Cafeteria Faith Doesn’t Fill

April 11, 2015 § 9 Comments

Catholicism was perhaps the first or the most prominent religion to be known for its half-hearted followers, where we get the term “Cafeteria Catholics”. But I think all religions have their cafeteria believers, adherents inclined to pick and choose which doctrines to follow and which to ignore. This of course results in an incomplete theology that inevitably leads to self-contradiction and irrationality. And it acknowledges no authority but the cherry-picker’s.Buffet_Photo

In my town, just this past week, Dowling Catholic High School refused to bring volunteer track coach and substitute teacher Tyler McCubbin on full-time(1) because he is openly gay and engaged to another man. Postmodern culture is ripe for a response of surprise and dismay to a Catholic school desiring to remain consistently Catholic by insisting that its faculty hold to Catholic teaching on human sexuality and marriage. And predictably, folks were surprised and dismayed at Dowling.

As a private religious institution, this central Iowa school is protected in principal by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and by the exception for religious institutions under Iowa’s Civil Rights Act(2). Legally, they are allowed to hire or fire anyone according to their Catholic beliefs, and they can require faculty to hold to those beliefs as a condition of employment. While the applicant may claim to be Catholic, his views of sexuality don’t line up with orthodox Catholic doctrine, so that puts him out of the running. Rationally, if Dowling Catholic High School did not limit its hiring to Catholics, that would open the school up to Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists. Morally, if Dowling abandoned its Catholic principals on sexuality and marriage, it would be abandoning principals that the Church has held for centuries and the world has held for millennia—not to mention God’s original revelation in Genesis 2:24 which both Church and State have historically recognized. Legally, rationally or morally, Dowling’s stance is the only one that keeps the school consistently Catholic. Is Dowling’s cessation from orthodoxy what the surprised and dismayed crowd want?

The non-Catholic progressives objecting to Dowling’s decision probably don’t care how the school projects its faith. Their agenda doesn’t really require the pondering of theological consequences. They want to jump at the opportunity and check off another obstacle to complete allegiance to the new moral revolution, where erotic liberty trumps religious liberty, and religious freedom is synonymous with discrimination and bigotry(3) (Religious freedom laws will likely be the the next target, as the recent stink over Indiana’s RFRA law indicated).

But what about Tyler McCubbin? Or the hundred or so Dowling students who staged a walk-out to peacefully protest the school’s discriminative hiring policy(4)? Or to the Dowling alumni, presumably also Catholic, asking the school and the Church to change? Aren’t these religious folks pondering the religious implications of their protest? Here’s where Cafeteria Catholicism comes in.

McCubbin reveals his understanding of the theology relevant to his case when he summarizes the school’s position: “What’s so shocking is in an institution where they preach tolerance and love and respect for everyone, no matter what your background is, they don’t uphold to those teachings.” What’s really shocking is that he doesn’t know or remember that Catholicism preaches more than those three things about this situation. It also teaches that homosexuality, and any other deviation from God’s plan for human relationships, is a sin, that marriage is for one man and one woman, and that love actually requires speaking the truth. Those were left on the buffet, so this applicant is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

ec4908c5ca581e0f730f6a706700e400What is the ideal final goal these protests hope to accomplish? With the utmost cordiality, I respectfully posted a question like this on the new “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” Facebook page(5). A couple students and alumni responded that their pie-in-the-sky would be a gay-friendly hiring policy and a “safe space” for LGBTQ students at Dowling. I then asked if any space would be considered “safe” if the school still taught that homosexuality was a sin, and how such a change in hiring policy would settle with students when it also allowed Mormons, Muslims and Atheists to teach at Dowling. Immediately the comment thread disappeared and I was blocked from the group. Contemplating the endgame was too much I suppose; with the holes in their theology, continued rational discussion was not possible. These students and alums are apparently Cafeteria Catholics.

