A lot has been made by many people about the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court this past week and well it should. The continuing favoritism towards corporations by the Roberts-run Supreme Court – now assigning the right to religious beliefs to privately-owned corporations is radical and dangerous in my opinion. The fact that those religious beliefs by corporations trump a women’s right to full health care coverage, while men have that same full coverage (all the vasectomies and Viagra you can dream of!), is indeed disturbing, but just another step in the long journey by this Court to protect the rights of corporations over and above people. The fact that this Court protects corporations while not protecting minority access to a fair education makes the future prospects of this court deeply troubling.
Still, at the same time, I feel a certain, though limited, sympathy for the owners of Hobby Lobby who profess to want to run their business by “Christian” principles and felt that providing their employees access to certain types of contraception would violate those principles. Now, this claim is certainly contentious – claiming “Christian” principles over specific areas of business while not over others makes those primary claims specious. Further, as I will write later, I feel it was a horrible move to take this claim to the Supreme Court – horrible in terms of the missiological public engagement of the Church.
What I have found particularly troubling has been the lack of thoughtful reflection on both sides of yet another cultural divide. Hobby Lobby has gone the way now of Chik-Fil-A in that there is no neutral position. You can’t shop at Hobby Lobby unless you are making a political statement. I am not worried about the future of Hobby Lobby – religious conservatives will certainly support their business and good Lord, I know that religious conservatives like to shop! But Hobby Lobby has become another watchword in which feelings are evoked at its mere mention with no real thought as to why.
For example, I jokingly posted on Facebook the other day, “I am proud to say that I have boycotted Hobby Lobby my entire life.” That is, of course, a joke. You can’t boycott something you have never shopped at, nor ever will. Sadly, but predictably, the two sides lined up on this post – progressives commenting “me too!” with conservatives spouting their support for Hobby Lobby and Chik-Fil-A!
So, in the midst of this kind of bumper sticker silliness I cannot help but wonder what should be the missional purposes of the Church. How can the Body of Christ be missional? In other words, how can the Church love God fully and love the world fully as well? That is what it means to be missional.
In competing justice claims as represented in the Hobby Lobby case where, theoretically, cases could be made for all sides, we are forced look at the context and also continually remind ourselves of the purpose of missiological engagement. Is missiological engagement undertaken to defend the Church or our claims, to stake our ground and, in viewing the world as the opposition, stand ready to refute all competing claims? Or, through viewing ourselves in missional service to the world, do we see where God is already present and then look to build salvific bridges between those “outside” the Body with those on the inside? I would obviously opt for the latter as the former reflects the Christendom Church, a Church fused with cultural or state-sponsored power. While the missional church exists often (though not only) on the margins, the Christendom Church sits (and “sits" is the key word) in the middle and expects others to come to it.
I would propose that when the social positioning of the Church is defensive and refuting whatever claims are made by those outside the Church; that when we stake our ground and build up our rhetorical walls viewing the world suspiciously and oppositionally, we are not being missional. We are instead the Christendom Church. There could be valid times for this social position and I admit some would argue that the Hobby Lobby case is included in just such a time. I wholeheartedly disagree of course. But when this position is repeatedly taken up by the Church in issue after issue (remember Chik-Fil-A!) it is self-defeating. Indeed, it cancels our mission of love and service to God and to the world. Christians defending their claims may legitimize those claims for certain Christians, but this is only retrenching and is rarely evangelistic or “winning” to those who do not hold those claims prior. It might feel good to members of certain churches, but it is not missional.
A crucial aspect of being a missional church is that when we enter into the public realm we do so advocating for justice for others before ourselves. What does advocating for justice mean? I believe it means those in the Body redemptively utilizing their access to resources to gain that same access to those same resources for those whose access has been restricted or denied. This mirrors what Jesus did for us. Indeed, Jesus did it for the whole world and so must we.
So, what does this mean in the Hobby Lobby case?
It means that for missional Christians we do all we can to ensure full health care coverage for as many people as possible. The Hobby Lobby owners chose instead a Christendom model of defending themselves and their claims, no matter how legitimate they may sound to those who politically or culturally agree with them. But, in the end, they entrenched themselves within and behind their belief systems rather than living out the gospel claims of loving and welcoming others. While Christendom might force societal or political change through dominance and the use of power, this is actually triumphalism without much of a disguise. Further, for any student of Christian missions, triumphalism most often results in Christian syncretism – the minority acceptance of the dominant religious belief system on the surface while having no change or transformation in their worldview.
The missional church, as modeled by the New Testament Church, advocates for the welfare of the other above oneself, especially when we have such tremendous access to so many resources. Should Hobby Lobby cover the health care of their employees? Absolutely! The claims of valuing and respecting life can still be more than lived out through many other ways other than restricting the rights of others. But the Christendom Church is interested only in their own rights and that is why this case came before the Supreme Court.
I am constantly reminded of this as I think of adoption. Our youngest child is adopted and is biracial and when we adopted him we went through a Christian agency that worked in coordination with a number of other Christian agencies in the area. That meant there were many, many families willing to adopt children. It is of course possible that our experience was not always the case, but since we chose to adopt biracially there was no wait time. In fact, the agency could not get us through the process quick enough. The problem was, in all of the families in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex waiting to adopt children during the entire time of our adoption process – approximately six months – there were no families willing to adopt biracially.
I don’t put this forth as an indictment of Hobby Lobby or the entire supposed “pro-life movement” (and I contend that if you are against abortion but supportive of the death penalty and cuts to crucial social services then you aren’t pro-life), but I do think it opens an important window for how those so passionately opposed to abortion can more effectively socially witness their support for life. To put it succinctly, perhaps more White supposed pro-life families should be willing to adopt non-white children. Until one’s opposition to abortion becomes a welcoming, hospitable presence to all of life (from innocent baby to supposed guilty murderer in prison), the “win” for Hobby Lobby and those who oppose abortion is a somewhat futile win. It was a “win” that entrenches their belief system but transforms no one. Only sacrificial love can do that. And the missional church thrives on sacrificial love. The Christendom Church doesn’t.
So, instead of lobbing political grenades at one another – or totally abdicating our political engagement altogether in the name of pseudo-peace – perhaps we can rethink and re-engage in a way that puts the needs of others ahead of ourselves. We will avoid retrenchment, we will be attractive to others outside our belief systems and more than anything, the transformation of the world will once again be attainable and something for all of us in the Church to focus on – and maybe even agree on! Instead of Hobby Lobby winning a court case, focusing on the needs of others would mean a win for everyone inside and outside the Body of Christ.