I have to say as a mainline Methodist, I really appreciate the irony of this. Mainliners have either been quite silent on the HHS ruling or they have basically sided with it. And in so doing they have also unwittingly embraced the assumption that their work for social justice is basically secular in nature-- that the church is only the church when it is the gathered community inside the building with the steeple on top. Thus, what religious people are doing in feeding the poor, and caring for the sick, and taking care of orphans is not religious per se; it is secular. And if mainliners for social justice reject that assumption, the first amendment now applies to religiously affiliated hospitals, orphanages, etc. and the HHS Conscience Clause in its current form is unconstitutional. Indeed, I would suggest that if the HHS ruling is correct, then for the purposes of statecraft, the language of religious affiliation makes no sense.
Episcopal blogger Frederick Schmidt picks up on this theme in his latest column.
Progressive Christians who are dead sure that the Catholic bishops have conflated church and state should remove the beam in their own eyes before reaching for the microscope to help others. Far too often Protestants have bought the so-called Erastian that the church is subordinate to the state and that faith, therefore, is a private affair. Now we are in danger of taking those notions to their logical, self-destructive conclusion: The only theological vocabulary we have is the vocabulary that the state gives us.
If we go much further down this road, there will be little reason to worry about precedents, because there won't be a church with a distinctive ecclesial voice worth protecting. When that happens, forget the applause. Cue the funeral dirge.
It's been interesting to watch how Progressive Christians reacted to this whole drama. Sadly very few of them sided with the Catholic bishops. Before people start accusing me of being anti-woman or something let me explain. I'm not saying they should have agreed with the Catholic stance on birth control; I am saying Progressive Christians should have sided with the bishops on Religious Liberty grounds. I remember learning in seminary the importance of the phrase "Jesus is Lord." Calling a poor Jewish carpenter Lord and not Ceasar was tantamount to treason against the Romans. "Jesus is Lord" is a reminder that God doesn't take second-place in our lives and is always challenging the powers of this world be they good democracies or bad dictatorships. The urge by some to ignore the conscience of those who might have an issue paying for birth control is basically saying that Progressives should support Ceasar, at least when Ceasar is a political party they adhere to.
If Progressive Christians are to stand for anything, we have to be willing at times to go against some of our secular allies, because God can't take a back seat. If we can't stand up with a group we sometimes disagree with for the greater theological good, then we are no more than the Democratic Party at prayer.