Of Presidents, Bishops, and Birth Control

President Harrison has issued an update in the current controversy over the Federal Government’s mandate of free birth control for all, world without end. The only thing missing from Pres. Harrison’s letter is the frank admission that all hormonal contraceptives can in fact do just what “Ella” and “Plan B” do, that those drugs are just megadoses of hormonal contraceptives. Well, I guess the traditional Lutheran teaching against contraception altogether is also missing, but I’d settle for just the first point in this day and age.

I tip my hat to Mrs. Jeff Gibbs of CSL who does wonderful work opening up eyes to this fact on CSL’s campus with Randy Alcorn’s book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

If you are interested in this topic, rather than have a lengthy debate in the comments I’d recommend the two links above and also this episode of Issues, Etc., as well as lot of thought and prayer.
[podcast]http://issuesetc.org/podcast/168021809H1p.mp3[/podcast]

+HRC

Here is Pres. Harrison’s letter:

 

 

February 14, 2012

LCMS reacts to contraceptive mandate ‘accommodation’

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In response to President Obama’s announcement Friday concerning an “accommodation” to a previous mandate that health plans must cover all forms of birth control (even those that can kill the unborn), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) remains deeply concerned. We strongly object to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Drugs such as “Plan B” and “Ella,” which are still included in the mandate, can work post-conception to cause the death of the developing child, so don’t be fooled by statements to the contrary.

We see President Obama’s action Friday as significant, in that it appears to have been prompted by the many voices united in concern over an infringement of our religious liberties. But the “accommodation” did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way. It simply described a temporary enforcement delay and a possible future change—a change that, unfortunately, would not adequately protect religious freedom or unborn lives.

We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life. We are committed to working to ensure that we remain free to practice the teachings of our faith, that our religious rights are not violated, and that our rights of conscience are retained. Freedom of religion extends beyond the practice of our faith in houses of worship. We must be free to put our faith into action in the public square, and, in response to Christ’s call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people according to the clear mandate of Holy Scripture.

The government has overstepped its bounds. This controversy is not merely about “birth control” and the Catholic Church’s views about it. It’s about mandating that we provide medications which kill life in the womb. And moreover, and perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens. We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces. As we have vividly experienced in discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption, we, and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will), are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat. The next assault will come upon church-related retirement facilities. How much longer will it be legal in this country to believe and act according to the dictates of biblical and creedal Christianity?

Jesus bids us, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). We will pray for and support our government where we can, but our consciences and lives belong to God.

In His peace,

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 


Comments

Of Presidents, Bishops, and Birth Control — 35 Comments

  1. It is extremely important to keep the primary issue, the primary issue. The issue of birth control and a mandate regarding is not the primary issue. We do ourselves a tremendous service if we allow this issue to get bogged down in squabbles over the use of birth control.

    It is, as President Harrison notes, about religious freedom and the First Amendment.

    So, while we can debate all day long about birth control, that is precisely our right to do so as a church in the USA.

    When the government tries, as in this case, to impose restrictions on religious freedom of expression and practice, there is where the battle must be joined.

    It does not matter what one’s opinions are about birth control, or even if one has a religion. It has everything to do with the nature of freedom in the USA.

  2. I think the teachable moment is the one concerning the First Amendment and the threat to religious freedom in this country. I would hate to see this teachable moment turned into an opportunity for a pastor to ride one of his hobby horses.

  3. Because birth control is actually entirely beside the point. The point is that the President of the USA’s administration is trying to dictate what a church can or can’t do in keeping with their religion’s teaching.

    It is a First Amendment/freedom of religion issue, not a birth control issue.

  4. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #7
    Yes, sir, you are correct that religious freedom IS the primary issue, however, this will offer opportunities to discuss the Lutheran position on birth control. which is, in my opinion woefully under discussed and understood within our church body, as are most reproductive issues, save abortion.

    Yeah, lets keep the main thing the main thing, but that doesn’t mean we have to stubbormly avoid obvious teaching opportunities in an effort to keep everyone on point, whether they wasnt it or not. It CAN be both/and.

  5. I’ve not seen this happen. When people pull this conversation down the path of birth control, the main issue is lost in the process. As no doubt will happen in this thread. I’ll sit back and watch. Making some popcorn now.

  6. Kitty,

    Please refer to the 2nd and 4th links in my post for the answer to that question.

    I don’t mean to put you off, but this really is an area where more reading and research is needed rather than a short answer shot off in the comments of a blog.

    +HRC

  7. What islamic practices would government want to impede? If a precedent limiting religious freedom can be established here, a line in the sand, so to speak, then it could later be used against others. Just trying to think beyond the precedent to its possible later applications.