Openly gay Iowa Senator and Dowling graduate Matt McCoy has encouraged supporters of Dowling to close their checkbooks until the school changes its policy(6). He says of his alma mater, “They have many faculty members that are divorced. They have many faculty that have been involved in extramarital affairs, they have turned their head to other issues in society.” To that I would suggest that another wrong doesn’t make those right. IF faculty members are currently pursuing divorce or involved in extramarital affairs, the answer should be MORE consistency with Catholic doctrine, not less. Where there is hypocrisy, the solution is not to grow it. Mr. McCoy is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

The teachers and administrators at Dowling Catholic High School are not perfect. (There was at least some inconsistency evident in the screening process that allowed McCubbin’s gay lifestyle to go unnoticed when he was subbing, though arguably substitute teachers have less of an impact on students and may see less scrutiny as a result.) As an evangelical Christian I differ with Roman Catholics over some pretty fundamental doctrines because I believe they contradict what what the Bible says, particularly on matters of salvation, purgatory, the authority of the Pope, and the sole authority of Scripture.

But in terms of living consistently with one’s faith in a country founded on that right, no religious institution should be held to a standard of perfection (“All have sinned and fall short” anyway—Romans 3:23), but we should see a present pattern of striving for righteousness, systematic theology, and resistance to compromise. For those quick to speculate on the past sins of Dowling’s administrators, do they really expect a Catholic school to further its inconsistency and give up Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage? Some have expressed a hope that the Church itself will eventually change its opposition to homosexuality. But to expect a religious institution to change its theology on one or two things but keep the rest (for now) is to be totally okay with inconsistency, which is the appetite of “cafeteria faith”. Ultimately it leaves you hungry.

2) Chapter 216 Civil Rights Division (216.6, Section 6D)

Hobby Lobby Case Reveals A New Level of Insanity

July 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

It’s not unusual for conservatives and progressives to feel as if the other side has lost their mind as issue after issue rolls through the political, social or economic landscape. But there seems to be a truly special brand of disconnect forming in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby that sets a new bar for liberal insanity. Sensational reactions on any side of an issue are commonplace, but the degree of outrage, bad arguments and ignorance expressed by progressive media and political figures against Hobby Lobby and the Court’s decision for religious liberty has in my opinion reached a new level.

1404172688555On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.), affirming that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. This victory upheld a 2013 ruling for Hobby Lobby by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The focus of the Green’s opposition comes down the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate in Obama’s Affordable Care Act forcing the company to pay for 4 potentially life-terminating contraceptives through the company’s health insurance plan, forms of birth control that could end a pregnancy rather than preventing one. The Green’s religious convictions, rooted in historic Biblical understanding that all life, even life in the womb, is sacred, collided with the HHS-mandated abortifacients. So they, and Conestoga Wood, another Christian-owned family business, took their case to court.

In short, the court allowed these businesses to exclude coverage for just 4 out of 20 contraceptives on the plan, contraceptives that are relatively inexpensive and could be purchased elsewhere. It wasn’t over a broad category of medicine, or an expensive, potentially life-saving treatment method. Hobby Lobby just didn’t want to pay for 4 drugs on the menu that can cause an abortion. The other 16 were fine.

Since the ruling, the left has reacted in sensational ways that demonstrate vast ignorance and what seems like apathy for sound reason. Some examples:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and wife of the President who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law two decades ago), doesn’t appear to understand the ruling she opposes: “It is very troubling that a sales clerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer’s health-care plan because her employer doesn’t think she should be using contraception.” Opinions about birth-control are not at issue. Being forced to pay for abortifacients was the issue.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s voiced concern about the Hobby Lobby win was that “women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men.” He means the 5 conservative justices who decided the case. The Senate majority leader of the United States apparently thinks the color of the judges’ skin has a moral bearing on the decision, AND he is obviously unaware that only 4 of them are white.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to understand what the Hobby Lobby case was about, recently tweeting “Allowing CEOs to limit the medical procedures available to employees is a gross violation of workers’ religious rights.” How contraceptives qualify as medical procedures and how this decision hinders religious rights we may never hear an explanation for. And then there’s this, from a briefing at the Capitol“That court decision was a frightening one, that five men should get down to the specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and [whether] she should pay for it herself or her boss. It’s not her boss’ business. His business is whatever his business is, but it’s not what contraception she uses.” Pelosi expects it to be a boss’ business to pay for 20 contraceptives, yet it isn’t a boss’ business if he doesn’t want to pay for 4 of them? This is self-defeating logic. Also, Pelosi’s perspective of “five men” deciding for “women” is an effort to frame this case as a “war on women,” an obvious straw man fallacy.

