There has been a fierce debate during the last couple months over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recent decision to require nearly all private health plans, including those offered by religious employers, to cover contraceptives. Our church body’s president offered a helpful response on February 16th before the House Oversight Committee.
Amidst the firestorm, I need not say anything new. But I make an observation. And I propose that for Christians we re-frame the discussion. It appears the primary thrust of the debate is about rights. It’s “women’s rights” versus “religious rights.” The House Oversight Committee’s hearing was titled as much: “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Whether women or religious people, it seems everyone feels their rights are being trampled on.
As for women’s rights, I happen to be for them. I just don’t think that it’s anyone’s inalienable right to be given free contraception. Nor do I believe it’s anyone’s right - male or female - to dispose of human life. I am a proponent of women getting paid equally and being respected in society. I want to stand up to unfair discrimination.
On the other side, religious leaders have made the debate about religious rights. I don’t disagree. But for some reason, the Christian response sounds more like shrill whining. While I do believe there is government intrusiveness here, I’m not overly concerned about my rights as a Christian. I’m really more concerned about the rights of children. It’s really about kids – having them or not having them, caring for them or disposing of them.
And this is where I believe that followers of Jesus have an opportunity to humbly change the conversation. Let’s move beyond political calls for religious freedom. This isn’t about “my rights as a Christian.” I’m doing pretty well compared to Christians in Nigeria and Iran. Instead, this is about Christians working for the rights of others. What does it really mean to care for women? What can we proactively do to advance the rights of children - stand for orphans, stop child abuse, work for education reform, etc.
A fundamental component of following Jesus is the Great Commandment, to love God and love my neighbor as myself (Matt. 22:37-39). Jesus says, “Love one another just as I have loved you.” This is a self-giving love that gives up rights for the sake of others. It’s a risky, dangerous, and often uncomfortable love. To love others in the way of Christ means I’m prepared to have my rights trampled on. Jesus lived in a land that was under Roman occupation. His goal was bigger than religious freedom. It was to love sacrificially, giving up his rights for others. It was this love that got him killed. I find that the conversation changes when I’m not defensive of my own rights, but rather fierce for the rights of others.