abortion, Barton Gingerich, Centurions program, Chuck Colson, Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Eric Metaxas, evangelical, HHS Mandate, Life, marriage, Politics, Prison Fellowship, religious freedom, religious liberty, Roman Catholic, Social Witness, theology, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Timothy George, Wilberforce Weekend, William Wilberforce
by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Last Saturday at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview granted Timothy Cardinal Dolan their most prestigious honor, the William Wilberforce Award. Since 1991, the Colson Center has stood as a leading nexus of evangelical thought in America. The organization saw fit to recognize the cardinal for his bold stance against the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires all employers to provide insurance covering contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization for their employees. I had the privilege to interview one-on-one with his eminence as well as board chairman Dr. Timothy George and author Eric Metaxas. I asked all three about issues of life, religious freedom, and marriage.
When queried about the Obama administration’s latest compromises regarding the HHS mandate, Cardinal Dolan stated that he still had “major concerns” since the “accommodations are way less than satisfactory.” The Archbishop of New York worried that the rights religious citizens that object to the HHS standards would be narrowed not necessarily de jure but de facto. Nevertheless, he remains upbeat; the cardinal hopes that lawmakers will pursue a “legislative fix” to protect the consciences of Christians.
On the other hand, Cardinal Dolan reserves “broad philosophical concerns” regarding the conscience protection clause. “We have to go bidding with the government for our religious freedoms….We shouldn’t ever have to feel embarrassed to stand up for our human rights,” he declared, “As Blessed John Paul II noted, the freedom of religion makes way for all other political freedoms.” While Cardinal Dolan said he and his brother bishops in the USCCB are “not about to give up, we don’t want to be seen as pugnacious.” He described the HHS battle as an “intensely ecumenical movement,” especially since “it’s not just a Catholic issue; it’s an American issue.”
Regarding the battle for life, the Roman Catholic leader remarked, “The Gosnell hearings have pulled the rug out from abortionists.” The accepted silence of major news outlets on the grisly case met with a heartening “reaction.” “We seem to have to young people on our side,” Dolan observed. On the other hand, the redefinition of marriage has been more difficult since LGBT activists have adopted an argument from fairness. The “right to marriage” feels positive and uplifting, all the more so since advocates for marriage redefinition “have a lot of literati on their side.” He also observed, “We’ve also been battling an entitlement culture. The rights mentality is biblically grounded…but some things aren’t rights at all!”
Dr. Timothy George and other evangelicals join in solidarity with Catholics over these important cultural concerns. The Beeson Divinity School dean deems the HHS mandates on employers as “the most pressing threat to religious freedom…It’s not about contraception (which evangelicals don’t agree on). The media tried to spin this at the start. But it’s actually about the freedom of conscience.” Referencing a letter he co-authored with Chuck Colson, Dr. George urges a cultural co-belligerency for Catholics and evangelical Protestants. The pressure to insure abortifacients has led to a “catalytic convergence” of believers across traditions. The former IRD advisory board member also sees this controversy as one of the great civil crises of the era: “As people of faith, we are willing to go to prison for this. We hope it doesn’t turn out that way, and we don’t want to have to do that.”
Like Dolan, George thinks that the marriage debate will prove to be an uphill struggle. “We were not as concise—or persuasive—as we might have been on this issue to start out with,” he confessed, “We got [the rapid change in position] through the entertainment industry.” George thinks that–contrary to popular belief–“people do get hurt [in same-sex marriages]…with respect to the children” Citing Mark Regnerus’ work on the matter, the Beeson Divinity professor added, “We should not rush into this as a nation.”
Noted speaker and author Eric Metaxas agreed: “Marriage, the HHS mandate—these are all about religious freedom.” The Wilberforce biographer remarked that, eventually, marriage redefinition would have a “chilling effect on religious freedom in America” as churches would refuse same-sex couples space and personnel for weddings. “Most thinking Christians realize gays have not been treated as Jesus would have wanted them to be,” he surmised, “But when it comes to the legal issue…if marriage can be anything, then it becomes nothing.” “If people on the other side could address religious freedom, we would be much more at ease,” he revealed.
Metaxas observed, “We’ve had religious liberty so much and for so long in this country, we don’t recognize it anymore.” Lost consciousness to American liberty leads to dangerous mindsets. “If someone makes you uncomfortable, why not shut them up? If you don’t care about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, what’s stopping you?” he wondered. Metaxas contested, “[Freedom] needs to be kept. It needs to be cared for.” Behind the marriage and liberty debate lies another important issue: human nature. “Political correctness has shoved that debate off the table,” he thought.
In addition, political correctness fueled the Gosnell media blackout. Metaxas thinks that the revelations from this case give an opportunity for life advocates. He asserted, “This is just like Wilberforce and the slavery issue. Get the average [person] educated on the issue, and I think you’ll start seeing more and more political changes to defend life.”
As the heavy hand of the state and increasingly “progressive” morals encroach upon human society, Christians across denominational lines are heartened by the outspoken witness of such advocates as Timothy Cardinal Dolan. No doubt most evangelicals will concur with the Colson Center’s pick for the 2013 Wilberforce Award.