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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

When Faith and Policy Trump People

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There's an increasingly sensitive tripwire between faith and policy these days. To question the latter is to incite charges you're denigrating the former.

It's especially difficult when you're talking about the Catholic Church -- which, yes, has failed miserably in its handling of abuse, but has done so much over the years for so many.

So let me put this out there right at the beginning: I love the power of faith. I respect those who embrace it. I applaud those who feel its comfort.

But policy based on a narrow interpretation of faith -- that's a whole other issue, especially when policy with roots in Biblical times is wedged into modern realities.

The Catholic church managed to shake the volatile mix of faith, policy and reality when it took on the Obama administration's directive that church-related organizations must offer birth control benefits. Never mind that many of these organizations -- colleges for one -- have been quietly doing it all along. Never mind that vasectomies don't seem to have entered the conversation.

The more you try to understand the issue, the more you wonder why any women would heed the rules of men whose personal stake in the policy is their right to make it -- in an organization that blocks all women from meaningful power.

You wonder, too, about the forces that ferociously keep in place a policy that is so clearly and sadly out of step with the times. The church is railing against something that 98 percent of their members practice.

Perhaps it's simply the age of the power structure.

The Pope is 85, and the average age of the College of Cardinals is 75. Men who are ten to twenty years beyond retirement age for virtually any other organization are not likely to be a bubbling fountain of bold initiatives.

The go-to answer, of course, is: Biblical says so -- which brings you close to that line between questioning policy and denigrating faith.

If you want to take the Garden of Eden literally, fine. But the command to "be fruitful and multiply" has a little different implication when you're the only two people in the world -- as opposed to the seven billion people walking the earth, and the additional billion that will join us over the next two decades -- most of them in places that can't support what they have now.

As with the Christian right's problem with gays and lesbians, there are ample anti-contraception verses there for the plucking. Self-serve justifications let you pick the ones you like, and avoid the ones (don't touch pigskin or own slaves from your own country) that might be inconvenient.

We can all interpret these as we will, in and out of historical context, but it's uncanny how selectively the sex and gender-related ones find their way into policy debates.

Faith-warped policy has real-life consequences -- like unplanned, unwanted children born into uncertain lives.

George Bush's laudable anti-AIDS initiative sent billions of dollars to Africa. But supported by the religious right (The Pope has said condoms will make the problem worse), program policy prohibited any of it going to family planning or counseling.

While the HIV-AIDS fight was a victory, the ban on contraception and counseling, veteran relief works believe, fed Africa's unsustainable population boom -- including babies born with the disease.

We all, of course, must be free to embrace our respective faiths. But when the interpretation of faith is used conveniently and selectively to create policy -- people suffer.