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Protecting Conscience Rights: Hearers and Doers of the Word

A couple weeks ago I reflected on one reason why Christianity is beautiful: Christianity is a faith rooted in history. Christianity is a faith that immediately allows us to learn from past human experience. In Scripture, we see the stories of faith of those who followed God with all their heart, mind, and soul, those who were unwilling to compromise their devotion to the Lord for the passing things of this world.

In particular, I noted the example of the “seven brothers with their mother” in 2 Maccabees 7 who would not violate the Mosaic law that prohibited consuming pork. They would not bow to the pressures and coercion of the king, instead vowing their allegiance to the Lord of History, God the Father. In short, their conscience would not permit them to violate the faith of their fathers.

Christianity is also beautiful because it demands not only our mental assent—to say “Yes!” in the interior of our mind—but it demands that we give our entire self in action. As we hear in the Letter of St. James: “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

And, as we hear in Matthew 25, our faith will be judged—on the Day of Judgment—by the action or inaction we take as Christians. When we see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, we are called to love as if the one in need is Christ Himself: “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

To be a Christian means to act as a Christian, in imitation of Jesus Christ. Nothing less can be expected.

However, we live at a time when acts of Christian charity are more and more unwelcomed in the public square.

Christians are told that they can be hearers of the Word in their places of worship, but that they cannot be doers of the Word in the public square. Christians are told that their acts of love for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, while noble by themselves, are unwanted because they are too intimately connected to the Church’s allegedly discriminatory, bigoted, and historically backwards views on marriage and human sexuality.

For example, Catholic News Agency recently reported that Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Greensburg in Pennsylvania “closed its adoption and foster care program, which had been operating since 1954.” The shuttering of Catholic Charities adoption and foster care services was not a voluntary effort. As their director noted, they had been “frozen out of the major source of contracts” related to foster care and adoption work. The reason: Catholic Charities held the “radical” view that children belong in a home with a loving father and mother, and declined to make placements with same-sex couples. Similar closings have occurred with Catholic foster care and adoption entities in Philadelphia, Boston, Illinois, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

In Nebraska, for over the last decade, there has been an ongoing battle with two regulatory boards that oversee psychology and mental health practice. Both boards have attempted to insert language into its codes of ethics that prohibit a mental health professional from discriminating against clients based on the client’s sexual orientation and gender identity. These types of so-called non-discrimination laws, while seemingly benign on their face, have had major negative implications for social services providers, like the ones detailed above. They inevitably have the effect of forcing a faith-based social services provider to choose between shutting their doors to those most in need or violating their Christian beliefs on marriage and human sexuality. For Christian entities that hold fast to the Gospel, the result has always been to shut their doors, and never deny Christ.

In short, Christian social service entities have been told you can be a hearer of the Word, but you cannot be a doer of the Word. You can listen to the words of Christ Who calls you to care for the poor and needy, but you cannot do anything for them in the public square because your views on marriage and human sexuality violate the fleeting norms of modern society.

It should be obvious, however, that such a view toward people of faith not only violates tenets of religious liberty but hurts those most in need. As Christians, then, we are called to advocate that all people of faith can be both hearers and doers of the Word, to live and abide by the sincerely held religious beliefs that call us to action in this world to assist those most in need.

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