The Catholic Church, contraception, religious liberty and being committed to love

This post is written by Father Christian, a Catholic priest in Tennessee. Fr. Christian was a vital source of encouragement for me during my journey into the Catholic Church. I have always appreciated his gentleness, grace and wisdom--especially when dealing with difficult topics. Thank you, Fr. C, for being a gracious, loving follower of Christ. Please visit his blog: Blessed Is The Kingdom. Near the beginning of this year, a chain of events was set in motion by an interpretation of the Affordable Health Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services.

This interpretation of the law mandates that employers provide contraceptives to women free of charge as part of their health insurance benefits. Since this announcement, there has been a fierce debate between the Obama Administration and the US Catholic Bishops. The primary reason that the Catholic Bishops are in opposition to the mandate is that it would be a violation of long-held Catholic religious beliefs to pay for things considered by the Church to be morally wrong.

Much has already been said and written about this ongoing debate, but my purpose today is not to focus on whether the HHS mandate is a matter of religious liberty (which I believe it is) or one of women's health. If you would like to know my thoughts on the HHS controversy, you can find them in this homily or in this post made in response to the government's so-called compromise. Today I would like to turn my attention instead to the subject of how Christians are expected to behave in their discourse with others. 

Recently the HHS debate took a strange turn when a Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, was invited to speak in an unofficial congressional hearing called by Democrats who were upset that she was not allowed to testify during an official congressional hearing called by Representative Issa on February 16.

As a result, many politically conservative bloggers began attacking Ms. Fluke for the opposing viewpoint she expressed in the unofficial hearing. This eventually led a radio host, Rush Limbaugh, to say some things that are frankly appalling.

It is no secret that Mr. Limbaugh thrives on controversial comments, but I think this comment about Ms. Fluke clearly crosses the line of decency, "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex." When challenged on his comments, Mr. Limbaugh chose to throw more fuel on the fire by adding, "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

As a member of the Catholic clergy, I wholeheartedly support our bishops' efforts to fight against what we believe to be an infringement upon religious liberty. But as the old saying goes, "two wrongs don't make a right". While I strongly disagree with Ms. Fluke's views that Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for contraception for employees, I do not believe that she, or any other woman, should be considered a slut or a prostitute because she has chosen to use artificial birth control.

While the Catholic Church does not condone it, it is clear to me that many women, including married women with children and women who are highly active in their parishes, use contraception on a regular basis and it doesn't make them sluts or prostitutes. Mr. Limbaugh seems to be making the argument that if someone else is covering the cost of contraception, that means the person is selling her body for sex. I refuse to buy that argument.

What is even worse is his deluded idea that if you and I are paying Ms. Fluke and others to have sex, they are then obligated to provide pornographic videos to the public. The last time I checked, that is still what we call solicitation.

Christians are certainly called upon to stand up for the truth and even to challenge others who we believe are on the wrong path. We are never called to defame another person, to insult another person, or to try to kill them with our words even when they are committing terrible sins. Christians are called above all else to love like Jesus loved. To see what that love looks like, one need only look to Scripture and Tradition. In Paul's Letter to the Romans he described it this way,

Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5: 5-11)

Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation describes it with these words,

Do not think that you can show your love for Christ by hating those who seem to be His enemies on earth. Suppose they really do hate Him: nevertheless He loves them, and you cannot be united with Him unless you love them too. If you hate the enemies of the Church instead of loving them, you too will run the risk of becoming an enemy of the Church, and of Christ; for He said: "Love your enemies," and He also said: "He that is not with me is against me." Therefore if you do not side with Christ by loving those that He loves, you are against Him. But Christ loves all men. Christ died for all men. And Christ said there was no greater love than that a man should lay down his life for a friend. 

Being a Christian means we must be committed to love. Love sometimes calls us to be prophetic witnesses to the truth when it is unpopular to do so. It never calls us to slander another person, and it never calls us to hate.

If Christians truly want to be taken seriously by our culture, we must commit ourselves to the same sort of sacrificial love that Jesus came to teach us. If we live lives of heroic love, people will once more be attracted to Christ and the Gospel. Whenever the Church has been successful in putting the love of God into action, people have always been drawn to it and they always will be.