Obamacare: The Church's Blessing
During last night’s debate, the subject of healthcare (aka “Obamacare”) came up as expected. And as expected, Gov. Romney extolled the alleged negatives of the program: higher taxes, more people uninsured, government control over our healthcare options, etc. One thing he failed to mention, and the singular detail that has me (as well as countless others) gravely concerned is the Health & Human Services mandate under Obamacare that forces religious organizations to fund abortion procedures. Companies such as Hobby Lobby and Tyndale House Publishers have made headlines recently by suing the Obama administration. For its part, Hobby Lobby faces a $1.3 million daily fine beginning January 1, 2013 for its non-compliance. Also at risk are countless other religious-based businesses and organizations opposed to abortion. Simply put, the government is forcing them to provide a service these businesses believe to be immoral and contrary to the teachings of Scripture. The government is forcing them to do something that violates their religious convictions, their conscience. Can such a thing actually happen in America, land of the free?
Enshrined in the first amendment is the statement forbidding the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. In many, many churches over the last two centuries, Christians have thanked God for the religious freedoms we enjoy in this country. Religious freedoms are as American as baseball, apple pie, and Thanksgiving dinner. But before our very eyes, those freedoms are eroding.
What are Christians to do?
Over the last seven years, I have spent considerable time wondering if religious freedoms in America were a blessing for the church. Let me be clear: I do not think that we should go looking for persecution. I know Christians who have a bad habit of antagonizing conflict, then they set themselves up as self-proclaimed “martyrs for the cause” when their chickens come home to roost. Please. No, we shouldn’t go looking for persecution and trouble, for we have been forewarned that it will find us easily enough (2 Tim. 3:12).
But biblically, it seems as if we should embrace persecution. The book of Acts is clear that for every drop of martyrs’ blood spilt, dozens of new souls grew up in their place. Satan uses persecution to cripple the church; God uses it as fertilizer. It was the martyrdom of Stephen and Saul’s persecution that helped the church break through new barriers of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). James commands us to “count it all joy” when we meet persecution, knowing that it will eventually make us “complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Arguably the most powerful passage is the latter verses of Acts 4. Commanded by Jewish leaders not to preach the gospel, Peter and John reassembled with the Jerusalem church. Their prayer was not a whimper. Their prayer was not, "O Lord, how could you let this happen to us?" Instead, they confessed the God of heaven as their "Sovereign Lord" (Acts 4:24), and admitted that nothing had taken place that had not been predestined by his hand and plan (Acts 4:28). They then asked, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:29-30).
When they finished praying, God shook the very ground beneath their feet with his approval.
For many years, I have been unable to thank God in prayer for the religious freedoms we enjoy in this country. Call it youthful naiveté or stubborn ignorance, but my main reason is the statement of Jesus in Matt 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” How can I thank God for something when my Lord said the opposite was a blessed thing? This does not mean that I am ungrateful for soldiers who fight for our freedoms, and I would be dense if I denied that I have personally enjoyed the freedoms Americans are afforded. But have religious freedoms in American been a blessing or a bane for the church? A study of the New Testament might challenge the presumed answer to that question.
The mandate of the Obama administration that businesses must fund abortions frightens me. Never has there ever been such an egregious violation of religious freedom in this country. President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ought to be ashamed of themselves. According to Jesus, they would both be better off with millstones adorning their necks and tossed into the ocean (Matt. 18:6). As an American, I am outraged over this.
But as a Christians, I am quietly confident that God is going to use this persecution to strengthen his church and bring glory to his own name.
The response has been overwhelming to this violation of religious liberty. As previously mentioned, companies such as Hobby Lobby (which, like Chick-fil-A, does not open on Sunday) and Tyndale House Publishers (a religious book publisher) have brought suit against the Obama administration. The Catholic church, owners of several hospitals and other charities, have risen up to say, “We will not submit to this.” On December 21 of last year, 150 Catholic leaders in the U.S. took out a full page ad in the New York Times and Washington Post, calling on Congress to right this wrong. Say what you want about Catholicism (and there could be plenty), but their stance on life is unimpeachable.
But it could be that this HHS mandate under Obamacare is but the beginning of the persecution of the American church. And if that is indeed the case, the Lord’s church should embrace that persecution. We should resist with all our righteous indignation the mandate to abort the unborn; resist with the fury of an Almighty God the order to fund murder. If government should wield its heinous, hellish sword in opposition to our stand, may we be vindicated by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 10:11). Only by the power of Christ can the beast be humiliated and Babylon fall. Only by submission to the lordship of Christ can we overcome the world.
But should persecution come our way, we should also welcome it, believing in faith that it will make us a better people, and bring God greater glory. If we stand in the face of persecution, we will be urged on by the thundering applause of the dearly departed saints gone before, what the book of Hebrews calls the great cloud witnesses. And rest assured that among those witnesses are the souls of the 50+ million aborted since Roe v. Wade.
If we stand in the face of persecution, Jesus calls us to rejoice, for our reward is great in heaven (Matt. 5:12).
If we stand in the face of persecution, we can be content in the knowledge that our suffering can be among the church's greatest blessings.
If we stand in the face of persecution, we can be sure that God will be praised.
I pray for President Obama and his administration, if for no other reason than Scripture commands me to do so (1 Tim. 2:2). I pray that he, as well as all world leaders, submit to the rule of God before the Almighty sweeps them away in his fury just as he did ungodly rulers such as Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Herod, Pilate, and Caiaphas. I pray for more godly companies to resist the beast of government, to cry with one voice, "We will not submit to this!" More fervently, I pray that God will bring the U.S. abortion holocaust to a glorious. And I pray for forgiveness for those of us who have voted for pro-choice presidents and senators: we have a lot to answer for.
But may our greatest prayer be that, in life or death, peace or persecution, God be glorified in all things.
Father, forgive us. Forgive our apathy. Forgive those who have, consciously or not, supported the murder of your innocent ones. Forgive President Obama and his administration for this evil. But if this be from your hand, and if dark clouds of persecution lay on the horizon for the bride of your Son, we ask that you work that persecution to your glory. When you have finished trimming the branches of your church, I pray that we are still connected to you and not among those cast into the fire. Help us, in the face of persecution, to truly count it joy and see it as a necessary part of our sanctification. Embolden your saints to stand, and in humility, tell kings and rulers "We will not submit to this." In our suffering, may your kingdom be enlarged. And when the sword of government is placed on our necks, may our final breath be this prayer: "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Help us overcome by the blood of the Lamb. In his name.