    What sort of standing would an organization or individual have to have to challenge such a regulation?

  8. @Mrs. Hume #12
    The government already impedes the Muslim practice of polygamy.

    This issue cuts both ways and we often want to have our cake and eat it, too. So we don’t want the government to tell us to issue birth control, but how many Lutherans support the government taking kids from Jehovah Witness parents who won’t give them blood transfusions? Well, think that on down the line: when will the government come and take your daughter because you won’t give her the “basic preventative care” of the birth control pill?

    If you ask me, freedom means not always getting your way. I don’t support laws that limit any religious practice that does no physical violence to non-adherents. If that’s not the line you draw in the sand, then don’t be surprised when the same power you used to limit the religious practice of others comes back on you.

    +HRC

  9. The discussion on this thread about Lutheran involvement in a current political issue that has significant moral implications can be compared or contrasted to previous Lutheran (and specifically Missouri Synod) political involvements.

    From Fred W. Meuser, “Facing the Twentieth Century,” (in E. Clifford Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North America, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, pp. 396-7):

    When American “neutrality” turned out to be in the Allies’ favor, Lutherans began publicly to criticize the government in a fashion not at all typical of their church in the past… Strange, in view of the Missouri Synod’s traditional social and political quietism, was the extent and vigor of its denunciations of the ‘atrocious trade in arms’ and its charge that America’s lust for profit had turned it into a hypocritical murderer. [16] Even more astounding was the theological justification for this new critical attitude voiced by Missouri’s president [F. Pfotenhauer] that ‘anything that touches moral issues is within the sphere of the church.’ [17] Attacks on both American and German manufacturers, favorable reviews of books which laid the blame for the war on England, defenses against the charge of hyphenism, and synodical resolutions against arms exports which were causing loss of American lives were other expressions of the German sympathies of Lutherans. Allied defeats were interpreted as punishment for its national sins, such as the opium trade in China; German suffering as divine retribution for its spiritual decline. Only the more extreme Germanophiles went so far as to praise the Kaiser and General von Hindenburg as Christians worthy of emulation. [18]

    [Footnotes:]
    16. Friedrich Bente of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, spoke frequently at neutrality conferences and editorialized regularly against American policy in Der Lutheraner, as did Theodore Graebner in the Lutheran Witness. Bente’s appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate in 1915 caused Henry Cabot Lodge to comment in a letter to Theodore Roosevelt in 1915 that Bente’s accent was “so strong you could stumble over it… [as he] lectured us on Americanism, patriotism… [and]the opinions of George Washington… Some of us are not hyphenates – we are just plain Americans – and the wrath of the members of the Committee, Democrats and Republicans, was pleasing to witness. I think they have overdone it.” Quoted in Carl S. Meyer, ed., Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), p. 236.
    17. Der Lutheraner, February 15, 1916, p. 63. When the issues became emotional enough, Lutherans could appeal to the very same oversimplified principle which they had criticized repeatedly when used by other Protestants to justify concern and action on social or political issues,
    18. Lutheran Witness, December 15, 1914, p.207; August 10, 1915, p. 253

  10. The lcms was right, the us should have stayed out of ww1. But it wasn’t an issue for the church. Also, good letter by the pres. And pastors should promote the good of being open to large families, not that birth control is a sin.

  11. I respectfully suggest an early moratorium on these comments so that the participants read Sasse’s 1930 paper on the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms

  12. Links to the 12-page paper, “THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE PRESENT” by Hermann Sasse, 1930, from The Lonely Way 1927-1939, Vol. 1 copyright 2001 Concordia Publishing House, along with the documents listed below, can be found on the LCMS webpage, Life Library — Two Kingdoms:

    “THE CHRISTIAN A CITIZEN OF TWO KINGDOMS” by J. M. Weidenschilling, M.A., S.T.D., from Christian Citizenship, originally published in 1953 by Concordia Publishing House.

    CHRISTIAN CITIZENSHIP, An Essay Read before the Convention of the English District, Ev. Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, at River Forest, Ill. June, 1937, by Dr. Theodore Graebner (Originally published in 1937 by Concordia Publishing House).

    “The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the Public Square in the Era of C.F.W. Walther,” by Cameron A. MacKenzie.

    “Lutheran Ethics in View Of Justification, Sanctification and the Two ‘Kingdoms’,” Rev. Charles St-Onge, October 6, 2002.

    “RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTETH A NATION,” by J. M. Weidenschilling, M.A., S.T.D., from Christian Citizenship, originally published in 1953 by Concordia Publishing House.

