From about 313 of the Common Era to the early 1500s, it is relatively safe to say the Christian world was dominated by, and subsequently under the total control of, the Catholic Church. Whether there were holy Roman emperors or powerful Popes dominating Christian nations the world over, questioning the “Church’s” authority was forbidden, considered heresy as well as apostasy, and likely to earn violators a slow and painful execution. If it accomplished nothing else, and it did transform the Christian religion, the Reformation made it possible to question Catholic Church authority and the Vatican has never really gotten over it. In fact there was a “Thirty Years’ War” after the Reformation to reassert Papal supremacy that decimated parts of Europe, but the genie was out of the bottle and unquestioned Catholic supremacy over Western nations’ theocratic and political matters was over for all intents and purposes. However, four-hundred years later a group of Catholic bishops in America found an easy means to exert control over Christian conservatives and manipulate them to re-establish Vatican control over theocratic and political matters to bring women into subjection to Catholic dogma.
It is amazing really, that mainstream Christians were mortified at the thought of a potential Catholic president (John F. Kennedy) doing the bidding of the Pope in the 1960s, and yet within 20 years they were being deftly manipulated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to do the bidding of the Pope. It has taken thirty years, but the USCCB finally succeeded in foisting the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae on the religious right and with valuable aide from the U.S. Catholic Supreme Court gave the Vatican the power to “regulate of birth” over a wide swathe of American women. Although the Hobby Lobby ruling will reverberate over America’s political and religious landscape for decades, the religious right can rest assured that their “apparent victory” was a well-executed plan masterminded by Catholic bishops to manipulate evangelical Christians like mindless puppets.
Before one can comprehend exactly how, and more importantly why, the USCCB was able to easily influence the religious right to do the Vatican’s bidding, it is beneficial to know the history of the evangelical movement’s ardent and often violent opposition to women’s reproductive health choices. One thing is abundantly clear; mainstream Christians were not opposed to birth control or abortion prior to 1970 because they had another biblical cause to champion until it threatened their ability to operate as tax-exempt welfare recipients. It was not, as many Americans are led to believe, Roe v. Wade that drove the religious right’s ascension into a political force, it was Green v. Kennedy that drove them right into the waiting arms of the Catholic bishops.
Green v. Kennedy stripped tax-exempt status from private Christian schools known as “segregation academies” set up across the south to allow loving evangelical Christians to bar African American students from attending schools with white children after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling banning school segregation. Following closely the Mormon “revelation” that Black people were not “cursed by god” as a result of Jimmy Carter’s threat to revoke the LDS tax-exempt status, the religious right abandoned segregation and embraced a desperately needed new cause célèbre for their electoral movement.
After Roe v. Wade, most of the conservative Christian community’s evangelical leaders agreed with the court that abortion is a private matter between a woman and her physician. In fact, before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were so overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject of abortion that they considered it a “Catholic issue.” In 1968 the Christian Medical Society and Christianity today “refused to characterize abortion as sinful citing individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved to “work for legislation allowing abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, fetal deformity, and for the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” In 1976, the Southern Baptist Convention’s president was said he was happy with Roe v. Wade and that, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed. Religious liberty, human equality, and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.”
So what happened to religious liberty, human equality, and justice? It was replaced by Catholic bishops’ insistence that the religious right demand their Republican legislators pass strong “conscience clause” legislation in the 1990s to battle what the bishop’s convinced the religious right was a sinful woman’s “lifestyle” choice to have sex without consequences. The bishops convinced the religious right to embrace a longstanding Vatican edict that fertility management was not only frivolous, but an immoral sin against nature, an affront to the Vatican as god’s representative on Earth, and a violation of evangelical Christians consciences; the religious right jumped on the anti-contraception bandwagon with religious fervor.
The idea that all contraceptives are “abortifacients” was a dreamt up and instigated by the bishops according to the Humanae Vitae edict that defined anything that worked post-sex, or prevented a fertilized egg from implanting, was an abortion and infanticide. The bishops were also the driving force behind the idea that contraception use violated the “religious freedom” of evangelical Christians’ who embraced the Catholic church’s fervent opposition to fertility management. Hobby Lobby’s evangelical owners used ”religious freedom” as the primary argument to convince 5 Catholic Justices to enact the ultimate broad-based conscience clause allowing any evangelical Christian employer or insurer to deny women’s contraception use for any religious or moral objection.
The religious right never really cared about reproductive rights as long as they had a dependable political issue to elect Republicans. Combatting desegregation was that issue before they risked losing their tax exempt status in the 1970s, and it was a valuable campaign issue they could hardly stand to lose. It is also true that the religious right’s fight over reproductive rights was never really about abortion or contraceptive use until they were given the “religious liberty” meme from the Catholic bishops that Republicans embraced as a dependable dog whistle for their southern evangelical base. Both evangelical Christians and Republicans have been manipulated by the Catholic bishops whose only agenda is about using Catholic dogmata to influence the theocratic and political establishment to control women and sex; specifically the ability of women to have sex without the consequence of pregnancy.
It is doubtful that Republicans even care one way or the other about women’s reproductive rights, but they do care about keeping a dependable voting bloc enraged against Democrats they claim are waging a war against Christians and their religious freedoms. The real winners in the war against women’s reproductive rights are not evangelicals or Republicans; in fact, Republicans have suffered at the ballot box due to their opposition to women’s rights and devotion to conservative Christian voters. However, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have made great strides in controlling women’s access to birth control that by extension is controlling women according to Catholic dogma. Because if they can keep America’s women perpetually pregnant at home serving their husbands’ every whim, they will have effectively imposed a major theological and political Vatican doctrine on the nation. Sadly, they have nearly accomplished their goal with unquestioned obedience from an alarmingly large number of Americans who aren’t even Catholics. Holy Roman emperors and powerful Popes from centuries past would be proud and duly impressed that the bishops accomplished their task without a Crusade and Inquisition.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.