Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I am one of the pastors at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas. For many years, our church has housed and administered a food pantry. Ours is the only food pantry operating in Farmersville. During the years of your administration, the demands upon our food pantry have greatly increased. Several months ago, our church initiated a conversation about the possibility of moving the food pantry into its own organization, separate from the church. We believe that the food pantry would benefit from such an organizational change, and we were well on the way to formalizing this decision.

At this moment, those plans are completely on hold, and you are the person responsible. Your recent actions regarding Obamacare have made it clear to us that you and a sizable number of people in your political party do not regard the religious liberty of church-related ministries as inalienable rights that you must respect. Rather, you have signaled an intent to withdraw religious liberty from church-related ministries. Today you would force such ministries to fund abortifacient drugs contrary to their religious convictions. Since our food pantry does not employ anyone, your current directive would not affect our food pantry…yet. But once it becomes a settled matter that church-related ministries do not merit the same level of religious liberty that a church enjoys, then we can hardly anticipate all of the draconian dictates yet to come that WOULD affect our food pantry.

And so, the only wise course of action is for FBC Farmersville to refrain from allowing ANY of our ministries to achieve separate legal status from our church. This may not be the ideal circumstance for our ministries, but we're not confident that your policies will allow us to do what is in the best interest of serving those in Farmersville who are hungry. Perhaps you have not considered the overwhelmingly negative impact your astonishingly narrow construal of religious liberty would have upon church-related ministries. It seemed important to me to make the harm done by your policies clear to all.


Richard said...

Bart: Do you really expect the President to listen to this appeal? Or, are you simply playing to a Republican line? You admit within the text that it is not yet confirmed that the conditions you cite will come to pass, so why not explore the options, and state your case within the positive contexts of your concern. It would also help if you would refrain from calling the health plan "ObamaCare," which identifies your concern from a distinctive political bias. Also, you include in the labels at the bottom the name "Barack Hussein Obama," another tag which is constantly used by the extreme right to imply Muslim identification, when the President's own testimony is that of a believer in Jesus Christ. For the record, my Baptist church also has a food pantry and is heavily involved in social concerns outside the walls of our campus. Our membership is loaded with legal minds who are on our missions/outreach committees, and who watch for this sort of thing. I am hearing from these folks that, while it is always appropriate to raise such concerns about new legislation, it should always be done in the context of respect, and neither from the right nor the left. For those reasons, I am not sure why you are bothering to write this letter, and I certainly don't believe he should take the time to answer it. Now, if you are really concerned about this matter (and I think we all should be), a revised letter could be written from the standpoint of a concerned Christian pastor who wishes to represent the Church as it seeks to fulfill Christ's greatest commandment. I would be surprised if you did not receive an answer to such a missive.

Bart Barber said...


1. This is an "open letter" which is a genre distinct from that of a letter. From Thomas Helwys's "Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity" until today, there is a grand tradition of Baptist open letters against government infringement of religious liberty.

2. Although it is an open question whether these decisions will be upheld, President Obama's position is not an open question. The time is mature to critique his anti-religious-liberty positions (and the Supreme Court has already overwhelmingly struck down one of his anti-religious-liberty positions as precisely that!) and I have no qualms at all about doing so.

3. "ObamaCare" is the label that even the President's own administration is employing to refer to this legislation and cannot be tied to any particular perspective or "distinctive political bias" with regard to that law. Furthermore, this letter offers no judgment on the ObamaCare legislation as a whole, but simply upon the President's fiat implementation of the legislation with regard to religious liberty.

4. "Barack Hussein Obama" is the President's name. I promise you, I did not give it to him. It is common to employ full names with reference to US Presidents. Nixon may not have loved "Milhous" that much, either, but people (from all sides of the political aisles) use it to refer to him, anyway.

5. As to why I am writing this letter, I am not writing it in order to get an "answer" from the President. The President has already given his answer: He doesn't care. I am writing an open letter, although I know that some people, entirely biased by their political viewpoint, will object strenuously, because I am hopeful that some other people with open minds will read this letter, will consider the undisputed and indisputable fact that the President will not extend religious liberty to church-related ministries, and will realize some of the negative implications of his assault upon the First Amendment.

Thank you for reading and for commenting.

D.R. said...


While I often try to be as apolitical as possible, especially from the pulpit, this is an issue (contra Richard) that all advocates of religious liberty regardless of political affiliation should be concerned with. Thanks for pointing out one of the implications of the Obamacare legislation (Is the Huffington post now also towing the "Republican line" -

Another implication that this made me think of is state convention funded autonomous ministries, such as drug and alcohol rehab facilities, homeless ministries, pregnancy crisis clinics, and community centers. What irony it would be to force a Christian pregnancy crisis center to use a health care insurer which would provide morning after pills to its employees? Surely even Richard can see the encroachment on religious liberty that would present!

Bart Barber said...

I agree, D.R., and I thank you for your comment.

Big Daddy Weave said...


Have you read the rulemaking document that HHS released a couple of weeks ago?

Here it is:

I have not seen any mention of this document from Richard Land or Guidestone. Since it speaks directly to these issues - especially as they related to Southern Baptists - I'm surprised there has been no SBC engagement with this document.

After all, all regulations go through a process. Obama's statement on the matter was the beginning of that process.

I'd be interested in learning how you feel that this document (which clearly conveys the direction this regulation is headed) specifically proves that President Obama and his Administration are guilty of failing to respect religious liberty.

