A Week of Compassion Sprinkled with Grace

It was barley a week ago that we saw hate and tragedy followed by an amazing outpouring of compassion and forgiveness by a strong Christian community. The grace was like an invisible veil that covered us all with God’s love. In quick succession the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality ensuring access to healthcare for millions of people, many poor, and equality for all who love.compassionate HR edited

I feel blessed to live in a country that shows such compassion for the poor and the sick. I feel equally blessed to live in a country where love and equality win. I wish that we all felt the same joy and shared the same convictions about access to care, the poor, and equality. Most of all I wish we all equally valued the faith beliefs of others.

Today I’ve been told I’m a sinner as if that was ever in doubt. If we are Christians we acknowledge we are not perfect and we sin. Sadly, loving my neighbor who is gay or lesbian and wishing them the same happiness I’ve found in marriage isn’t among my greatest sins. If it is a sin then I will gladly say I chose to err on the side of love and equality.

Faith has been part of my life since I was seventeen. It found me in a rural Tennessee church and I accepted it. I have never doubted the importance of faith and still acknowledge that it is all grace. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there will always be those that try and steal the faith of others. They do it when they attack one’s faith or demean it. They fail to recognize that when we are touched by the grace of God no manner of attack will take away that grace. Overtime we grow in understanding, openness to inspiration through prayer, and form a conscience. Faith, hope, and prayer shape the conscience that is a gift from God. It is my conscience founded in faith, shaped by prayer and study, and fine tuned by the hope that God will never let my conscience be deceived.

I firmly believe in one kind and loving God, the holy Catholic Church where all are welcome, and that my conscience will always be true so long as I am open to inspiration. I cannot bring myself to believe that a person who is other than heterosexual is disordered and not deserving of love and equality. I do not believe any person should be denied healthcare or that there is any compassion in putting up barriers to the poor getting care. There is nothing in my faith, my prayers, or my conscience that leads me to believe that I am any more or less deserving of access to care than the poorest person. There is nothing in my being that can not be happy for those that find love. To do so would be to deny my conscience.

I am a liberal Christian and today the President ended this grace filled week by singing my favorite song – Amazing Grace. I wonder if the prayer, forgiveness, and the faith that spread from Charleston, that brought down symbols of hate, and that lifted up a Nation was so powerful that a veil of grace covered our Nation and for this week we chose love, equality, and compassion for the sick and the poor.

It was barley a week ago that we saw hate and tragedy followed by an amazing outpouring of compassion and forgiveness by a strong Christian community. The grace was like an invisible veil that covered us all with God’s love. In quick succession the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality ensuring access to healthcare for millions of people, many poor, and equality for all who love.

I feel blessed to live in a country that shows such compassion for the poor and the sick. I feel equally blessed to live in a country where love and equality win. I wish that we all felt the same joy and shared the same convictions about access to care, the poor, and equality. Most of all I wish we all equally valued the faith beliefs of others.

Today I’ve been told I’m a sinner as if that was ever in doubt. If we are Christians we acknowledge we are not perfect and we sin. Sadly, loving my neighbor who is gay or lesbian and wishing them the same happiness I’ve found in marriage isn’t among my greatest sins, but if it is a sin then I will gladly say I chose to err on the side of love and equality.

Faith has been part of my life since I was seventeen. It found me in a rural Tennessee church and I accepted it. I have never doubted the importance of faith and still acknowledge that it is all grace. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there will always be those that try and steal the faith of others. They do it when they attack others and fail to recognize that when we are touched by the grace of God no manner of attack will take away that grace. Overtime we grow in understanding, openness to inspiration through prayer, and form a conscience. Faith, hope, and prayer shape the conscience that is a gift go God. It is my conscience founded in faith, shaped by prayer and study, and fine tuned by the hope that God will never let my conscience be deceived.

I firmly believe in one kind and loving God, the holy Catholic Church where all are welcome, and that my conscience will always be true so long as I am open to inspiration. I cannot bring myself to believe that a person who is other than heterosexual is disordered and not deserving of love and equality. I do not believe any person should be denied healthcare or that there is any compassion in putting up barriers to the poor getting care. There is nothing in my faith, my prayers, or my conscience that leads me to believe that I am any more or less deserving of access to care than the poorest person. There is nothing in my being that can not be happy for those that find love. To do so would be to deny my conscience.

