Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. In question is whether for-profit religious employers can be forced to provide abortion-causing drugs to their employees. Other writers offer introductions to the arguments; I’m focusing this morning on an even more fundamental issue illustrated by these cases.
Let’s begin with Damon Linker’s fascinating new essay in The Week: “Why churches should brace for a mass exodus of the faithful.” Linker states that our culture is growing in its acceptance of complete equality for women and homosexuals. This acceptance clashes with churches which reject such equality. Roman Catholics and Mormons are his primary targets, since both reject the possibility of women in leadership and both remain convinced that homosexual activity is sinful. Linker predicts that if Roman Catholic and Mormon churches do not align their beliefs with culture, they will face a mass exodus of members. And so will any other churches which reject the cultural tide.
I agree with Linker’s prediction, though I reject his solution. There is no doubt that our culture has made a major shift in recent years from truth to opinion. If the majority believes in gay marriage, for example, churches are expected to align their beliefs accordingly or lose members. But imagine this logic applied to other situations. In Muslim-majority nations, are churches to give up the Trinity? In Israel, are they to stop preaching that Jesus is the Messiah? If Christianity had to align with popular culture, would there ever have been a Christian movement?
It would be so much easier to swim with the cultural current. For instance, if Hobby Lobby’s owners would agree with the Obama administration on abortion, they could save themselves much pain. If you and I would agree that any sexual activity between consenting adults is permissible, that abortion should be permitted whenever the mother wishes, that spirituality is a suitable substitute for personal commitment to Jesus, and that Christianity is just one way to “higher truth” (whatever he/she/it may be), our culture would applaud our “tolerance.”
It is not that we should not listen to society. But we must offer God’s answers to our culture’s questions, for they are the only answers that can change the human heart. An oncologist who chooses not to offend his patient by telling her she has cancer betrays both his profession and his patient. We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but it must be the truth that we speak.
If we substitute popular opinion for biblical truth, we harm both the culture and the church. Christians are entrusted with “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)—every person you know needs what you know. And we are called to “obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29). Only a dead fish floats with the current.