WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Birth Control & the Big Tent

Feb 13, 2013

On this Valentine’s Day – still celebrated in some churches as a Feast day – it might be instructive, or reflective, to tie romantic love to brotherly love. In public affairs, that’s difficult.

Bill Knight

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, the Obama administration proposed a compromise for faith-based nonprofits that object to covering birth control in health plans available to their workers, and it’s been received by some as a workable solution. Others swiftly rejected the suggestion, saying the proposal doesn’t create enough of a wall between faith groups and what some clergy leaders view as complicity with sinful birth control.

The compromise would affect the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to cover birth control free of charge to women employees as another “preventive service.” Churches, seminaries and other exclusively religious enterprises already were not required to comply, but religious charities, church-owned hospitals and universities, and some for-profit businesses objected.

The government's new offer would more simply define the religious groups exempt from the requirement and would create a buffer between churches and contraception coverage. Female employees would still have free access through insurers or third parties, but employers wouldn’t have to arrange for the coverage nor pay for it. The federal government would reimburse insurers for its costs through tax credits.

The rejection, almost out-of-hand, by some seems to mirror the divide in the Big Tent within which people of faith reside and abide. For every Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, evangelical Christian Rick Warren, Dr. Martin Luther King or Dorothy Day, there’s a take-no-prisoner fundamentalist, Taliban, clergy pedophile or televangelist who preaches love and hate without missing a beat.

We’re all God’s creatures. It’s inconceivable to think people we admire had no weaknesses or sins, or that people we avoid have no selfless compassion or mercy.

Still, the divide remains, even if it diminishes. An expression of this divide might be most noticeable in prayers tied to two other Christian saints, Michael and Francis of Assisi. The Prayer to St. Michael in the last few months has been recited at Catholic Masses, ordered by conservative Bishops opposing the mandate for church-owned companies to provide health care comparable to other Americans to their own employees – even non-Catholic workers.

The Prayer to St. Michael is, “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host – by the Divine Power of God – cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

In contrast, the Prayer of St. Francis expresses a unity possible in the ideal – beyond doctrine or dogma, labels or leaders – of love.

Reminiscent of St. Paul’s scripture about people having different gifts and seeing both the individual person and people being part of “one body,” the Prayer of St. Francis almost certainly was written about a century ago, not by the good friar, but it can touch all corners of that Big Tent:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  

As Americans consider the continued division between some church authorities and the majority of U.S. citizens concerning health care, birth control and freedom of religions and society, we might realize that no chasm needs to remain unbridgeable.

After all, Francis successfully made a rapprochement with Muslims during the Fifth Crusade, and the “Consecration Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel” cites not his battle worthiness but his “special kindness.”

In fact, the church celebrates these two saints’ Feast Days just five days apart each fall, Sept. 29 and Oct. 4.

Bill Knight is a freelance writer. His newspaper columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.