by Jay Smith
Imagine, 75 years ago, some British officer lining up a group of young Indian children against a wall in Bombay, handing some bullets to Mahatma Gandhi, and ordering him to load soldiers’ rifles so that they could execute the youngsters.
Would you expect Gandhi to go along with that? Why would an officer even give such an order – except to humiliate Gandhi and mock what he stood for?
Perhaps that gives you some idea of how it feels for the people of my congregation, Cedar Park Church, to be ordered by Washington state officials to provide an insurance plan that covers abortions. Directly paying for abortion coverage is as unimaginable to us as putting bullets in a gun we know would be used to end a child’s life. It is antithetical to everything we preach, teach, and believe. That’s why we had to file a lawsuit through our Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys that is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which will hear arguments today.
For us, sanctity of life is not some vague philosophy to which we owe religious lip service. It is a vital, driving theme of our theology, our worship services, and our varied ministries. We believe the sacrificial death of Christ for all people underscores the value of every human soul. In each service, we pray for the health and healing – spiritual and physical – of those in our congregation, their families, and loved ones.
And we put hands and feet to those prayers. Our church partners with a local pregnancy center and foster care providers, sponsors a camp for foster care children, and operates its own funeral home.
Each year, we host a special prayer service for couples struggling with infertility. We even encourage our members to adopt “snowflake” babies – frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. Does any of that sound like a church that takes its pro-life convictions lightly?
Almost no other state in the country compels churches to offer abortion coverage as part of their employee insurance plan. But Washington does so despite not only the clear directives of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment – which says government shall not interfere needlessly in the free practice of religious faith – but also despite recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions specifically discouraging government hostility toward people of faith and forbidding the government from illogically offering exemptions to some that it won’t offer to others. The state of Washington provides secular and religious exemptions to its abortion-coverage mandate, but it refuses to offer that grace to us.
Incredibly, our state sets aside this most fundamental of our civil liberties – our freedom to live out our faith – in the name of its supposed interest in “gender equity” and “women’s reproductive health.” But the abortion-coverage mandate is triggered when churches offer comprehensive maternity care in their health plans, as almost all of them do. In essence, the state demands that churches adopt the moral stance that abortion and childbirth are both equally good and acceptable options.
And the state doesn’t merely support abortion if a mother’s life hangs in the balance. They hold the incredible belief that any living baby’s existence is expendable if her existence is no longer welcome or somehow seems incompatible with her mother’s goals.
My wife and I know very well how terrifying an unexpected, unwanted child can be. Two decades ago, we were teenagers – leaders in our church youth group, the children of a deacon and the pastor, planning for college – when we learned she was pregnant. That baby posed a terrible threat to our reputation and all our carefully made plans. And for one fleeting instance, my wife actually considered aborting the child.
But we couldn’t do that. We married a month later. We marveled, in the months that followed, at how God got our lives back on track and at the beautiful daughter He gave us and the three others who followed. We know that life is hard but also precious – that out of even the worst circumstances, He can build a future and a hope.
That’s a truth – and yes, a joy – that no government has the right to take away or compel us to ignore, which is why our church is challenging our state’s efforts to force us to compromise our most cherished principles: that life is a gift given by God, which we treasure, celebrate, and protect, especially in its most vulnerable forms.
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Jay Smith is the pastor of Cedar Park Church in Washington state.