I am a liberal Christian and today the President ended this grace filled week by singing my favorite song – Amazing Grace. I wonder if the prayer, forgiveness, and the faith that spread from Charleston, that brought down symbols of hate, and that lifted up a Nation was so powerful that a veil of grace covered our Nation and for this week we chose love, equality, and compassion for the sick and the poor.

i hope this vile of grace is never lifted and that our policies continue to be compassionate.


Love-Hate Relationship: Congress, USCCB, and the Affordable Care Act

I have a love-hate relationship with both the Congress and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  I sometimes think I grew up in the government and that I love it like a parent and yet hate it like a teenager.  As a U.S. Public Health Service officer working in a federal prison I experienced bad policy.  I saw a practice that disturbed me on both moral and health outcomes levels.  Later, as a senior officer I worked on a project with Catholic Charities, USA and realized that Catholic Social Teaching was the foundation of many of the best policies I had encountered.  It is therefore no surprise that I do not look at policy implications in isolation.  I weight them against the moral implications.  As much as one may try to take an analytical approach sometimes emotions overwhelm reason.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the real name of what is inappropriately called Obamacare, has been a great concern for many Catholics and those of other faith traditions because of the perception that it funds abortion, abortion causing drugs, and contraception.  These issues are opposed for both theological and philosophical reasons.  In essence, it is because of the nature of our relationship as human beings to God.  Explaining the Church teaching is beyond the scope of what I want to say, but would recommend Contraception and Chastity, by G.E.M. Anscombe as an excellent explanation.

 In contrast, those that do not share this faith or reject the specific teaching on contraception will point to the woman’s right to control her own body.  It is easy to find information on unplanned pregnancy and the long-term impacts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or to explore the Supreme Court rulings and arguments in favor of contraception at the Center for Reproductive Rights.   A simple Google search will reveal that the vast majority of Catholics and the nation support the contraceptive mandate of the ACA and do not agree with the Catholic prohibition on contraception.

The Controversy

On Septermber 26, 2013 two Bishops sent a letter to Congress.  It expressed there concerns about the ACA and requested:

We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress  considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such  “must pass” legislation.

The result was that the House included this in the continuing resolution with absolutely no hope of it passing.  Many Catholics posted the letter from the bishops on Facebook and other social media saying the USCCB supported the shutdown of government.  This caused a minor public outcry against the bishops.  The majority of women, and indeed Americans, are opposed to the contraceptive mandate being removed.  It is highly unlikely that the Democrats would be willing to alienate women and there is no doubt that this would alienate many women.  And so, the bishops found themselves in the middle of the shutdown debate and being partially blamed by their flock.

The USCCB responded that they did not support the shutdown of the government.  Clearly, no large organization can control what every member, bishop or otherwise, may say, but it was not their intent.  Sr. Walsh then made a blog post clearly stating the USCCB concern about conscience, but that they do not support a shutdown which harms the poor.

 Some have falsely interpreted this as a call for the government shutdown or a default on our nation’s debts. The bishops have done nothing of the kind. The bishops have been urging Congress to enact legislation like the Health Care Conscience Rights Act for two and a half years. Since July 2012, the bishops have been asking that this protection be included in “must-pass” bills such as the appropriations bills funding the government, which have long been vehicles for a number of important federal policies on conscience rights.

The bishops clearly stated that the work must continue and the needs of the poor and the rest of the nation needs to be meet.  Unfortunately, intent, interpretations, and outcomes are not always the same.  What is said and what is intended can sometimes be a distinction without a difference. That is why it is vitally important to be precise when interacting at a national policy level.

What Went Wrong

Here is what went wrong with the USCCB messaging.  If one attaches a contentious issues to a piece of “must pass legislation” then that attached issue can cause the “must pass legislation” to fail.  The result can be disastrous as it was in this case.   The bishops failed to say how far they wanted to push the issue.  Nor did they address the underlying moral issue of a government closure and the impact on the poor in their original letter.

