When Conscience Calls Us to Act

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was part of a combined delegation of Orthodox Christians from Central Pennsylvania to participate in last month's March for Life.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was part of a larger delegation of Orthodox Christians that travelled to Washington DC from Central Pennsylvania to participate in the March for Life.

A challenge arising from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) is the determination from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that private companies are obligated to provide all contraceptives described by the Act. These include contraceptives that act, or have the potential to act, as abortifacients (i.e., they cause abortions). Some of these companies with leaders guided by Christian beliefs have responded with legal action. The most prominent of these is Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and craft stores, but closer to home the law has also been challenged by Conestoga Wood Specialties based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

Conestoga is of particular interest to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit because one of the two plants they operate in Snyder County is in Beavertown across the street from our Chapel’s lot. Conestoga’s corporate leaders are part of a Mennonite group that rejects abortifacient birth control and have chosen to omit such coverage for their employees as a matter of conscience. In early December, Conestoga announced their intent to oppose the HHS mandate and initiated legal action, hoping to avoid $95,000 per day in penalties. After an initial injunction, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled against Conestoga in January. Conestoga is appealing the decision.

What does this mean for us? For starters, as Orthodox Christians, it is not necessary for us to affirm Mennonite teaching in order to stand with opponents of this mandate on the basis of conscience. The mandate to pay for abortion-causing drugs is giving offense to the corporate leaders of Conestoga Wood Specialties just as it should to every Orthodox Christian, business owner or not. Indeed, even the priests who paid Judas for his betrayal knew that claiming Judas was the one who actually committed the act would not absolve them of their complicity (cf. Matthew 27:6).  It is impossible for us as Christians to believe that the only guilty ones are those who use the deadly drugs, and not also those who, under compulsion of the law, paid for them for that specific purpose.

What can we do? I have sent a letter on behalf of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit to Andrew Hahn, the president of Conestoga Wood Specialties, expressing our support for their decision to hold to their conscience and a willingness to help as we can. The Chapel now has a regular litany petition for those enterprises and individuals pursuing civil disobedience for the sake of upholding the sanctity of life, which is consistent with historic Christian practice. The early Christians, when ordered to sacrifice to the emperor as though he were a god, professed their loyalty to the empire but refused to worship any but the True God. Many became martyrs for their disobedience, but it was far better to disobey man than to disobey God. As Christ says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).

I encourage each of you to join with the Chapel in praying for our neighbor, Conestoga Wood Specialties, particularly its leaders and its employees, that they would prevail in their fight to uphold the sanctity of life. We can please God, or we can please men, in this instance, and we know where our desire should be.