Politics & Policy

Why Christians Can’t Compromise on Conscience

People attend the annual March for Life rally in Washington, January 19, 2018. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
An attack on the faith is an attack on the virtue of the faithful, which a healthy society would cherish.

Last week FiveThirtyEight — an influential website known primarily for its sober-minded statistical analysis — published a remarkable attack on Catholic hospitals. It purported to expose how many American communities are dependent on Catholic care and how “bishops” shape their health-care choices. Here’s a key paragraph:

In a growing number of communities around the country, especially in rural areas, patients and physicians have access to just one hospital. And in more and more places, that hospital is Catholic. That sounds innocuous — a hospital is a hospital, after all. But Catholic hospitals are bound by a range of restrictions on care that are determined by religious authorities, with very little input from medical staff. Increasingly, where a patient lives can determine whether Catholic doctrine, and how the local bishop interprets that doctrine, will decide what kind of care she can get.

Today, it published a second piece taking aim at Catholic care, this time decrying the fact that insurers often send patients to Catholic health-care providers without providing sufficient warnings about restrictions on contraception.

The pieces, taken together, paint a fascinating picture of an all-too-common progressive attitude toward Christian service. It’s an attitude I’ve seen time and again in health care, in youth programs, on campus, and everywhere else Christian institutions work with and serve the general public.

It goes something like this: Dear Christians, thank you for feeding, housing, and caring for the poor, but unless you do it in the manner we prefer, advancing the worldview we prefer — even to the point of adopting the personnel policies we demand — we will use all the power of law and public shame to bring you into compliance. We’ll pass laws that violate your conscience. We’ll call you bigots or misogynists when you resist. And all the while, the fact that you actually do serve and sustain (physically and spiritually) millions of Americans will be lost and ignored.

This is how activists justify tossing from campus Christian groups that do an immense of amount of good works simply because they don’t consent to being led by a lesbian who doesn’t believe in their statement of faith. This is how legislators pass laws that will reduce the number of adoption agencies rather than allow Catholic or other Christian agencies to follow their most basic principles when placing children in loving homes. This is how organizations such as the ACLU launch litigation campaigns that could cause hospitals to close, narrowing the health-care options for poor and marginalized Americans.

And in response to each event, as Christians leave campus or adoption agencies close their doors, many of these same progressives will be puzzled. Why close? Why leave? Just change your policies. Can’t you provide Catholic care and contraception — and blame the state for making you do it?

But this fundamentally misunderstands the nature of serious faith. To use an analogy, it’s almost like some folks believe a religious worldview is like a Jenga tower — you can pull out a few planks without causing the whole edifice to collapse. Or, perhaps you’ve heard phrases like “cafeteria Christian” — the term for Christians who pick and choose the church doctrines they’ll obey, typically rejecting those most out-of-step with contemporary secular morality.

Critics want charity without Christianity, or charity with compromised Christianity. Yet that’s not how the human heart works.

To be fair to these critics, they believe this about religion because that’s exactly how many millions of Christians live their lives. They pick and choose their doctrines and bend like reeds in the wind in the face of moral pressure. So a Christian student group that holds strong in the face of campus pressure to open itself to non-Christian leadership often faces Christian hostility from people who’ve already made their considerable compromises with modern culture.

In reality, however, cafeteria Christianity is the path to religious extinction. The Jenga tower will always ultimately fall. Why? Because each assertion of human will over Christian command is an assertion of human authority over divine will. It is a statement of man’s supremacy over God. And when man is supreme, why worship God?

We see this truth in the precipitous collapse of America’s mainline denominations — those churches that have thoroughly compromised traditional Christian doctrine in the name of “inclusivity.” The American population is growing, yet once-powerful denominations like the Episcopal Church, the United Churches of Christ (Barack Obama’s denomination), and the Presbyterian Church USA are shrinking. Some are on pace to virtually disappear in our lifetimes.

Christian charity simply can’t be disconnected from the rest of the Christian faith. Instead, it’s an expression of the whole, without which it would diminish. It’s an enduring fact of American life that religious Americans are far more generous than their secular peers. Critics want charity without Christianity, or charity with compromised Christianity. Yet that’s not how the human heart works.

For millions of Americans, faith drives love, and love drives charity. Attack their faith, and you attack the foundation of their virtue. A healthy society encourages that virtue by respecting faith and protecting religious freedom. Secular Americans, do you appreciate Catholic charity? Then leave Catholicism alone.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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