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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
About thirty-seven years ago I read a book that changed my understanding of the world. (Of course, that wasn’t hard to do because I was only sixteen and didn’t have much understanding in the first place). The book taught me many things about: relationships between men and women; relationships between the races; geo-politics and how wars come about; social and cultural movements and how societies create laws; how WWII really began; how it was possible that six million men, women, and children, who had at one time all the rights of citizens of one of the most sophisticated civilizations on earth, lost those rights and became fodder for the gas chambers.
The book was Herman Wouk’s Winds of War. From it I learned that the Nazis didn’t suddenly start herding the Jews into cattle cars and destroying them. They began by gradually stripping them of their citizenship, one law, one emergency rule, at a time; forcing them into second-class citizen status; robbing them of business and property rights and finally, removing them to concentration camps.
Fast forward to 21st century USA: Hobby Lobby is a national craft store chain owned and operated by Christians. Because of their faith they refused to comply with the Obamacare / Health & Human Services (HHS) mandate that require all companies to pay for employee healthcare coverage of abortion and abortifacient drugs. They faced fines of over a $1M a day that could’ve shut them down and eliminated thousands of jobs. Hobby Lobby and other Christian-owned businesses filed suit against HHS to block that mandate. Initially they were denied an injunction (a court order that would suspend the penalty until the case could be adjudicated). They swiftly appealed the denial. Finally, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and allowed the injunction. The Hobby Lobby case is now before the Supreme Court.
Next it was The Little Sisters of the Poor’s turn.
The Little Sisters operate a home for the aged in Colorado. Their mission is to “offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.” It’s absurd, but without an injunction of the HHS mandate the non-profit Little Sisters would’ve faced the same fines as Hobby Lobby and other businesses. Even more absurd, in their case the Tenth Circuit Court denied their request for an injunction.
What’s at stake in these cases is the freedom of religion. The last decade has witnessed an erosion of this freedom. Politicians have taken to using the phrase “freedom of worship.” But freedom of worship is only the freedom to believe and practice your faith inside the walls of your place of worship. Freedom of religion, our constitutional right under the first amendment, is the freedom to follow our religiously informed consciences in all matters public and private.
Finally, at the last moment of 2013, the newest Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor, issued a stay on the entire HHS mandate. Her order “temporarily enjoined [the Federal government] from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare).
I thank God for this good news and answer to our prayers. However, the battle isn’t over. The Supreme Court’s decisions on these issues will either strengthen or erode the freedom of religion.
Given the trajectory of our culture, the kind of choice that Hobby Lobby and The Little Sisters were forced to make is inevitable for the rest of us, regardless of who occupies the White House or controls Congress.
It represents a major strategic shift in the state’s attitude toward Biblical Christian conviction. We are not watching an attack on the faith based on the concept of separation of church and state, requiring the removal of religious expression from public institutions. We are witnessing an active, aggressive attack by a belligerent state determined to force private Christians to deny their consciences or face draconian consequences, consequences not identical, but eerily similar to, those faced by the Jews in Germany of the 1930’s.
What are followers of Christ to do in the face of this kind of rising pressure? The Apostle Peter addressed it, saying:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:13-16, NIV)
We must never give in to fear. We serve the God who created the galaxies out of nothing, who holds the earth in the exact orbit around the sun that will sustain life, who wrote the DNA code, who “gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24). We must not live in fear of anyone or any movement.
We are called to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel,” with civility, but firmly, to be a velvet covered brick, in the face of evil and wrong. It is ungodly cowardice to do anything else.
So please pray, continue to write your elected representatives and newspapers on these issues, and stand firm with all of the businesses and organizations like Hobby Lobby and The Little Sisters as their cases are heard by the Court.