    The Two Governments and the Two Kingdoms in Luther’s Thought,” by Dr. John R. Stephenson, from the Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 34, 1981.

    “THE TWO REALMS (“KINGDOMS”) IN THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS,” by Prof. Kurt E. Marquart, from the Luther Academy Conference Papers, Spring 1995, Number 1.

  13. I find it curious how quickly the Catholic church responded to the matter of insurance coverage for birth control, while remaining silent for so long on the matter of priests abusing children.

    I also find it curious how vocal the LCMS is on the political dimensions of this issue, homosexuality and abortion, while remaining silent on matters related to social justice.

  14. First, if this is a First Amendment/Freedom of Religion issue, should we not also hear from a constitutional lawyer? Surely Mr. Goeglein or an associate could write something for the Reporter or the Witness. If such a person isn’t available, Gerard V. Bradley (Notre Dame), who’s argued before the Court, would be good.

    Second, the discussion of contraception does not necessarily derail a profitable discussion on how Christian citizens should exercise their vocation in this situation. In fact, those believing that contraception is always morally permissable are required to consider contraception, if only to differentiate between contraceptive acts and abortive acts. For his part, in his comments to date President Harrison has always carefully made that distinction.

  15. @Johan Bergfest #18

    The moral equivalency argument does not wash. If we admit it, then no argument holds any water, because everyone is morally deficient. The RC Church is guilty of grievous sin and scandalous behavior in its handling and cover-up of priestly abuse. It has owned up to its sin. Does that mean that it should not defend its teachings when threatened by an obvious power grab by the President? Hardly.

    What is meant by the term “social justice?” The Synod certainly does not have to apologize for its record in the “social justice” arena. Its actions speak for themselves. I respectfully submit that the point on that issue is moot.

  16. @Johan Bergfest #18

    Johan-
    the silence of bishops and the sin of sexual abuse by priests has been well documented, and confessed over and over again by none other than the pope of Rome. The wickedness of those terrible sins is not the issue at hand. What is at issue is the abuse of the constitution of the United States by the president and his administration. Members of the church of Rome who are citizens of these United States have every right to speak to the powers that be, as do we, to say that what the administration is doing is contrary to the freedoms that are to be protected by the same.

    What matters of social justice specifically are you concerned about that the LCMS is silent about? I am concerned that since convicted felon, Gov. George Ryan, here in Illinois cleared death row justice will not be done. The LCMS recognizes that capital punishment is a just way for society to punish criminals guilty of the most heinous crimes.

  17. I think Pr. Curtis is right on the money. We scream and moan about the plight of the Papists, but where is the screaming and moaning over the freedom of “conscience” for Mormons, Muslims, etc., etc. who aren’t able to follow their moral traditions? I’m happy to see that people are incensed over government infringement into religion’s affairs, but quite frankly, this has happening for far longer than any of us care to admit.

    As far as the ridiculous assertion that we should care more about what’s going on in the State than what’s going on in the Church (as if the former is the “bigger issue”): it seems to me that we should be more worried about getting our own house in order than fretting over what’s going on outside of it. Did Christ say “beware of Caesar” and “guard against Caesar infringing your rights?” Don’t recall that verse, but I do recall “not the least stroke of the pen” falling from the Word until all things are accomplished, “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,” and “beware of false prophets.” As such, I think we do well to be concerned if the vast, vast majority of “Lutheran” laypeople (and pastors?) are living in a state of sin through the willful use of contraceptives. Conversely, if contraception is not morally repugnant, then we do well to silence those who are asserting such.

    Either way, this is a much more pertinent matter, in my opinion, than fretting over the latest threat of Caesar.

  18. It is good to see that the conversation is diminishing in its heat and intensity. It is good to read and study theology on these important questions and to eschew what are, in my opinion, ill-informed exhortations to, for example, ‘Walk with the RC,’ or to assert that ‘We are all Catholics now.’ No, we are not all Catholics now. See especially Feuerhahn’s introduction to the great Sasse document of 1930. “Sasse addresses the widespread midunderstanding of the kingdom of God. He speaks of attempts to ‘ecclesiasticize’ or ‘Christianize’ the world which would eventually result in the ‘secularization ‘ of Christendom. Later social scientists and historians would describe this as the ‘politicization’ of Christianity. “

  19. @Norman Teigen #24

    At your suggestion (post #16) I dug out my copy of Sasse’s “Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession” in “The Lonely Way, Volume 1.” Permit a couple of quotations:
    “There can be no doubt that every revolt against the legal governing authority is a grievous sin according to Lutheran doctrine. It can happen that the governing authorities are overthrown because of grievous guilt, that the revolution comes as a judgment of God upon them. But the insurgent never has legal right.” (pp. 97,98)