It isn’t about race, sex, or birth-control, but every US citizen’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. This means we can not only go to church Sunday morning, but we can live out our faith and our deepest convictions in our everyday lives. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act sought to affirm the First Amendment of the Constitution and what our country’s Founders sought to establish, a union where differing religious expression could exist without government interference. That’s more or less why America happened; we didn’t have that freedom under British rule. When the House passed RFRA unanimously in 1993, the Senate passed it 97-3, and democratic President Clinton signed it into law, it became a reinforcement of a core American principal. RFRA doesn’t completely prohibit government interference in religious expression, but puts a specific limit on it. The government must have a compelling interest in interfering with religion, and if it has compelling interest, it must interfere in the least restrictive way possible. The Supreme Court found that the HHS requirement failed to do this in the case of Hobby Lobby and Conastoga Wood.

Seeing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a new and formidable enemy, the left’s answer to RFRA was to quickly introduce The Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act (even the name is a straw man) in an effort to effectively reverse the Hobby Lobby decision. Businesses like Hobby Lobby would be forced to cover all forms of contraception regardless of their own religious objections. This post is too early to see how that goes, but it forever misses the mark. As Representative James Lankford, R-Okla points out, “Hobby Lobby never argued against the ability for women to access contraceptives—they simply do not believe in being forced by the federal government to cover abortifacients.”

In some personal conversations I’ve had over this, I’ve heard the Pandora’s Box concern, that this case is a slippery slope to employer’s to discriminate freely on the basis of whatever an employer deems a religious restriction. The paranoia-laden “what ifs” a friend forwarded to me from an Upworthy post include the fact that “some religions don’t believe in medical intervention,” or eating meat, or might not want to provide HIV medicine to gays. Extreme fringe beliefs such as these are incomparable to the widely held concern for human life, in or out of the womb, so this kind of abuse of freedom is not likely as imminent danger. More importantly, the government would have a compelling interest in medical intervention, treating disease and preventing epidemics, so proponents of such cases would probably lose in court.

On Twitter I fielded a barrage of challenges that reflected quite a bit of confusion on the issue.

LiberalTweeter: “businesses are not people. Workers deserve contraception coverage.”
Me: “Businesses are made of workers, who are people, who actually do get contraceptive coverage.”
LiberalTweeter: “a business shouldn’t get to dictate which contraceptives their employees can choose.”
Me: “A business can choose to not pay for 4 harmful contraceptives out of 20. Employees still have choice.”
“Besides, there are many kinds/brands of contraceptives and Obamacare only covers 20. Sounds like it’s already dictated.”
LiberalTweeter: “why can’t the employee decide her OWN healthcare?”
Me: “She can get whatever coverage she wants, and she can pay for it too. Same as any other plan, ever.”
LiberalTweeter: “why should some woman be deprived of having it covered by the health plan that they PAY FOR WITH THEIR LABOR?”
Me: “What about the many other contraceptives & meds not covered by HHS or ANY plan? By your logic, EVERYONE is deprived.”
LiberalTweeter: “why are they bullying gay people to death?”

That’s where I gave up.

photo (50)On Katie Yoder’s blog at, she has compiled a list of the Ten Most Hysterical Hobby Lobby Reactions, which is a great summary and picture of the scope of bad reasoning from the opposition to the ruling. Liberal media has labeled Hobby Lobby and Supreme Court justices tyrannical, segregationist, Taliban-like, religious extremists who are endangering the lives of woman, among other absurd comparisons. If “contraception is not my boss’ business,” why should your boss pay for it? The breadth of wrong-headedness is staggering.

I didn’t want this post to be just a rant. I do want us to earnestly pray for our country, our government, and our neighbors who have fallen into the confusion of the day. Ignorance and bad arguments are not new coming from liberal culture, but it seems to have hit a new level. It used to be that those caught in red herrings, non-sequiters and self-contradiction would try to cover up their poor form, but it doesn’t seem as if the left cares anymore. Maybe it seems to show up more because I’ve paid more attention to this case than other issues. Or maybe ignorance breeds more ignorance.

Or maybe Matthew 7:13 is truer than ever: “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The narrow road is too small for a bandwagon. And traffic on that broad road is getting heavier all the time.

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