Good people tried to do what they perceived as the morally right thing.  It was taken up by people who are not as good and not as interested in the moral as they are the purely political issues. Congress took the bishops letter as supporting the delay of the ACA mandate and the shutdown.  The not so good people do not share the view of the bishops about the poor.  Consequently, it didn’t bother them that the poor are adversely impacted.

In my experience the moral and the policy outcome must be considered in unison.  When the moral is pushed without considering the reality of the world in which we live  and its appropriateness and an unrelated piece of legislation it can have unintended consequences on the overall policy outcome.

What happens when a contentious moral issue and the political collide in a “must pass” piece of legislation is predictably – stalemate.  It is also predictable that those with the least power – the poor – are the most adversely impacted.  It is good that bishops work to protect the faith, but they need to realize that their actions may have adverse impacts on those that are vulnerable.  If they are going to use the power of their position, which they should, then they absolutely must work to better understand that not all people mean well and they will use any vagueness without hesitation to advance a purely political agenda.  They will not for a moment care that their actions harm the poor or anyone else.

Policy is a precise business where words matter.  What isn’t said in a letter and a policy statement can be every bit as important as what is said.  In the end our good intentions matter very little because it intentions don’t feed the poor, pay the workers, or provide healthcare.

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The Pope Resigned and I’m Still Thinking about Contraception Policy

I am a supporter of the Affordable Care Act as a move in the right direction.  I have never understood why health care is for profit, why it doesn’t appear to be treated as a human right in the U.S., or how anyone can proclaim to support human dignity and yet not be in favor of universal health care.  Health care adds to productivity and labor and has derived value.  If anything, I think the Affordable Care Act fell short on supporting human dignity.  Yet, the contraceptive mandate bothers me and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  It is not because I think the contraceptive mandate is an attack on religious freedom – I do not think that was the intent.  It is also not because I have a personal objection to helping pay for anyone’s “health care” or “preventative” services (though I fully believe the Church should be exempt).  I recognize my faith as mine and that others don’t share it.  I may hope and pray that others agree with me, but believe in conversion by persuasion and not force.  It isn’t even because it is against the teaching of the Catholic Church; though that clearly prompted my consideration of the issue.  The Catechism states:

  • 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
  • 2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
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Common forms of contraception

I have concerns about the long-term impact of the policy that makes all FDA approved forms of contraception and sterilization available without a copay.  It is unclear to me whether this covers natural family planning. I fully understand the positive benefits of contraception and its use in treatment of medical conditions.  I can understand why one would want to limit family size.  I even understand the various forms of non-hormonal birth control and the advances that have been made in their effectiveness.  My concern is about how the perception of “free” birth control will change our views on pregnancy and on women who become pregnant.  It is the unintended consequences that disturbs me. 

Human nature being what it is, I wonder if in ten years we will look at poor pregnant women with revulsion.  We already hear the snips like, “why is she having another baby?” We use terms like “welfare mom” and ask people who are poor and need assistance to be drug tested as if poverty is the result of immorality.  Will we be saying there is no excuse for being poor and pregnant now that everyone has access to contraception and sterilization at no cost?  Will it become an expectation that we take oral contraceptives rather than it being a choice?  The stigma of pregnancy may be in our future.  Supporting choice must mean not stigmatizing the choice to have a child. 

As this law moves forward it is going to be important to be vigilant.  For the contraceptive mandate to protect human dignity women must choose to take oral contraceptive because they are using them for family planning or for medical reasons, but not because they are too poor to have a family, fear not being able to feed or care for a child because of economic reasons, or feel they are not valued if they have children – in other words because they feel they have no choice.  The policy does pose the real risk that the use of oral contraceptives will become a social expectation and that those who do not use them will be viewed as irresponsible.  If this occurred it would violate the dignity of women.

At some point the manipulation of human nature must be examined further as policies make it easier for one generation to have power over the next.   We must ask if self-respect and self-worth are protected by the contraceptive mandate?  Does the mandate make women the mere object of action by the government and unintentionally pressure women to reduce the number of children or does it free women to control their bodies, economic prospects, and future?