    A bit later he says, “A governing authority which bears the sword in vain, which no longer has the fortitude to decisively punish the law breaker is in danger of burying itself. A state which removes the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from jurisprudence and replaces them with ‘useful’ and ‘injurious,’ ‘healthy’ and ‘ill’, ‘socially valuable’ and ‘socially inferior’, [a state] which in the place of the principle of remuneration places the principle of inoculation, a state which in its civil law dissolves marriage and the family–[such a state] ceases to be a constitutional state and thus the governing authority. A governing authority which knowingly or unknowingly makes the interests of social position or class the norm for the formation and definition of lay, or which allows the norms of law to be dictated by the so-called ‘legal consciousness’ of the time sinks to the level of raw power.” (p. 98)

    And a brief quote from the introduction to “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek, edited by Bruce Caldwell:
    “…though he continued to stress the links between socialism and fascism, Hayek began to expand on what he saw as the fatal flaw of socialist planning–namely, that it ‘presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of the different ends than actually exists, and that, in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must impose upon the people that code of values which is lacking.'” (p. 6) For “planning authority” substitute “H.H.S.”, for “impose” substitute “coerice,” for “people” subtitute “the church”, and and you get the picture. This is the real issue.

    I suggest that H.H.S. is a “quango.” You could look it up.

  20. Good one, Win. I will study what you have written when I return home later this afternoon. Thanks.

  21. @Win #25
    “a state which in its civil law dissolves marriage and the family–[such a state] ceases to be a constitutional state and thus the governing authority.”

    Which is what we’re witnessing before our very eyes.

  22. @Robert #27

    There is, of course, much more to Sasse’s paper than my “cherry-picked” quotations. For instance, his stances on revolution, and against “Christianization” of government. However, a reading of President Harrison’s two statements on the administration’s mandates re: health care will show how careful he is to frame the argument against the mandates. It’s not about birth control or abortion or even marriage and the family–those are the obvious issues–and we would do well to save those discussions for another thread. We need to broaden our perspective to view the whole picture–and Pres. Harrison does that quite brilliantly.

  23. @Win #28
    The President specifically mentions “kill[ing] the unborn,” “taking the lives of unborn children,” drugs that “cause the death of the developing child,” “the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life,” and “medications which kill life in the womb.”

    This is clearly pro-life language, which is very much appreciated.

    The President also broaches “discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption,” immediately bringing to mind the State of Illinois, et al.

    I think that we need to respect the President’s statement for what says–in black and white.

  24. @Robert #29

    I stand corrected insofar as Pres. Harrison’s use of the terms you quote. I did not mean to imply that he did not use those terms. However, in his second-to-last paragraph, Pres. Harrison says:

    “The government has overstepped its bounds. This controversy is not merely about ‘birth control’ and the Catholic Church’s views about it. It’s about mandating that we provide medications which kill life in the womb. And moreover, and perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens. We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces. As we have vividly experienced in discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption, we, and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will), are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat. The next assault will come upon church-related retirement facilities. How much longer will it be legal in this country to believe and act according to the dictates of biblical and creedal Christianity?”

    I think this makes it clear that altho Pres. Harrison cites examples of abortion and homosexual adoption, and even retirement facilities, he makes it clear that the main issue is “perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens,” and that “we, and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will), are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat.”

    This is the “whole picture” that I was referring to. And, in re-reading my post @28, with all respect for and in full agreement with the President’s statement–in black and white–I stand by what I said–the overriding issue is government coercion. That is what this thread is all about–or ought to be, in my opinion.

  25. And today President Harrison has issued his latest statement as a video on the LCMS website. It is superb.

  26. Why do some Lutherans posting here think the doctrine of the two kingdoms means that churches in the United States can not speak out publicly when the federal government is trampling on their religious freedom?

    And, I’d like to know where these Lutherans stand, personally, on the issue of abortion. That always gets a bit fuzzy for me too.

  27. And also, breaking news, President Harrison and Seminary Professor Pless are headed to Washington DC to testify regarding the HHS mandates tomorrow (Thursday). We are blessed to be represented in this fashion to our government, and we should keep this team in our prayers.

  28. Robert :@Win #30 Then, we’re in agreement, Win. Thanks for an enjoyable exchange!

    You’re most welcome. When one chooses one’s words carefully, the chances for misunderstanding are lessened. That ‘s not an old Chinese proverb–just something I had to learn the hard way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.