Beneath The Conflict: Joan & John Houk

The contraception -- freedom of conscience conflict set new records for speed of bishops’ reaction and administration accommodation. Never before have our bishops responded in a matter of hours to anything. Years of collective discernment has been the norm. Never before has any administration reacted in a bureaucratic flash to any critique by anyone. One may guess that both bishops and administration saw this conflict coming a long time ago. In that sense alone, it was (past tense) a manufactured conflict.

The U.S. Bishops know they lost the war on contraception years ago so it wasn’t about contraception unless you are an exceedingly dense bishop. It wasn’t really about freedom of conscience either. No one was being required to use contraceptives, and the bishops had already accepted alternative policies in various states. So what is left? There is good reason to suspect an orchestrated attempt by our bishops to discredit President Obama and his administration, and at least for some bishops, it may be a case of “scarlet fever,” i.e., how does this look at promotion time.

There may be something to be gained by continuing to dissect this make-believe conflict, which is to remember an often forgotten teaching from Jesus himself. Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, but you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. (Luke 11:46) It is not right to lay burdens of the law on people that because of your wealth, position, gender or race you yourself do not have to carry.

Our bishops never need to make a decision of conscience regarding the personal use of contraceptives. Then by what Christian judgment do they lay their anti-contraception burden of law on others? We can turn this dust-up into an opportunity to remember how Jesus taught us to live together. We can make people’s lives better from the bottom up by avoiding laying on heavy burdens, especially those that we ourselves don’t have to carry.

Joan and John Houk