Here we stand: Southern Baptists and the HHS Mandate

GuideStone Financial Resources, the financial and health benefits entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, filed suit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services in October.

GuideStone becomes the 74th lawsuit in an ever-expanding pool of plaintiffs that now includes more than 200 hospitals, business, colleges and non-profits. GuideStone’s lawsuit is asking the court to protect more than 185 ministries that use GuideStone’s health plan—and it is one of only two lawsuits that is seeking court protection for a large group of ministry organizations.

At stake in the legal dispute is what is popularly known as the “HHS Mandate,” a provision of the Affordable Care Act that mandates that all employers provide their employees with coverage that includes access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services and contraception. While Southern Baptists have varied opinions on the use of contraception, Southern Baptists have spoken clearly and univocally on our opposition to abortion and religious liberty for all. GuideStone’s health plans reflect these core convictions by excluding coverage of abortions and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.

While GuideStone is exempt from the HHS mandate, many ministries whose health coverage is provided through GuideStone, such as Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, are not exempt; and it is our belief that the government’s mandating of such coverage is a serious infringement on religious liberty. These non-exempt organizations (universities, schools, children’s and retirement homes, etc.) face paralyzing fines that would number in the millions of dollars. The HHS Mandate puts scores of ministries served by GuideStone in the unworkable position of choosing between faith and financial ruin. Using the mechanism of government to enforce a particularly rigid sexual ideology eviscerates the pursuit of a healthy pluralism.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is proud to stand in support of GuideStone in this lawsuit. GuideStone’s decision to enter the legal fray is about the identity, integrity and faithfulness of religious practice in the public square. For religion to be free, it must be authentic, and to be authentic, it must be unhindered from forces that would disrupt a person’s response to what his or her conscience identifies as true.

Religious freedom is a pillar not only of Baptist identity; but also of a uniquely American identity. Following our conscience is an action that helps locate the duties that Christians are obligated to obey. The HHS Mandate requires that Christians’ sincerely held beliefs about the most important aspects of our existence be subjugated to the larger purpose of cementing the sexual revolution in our statutes.

Southern Baptists believe in honoring our government. At the same time, in advocating for a humane view of life that protects the unborn, Christians would rather be at odds with their government, than with their God. For this, we do not apologize.

Neither is entrance in a lawsuit an ill-timed or hastily conceived action. Because of the time and cost involved in litigation, GuideStone first attempted to receive adequate reprieve through the statutory and regulatory process. Now GuideStone is forced to resort to the courts to obtain legal relief. We echo the sentiments of GuideStone president O.S. Hawkins, who told Baptist Press: “We reluctantly take this step because we are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the laws of this nation,” he said. “This mandate runs rough-shod over these foundational principles.”

When government commands actions that require Christians to choose between loyalty to government or loyalty to God, our answer is clear: We will obey our conscience. And we will do so despite the government’s command otherwise. We will do so joyfully and with confidence, knowing that the God who raises the dead, can also humble kings and those in authority.

Andrew Walker recently spoke on a religious liberty panel at Union University. You can watch the video here.

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