Richard said...

Bart and D.R.: As I stated in my response, I think we should all be concerned about this...the implications can be enormous. Some of these concerns were enumerated very quickly by concerned organizations, and the policies were modified, though not enough, in my opinion. And, I have no problem with the letter being "open" in our great Baptist tradition. My concern remains with the tone, which, to me, remains distinctly from the right. This matter should concern those of us from all Baptist (and, denominational) groups, but , to me, the tone may cause concern on the part of some who actually agree with your viewpoints. BTW, as I closed my note, I considered immediately setting forth what your response would be, and I guessed right, in every instance. Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to express my concerns, as well as my agreements. Have a blessed Holy Week, and a marvelous Easter. R

volfan007 said...

The govt. needs to keep their big noses out of our business. Note to the leaders of our country...."Leave us alone!"


Bart Barber said...


This post is as about the administration's overall differentiation of church-related ministries from churches, which is not altered by the proposed modification of the regulation. Considering the administration's point-of-view as articulated in the Hosanna-Tabor case and the point-of-view advanced in the Obamacare regulations (even AFTER the Hosanna-Tabor decision), the problem remains, entirely unchanged, that the administration views church-related ministries as entities undeserving of the full protection afforded by the First Amendment to churches.

Yes, the administration has signaled that they might back away a little bit from the most onerous earlier ideas about contraceptive coverage, but that slight accommodation (and I'll share why it doesn't satisfy me) does not change at all the fact that church-related ministries are nevertheless regarded by this law as entities not entitled to the same protections that churches enjoy. This alone is reason enough to give us pause before we change our food pantry (or any other ministry) from a church ministry to a church-related ministry.

Now, as to the "accommodation," I find it untenable. It is built upon the contingent circumstance that, at this moment, the required contraceptive coverage is allegedly "cost neutral or better." This economic circumstance is not guaranteed to last. This law, if it survives constitutional challenge, IS guaranteed to last.

Just to give one example, what if researchers find a definitive link between birth control pills and heart disease or cancer? So many variables could change the cost situation with regard to contraception. The solution blows apart the moment that those equations change. Insurance companies are not going to give coverage away for free. If they can find a way to do so, they're going to pass the costs on to us. If they can't pass on the costs, they're going to refuse to do business with religious employers. The accomodation explicitly states that the third party administrators can refuse to be third party administrators under these terms.

The solution is really simple. Extend to church-related ministries the same exception extended to churches.

Bart Barber said...


You say that you anticipated 100% of my response. This really confuses me. You're saying that you already knew that the President's own administration was referring to this legislation as "Obamacare," and yet you took me to task for "calling the health plan 'ObamaCare,' [since this] identifies your concern from a distinctive political bias"? How could you accuse me of wrongdoing in using the term if you already knew that the administration is using it?

Richard said...

Okay, Bart: I wrote in haste and missed the percentage, but I knew what kinds of things you might address. What really set me off was the political frame that contexted the open letter. I have problems with Baptists being known only as a mouthpiece for the Republican party. In the same way, I have issues with African-American Baptists being identified predominantly as Democrats. When our witness becomes so limited to one party platform, constructed by a political agenda, we cannot possibly present the entirety of Christ's message. The Lord's call supersedes all of these mechanisms. For that reason,I must maintain that my last sentence is the better idea. Again, thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Bart Barber said...

OK. Now I follow you.

I regard neither partisanship nor nonpartisanship as a legitimate objective for Christians. We ought to side with truth. For me, that commitment has led me to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to oppose Obamacare, and to decry Libertarianism as non-Christian. I do not know whether this, in your view, makes me a partisan or a nonpartisan. It wouldn't matter to me one way or the other, because I think it is critically important not to care about the answer to that question. Ignore political parties. Stand for truth, and let the chips fall where they may.

Richard said...

B--Well said, in my opinion. The quest for truth and living the gospel surely leads us to walk together. Now, if we could just get the politicians to communicate in such manner. Blessings to you and yours. R

Big Daddy Weave said...


Interestingly, if your church does start its own separately incorporated food bank AND then applies and receives federal funding, you will STILL be able to discriminate in terms of who you hire.

President Obama himself has refused to take action via Executive Order to stop federally-funded religious ministries from discriminating on the tax-payers dime.

Talk about accommodation.

Now, how do you reconcile that position - which has peeved many church-state groups - with the position that the Department of Justice took in Hosanna-Tabor?

You can't. It simply does not support the indifferent or hostility thesis.

The DOJ's position in that case was clearly not a winner. Sheesh, it was a unanimous decision. These guys are legal experts and the lawyers are not supposed to be partisan (something the Bush Administration forgot). Do you really think they thought they were putting forward an argument that stood any chance of winning?

Perhaps the DOJ's position was politically unwise. Although, these things aren't supposed to be political. Frankly, the DOJ did church ministries a favor with that argument. Had the DOJ put forward something less extreme, more of a compromise, it seems likely that a coalition of 5 Justices would have emerged to issue an opinion limiting (to some extent) the ministerial exception.

Bart Barber said...


Interestingly (back at you), I'm against federal funding for church-related ministries, precisely because of the church-state issues that I believe that kind of entanglement raises. The whole idea of a federal office of faith-based initiatives gives me the creeping willies.

But this conversation is not about federal support for church-related ministries. Church-related ministries that do not accept federal funding should receive the same First-Amendment protections as churches.