The church can provide health care better than any government organization, Rick Warren said Tuesday at an open forum conversation hosted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
“The audacity of the government telling the church how to do health care … we’ve been doing it 2,000 years longer than any government,” Warren said, explaining the challenges of the health care components of a ministry and outreach plan that he founded in Rwanda.
The conversation Tuesday was part of the Freedom of Religion Project established at Georgetown University. Tim Shah, associate director of the project, interviewed Warren, discussing topics of religious freedom and politics in the United States and around the world.
Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” was asked to discuss faith-based solutions to religious freedom challenges because of his global status as an advocate on issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and education.
Addressing the “rising challenge” of health care reform in the U.S. and the debate over contraceptive coverage, Warren said he does not have a problem with contraceptives, but he stands in solidarity with his Catholic brothers and sisters to practice what they believe.
“It’s not like contraceptives are hard to get, you can them free anywhere. Why force someone who has a conviction against it to [use them]?” he asked. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The Obama administration released a compromise Feb. 2 on the contraceptive mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, for religiously affiliated organizations.
The offer more simply defined religious groups that are exempt from the mandate and created a buffer between religious employers and the contraceptive coverage — female employees seeking coverage would consult a third party for free care, taking the financial responsibility out of religious employers hands, The Associated Press reported.
However, Catholics bishops have rejected the proposal and will continue to fight for changes. The compromise does not go far enough and a bigger buffer would be needed between religious groups and the third party that would direct contraceptive coverage, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.
The proposal also failed to address an opt-out solution for business owners with religious convictions against the coverage, Fox News reported.
Warren said the government is trying to reinterpret the First Amendment from a broad freedom to practice one’s religion, to a more narrow freedom to worship.
“Any religion that cannot be lived out … at home and work, is nothing but a meaningless ritual,” he said on Jan. 4 in a statement on the Hobby Lobby lawsuit.
In further discussion of religious freedoms, Warren expressed his belief in the necessity of freedom of religion, calling it the most important issue in the constitution. “Freedom of religion is not the right that the state gives us, it’s a right given to us by God. This is the first freedom. It is actually fundamental because it determines all the other freedoms.”
Without the freedom to believe in what one chooses, there is no reason for freedom of speech, of the press, of petition, or of assembly, he said.
Warren rejected the idea of a non-believer claiming everyone believes in something, and that therefore everyone holds the right to religious freedom.
He also called American Christians to repentance for not standing up for other religions facing oppression, claiming that all beliefs should be “acceptable opinions.”
Faith is a worldview, according to Warren. “I believe in separation of church and state. I do not believe in the separation of faith and politics,” he said.