the Supreme Court charge against the Obamacare employer mandate. I can’t help but feel this is more political than religious. It feels more like an allegiance to the Republican status quo than any allegiance to the Kingdom of God.
I may be wrong, but why would I (and many others) feel this way? Mainly because Evangelicals don’t have that reputation of working for the good of society; for pursuing healing rather than harming. This may be a wrong characterization, but am I wrong to say that this is the national perception?
The American Church, by and large (with notable exceptions–primarily in black urban churches) has lost its voice when it wants to speak a prophetic word against the powers and authorities that do damage to human and societal flourishing. This is because they themselves are often not the agents of the very flourishing they want the government to facilitate in our world.
If we are to change the world, we must first change ourselves.
Tomorrow, I’ll offer some conclusions and some thoughts on how we navigate these issues and seek to apply them in our world.
In the meantime, what ways do you think the American Church harms more than heals? What ways might it actually be pursuing healing, but in a way that society doesn’t receive? What could they be doing differently?
[image credit: Nicolas Poussin, “St. Peter and St. John Healing a Lame Man]