By Ed Stetzer
NASHVILLE (BP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has given the Obama administration — and hopefully the world — a lesson in the first freedom: The government cannot, and must not, require people of faith to violate their sincerely-held beliefs.
The June 30 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties underscores religious liberty as our “first freedom.” The freedom to exercise religion, enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is the freedom from which all of our other freedoms flow.
This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, such as blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.
A LifeWay Research study in November 2012, however, showed that most Americans supported mandatory contraception coverage through Obamacare. In other words, the Supreme Court has seen a religious freedom issue where Americans do not; the majority of Americans are on the other side of Hobby Lobby ruling.
Perhaps it is helpful to note that this isn’t simply a “freedom to worship” issue; it is a “freedom of religion” issue. It has become quite common to hear the debate framed in terms of “freedom to worship,” a subtle but not inconsequential change in the DNA of “freedom of religion” protected in our Constitution. Religion (faith) belongs to every sphere of life, rather than a singular identifiable activity engaged or performed in a limited portion of life.
Earlier this year, a Pew Research study showed the U.S. government is increasingly hostile to religious liberty in this country. It is not persecution, but it is an encroachment of religious freedom. And, in spite of the media’s (and some progressive Christians’) dismissal of the issue, our LifeWay Research study showed the majority of Americans and the vast majority of its Protestant pastors believe religious liberty is on the decline.
So, where do we go from here? I suggest four things to consider.
1. Understand the shift in our culture.
The subtle loss of religious liberty in this country is connected to a broader, deeper issue in our society. If there’s anything we should take away from the Supreme Court ruling it is this: The ruling simply does not match the will of the people in the United States. Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics. Thankfully, the Supreme Court is showing more concern about the potential loss of religious freedom than the average American (and some evangelicals).
2. Pray for rulers and those in authority.
Did you pray for the Supreme Court in this case? Did you pray for the President? Or did you just post your opinion on Facebook? The Bible commands the former and does not mention the latter.
Let’s pray for our Supreme Court members as they continue to wrestle through complicated issues of ethics and morality. Let’s pray they continue to defend our freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Let’s pray for President Obama and his administration that they will embrace the cause of religious liberty for all Americans, including evangelicals like the Green family, Hobby Lobby’s founders. Let’s pray for our neighbors and friends who do not yet know Jesus, that the ruling will prompt discussion about morality and its source, the Jesus of the Bible.
3. Engage in mission.
We continue to have the opportunity to impact our culture as agents of God’s Kingdom. Even though we don’t have the cultural influence we once enjoyed, we are free to influence through the proclamation and power of the Gospel.
The answer to the decline of religious freedom and the change in the moral climate is not found in waging incessant cultural wars filled with rage at our changing culture. Simply put, you can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.
The biggest problem with our secular neighbors and co-workers isn’t that they don’t share our biblically-grounded morality. It’s that they have not yet experienced the grace and love of Jesus in saving faith.
Let’s live on mission so they might.
4. Use the freedom we have.
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture — we still have great freedom here while Christians around the world are being killed for converting. Our freedom is eroding, but it’s still enormous. Let’s live like it.
Let’s live like resurrection people, adorning the Gospel with lives of grace. Even in our passion to defend freedoms increasingly at risk, let’s remind ourselves this generation is desperately in need of the love of Christ, lived and shared.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research. This article is adapted from his blog at EdStetzer.com.