It’s been over a week since the Obama administration blinked and came up with a way out of their self-inflicted fight with the Roman Catholic Church over mandatory birth control coverage. The administration made a big mistake – they figured that since the great majority of Catholics don’t follow their church’s teaching on contraception (as high as 98% according to a survey cited on NPR), those same Catholics would stand up with the government against their own church. Bad idea. Somehow, the administration forgot that the best way to unite a fractured family is to attack it from the outside while at the same time not considering how united all American Catholics (and, indeed, all Americans) are on the issue of religious liberty. After all, freedom of religion didn’t just slip into the Bill of Rights, it’s number one. You think the ranking doesn’t mean anything? Come on, you know number one is freedom of religion and speech. You know that number two is the right to bear arms. But what’s number three? See what I mean? I’ll pause while you Google it.
I’m humming the Jeopardy! theme, waiting for you.
Hope you feel better now remembering that soldiers can’t be forced into your home during a time of peace. Don’t get too cozy. For a supposedly peace-loving nation we’re at war quite a bit. Like right now. But I digress . . .
What I want to write about today isn’t the Bill of Rights or birth control as a political issue. What fascinates me instead is the gap that I believe the administration initially stumbled over – the gap between what the church teaches on the one hand and the actual belief and behavior of most Catholics on the other. I’ve been wondering if there are similar situations in the RCA and CRC, wondering what gulfs exist between official church policy and the actual beliefs and behavior of the majority.
Can you think of examples of this?
Here’s one that pops into my head – the RCA Book of Church Order says: “The hymns used in public worship shall be in harmony with the Standards of the Reformed Church in America.” Really? Every time I sing “Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now,” I wonder what Guido de Bres might say to that. Or, I remember what Jesus did say, that we did not choose him but he chose us. Or how about that song that repeats “Yes Lord” over and over? Isn’t the important thing that God has said “Yes” through Jesus and not the other way around? Even though I appreciate how the writers of the BCO have left some wiggle room by using the word “hymn” (not to mention their ironic use of the word “harmony”), the real theology of real people is often expressed in song. No matter what our Calvinistic Standards say, many of us sing like Arminians every Sunday.
What about the Standards themselves? I have a hunch the majority views the Canons of Dort like an eccentric relative in their family tree. And why does it seem likely to me that the “super-Calvinists” who adore Dort and happily divide the world into the elect and reprobate are among those dead-set against the Belhar Confession? Am I the only one who thinks “Standards of Unity” is an oxymoron?
Here’s something else I notice. I think of the gap in the Roman Catholic Church as the gap between a sensible public and their paternalistic leaders. I think of the gaps in the Reformed Churches as the gap between sensible leadership and a public swayed more by popular American culture than good theology. But it has occurred to me that Roman Catholic leaders might see their problems exactly the way I see ours – that they believe they are holding true to their theological principles while culture has influenced the average person in the pew against them. What do you think? What gaps do you see between what we officially say and what we actually do? How do you account for these gaps?