A local newspaper called me this morning to ask my opinion about the “Religious Liberty” executive order signed by the president this week. I am sure my opinion was vastly different from the highly evangelical / conservative Christian views of the majority in my area. You would think as a pastor I’d be delighted to see religious liberty expanded and to see the influence of the church exerted in more intentional ways. Yeah, you might think that… but then you wouldn’t know me. Why do I think this is a bad idea? For several reasons:
1) I am a father / son / brother. I have women in my life who are important to me. Using religion as a means to restrict access to contraception is a direct assault on women and a misuse of religious power. You can object to contraception. And as a church, you have always had the right to not pay for it with your insurance. But the reality is that women use contraception for many reasons beyond birth control, including endometriosis, severe cramps, regulating cycles, migraines, and more. And the plain truth is that frankly it none of my business. My beliefs do not belong in your uterus.
2) As a gay man, I am concerned with the slippery slope that this executive order opens with regard to the use of religion in public-sector discrimination. Churches have been (rightly) protected from performing marriages or sanctioning family systems they feel are in conflict with their belief systems. I support that. But companies should not be allowed to deny services to people based on their personal faith. This opens the door to the ultimate goal of setting up legal rights for companies to tailor their business to “straights only,” “Christians only,” etc. (and if you don’t think this is the goal, read more about Jeff Sessions or Mike Pence).
3) As a pastor, I am concerned about the executive order on several fronts.
• This country was founded (by the forebears of my own denomination) as a way to escape the oppression that resulted from the marriage of church and state in 17th-century England. The only people who benefit from a close marriage of church and state are the people whose church lies closest to the state in the marriage bed. The separation of church and state is an important safeguard against religious bullying and spiritual abuse.
• The church can be used as a means of political manipulation by those people and parties who are more concerned with their own agendas than integrity and honesty.
• The church needs to have a delicate balance of support and watchfulness with regard to government. It is my job as a pastor to support my leaders and to call them to accountability when I think they are leading us astray. If our leaders were (hypothetically of course) to use politics as a way to pad their own pockets at the expense of the poor, women, the elderly, the disenfranchised, then I would have to speak up. If our president were (hypothetically of course) to use language and actions that demeaned and dehumanized entire groups of his own people to further his own narcissism, then I would have to speak up! Thank God this would never happen in America. It is the church’s job to keep Government accountable, not to tacitly bless or even unduly influence and manipulate public policy for our own theological or financial profit.
I remain increasingly concerned with the agenda of this administration and the direction in which it is leading our nation. I pray for our leaders, I do hope they succeed in making America Great Again. But maybe one day they will learn that American will never be great again until it learns to be truly good again.
Dr. Robert Apgar-Taylor is pastor of Grace United Church of Christ, Frederick¡ and Veritas United Church of Christ, Hagerstown.
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