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FIRST-PERSON: Lessons from the Rush Limbaugh controversy

LANSDOWNE, Va. (BP) — Radio host Rush Limbaugh had a bad week last week.

And thanks to his imprudent, unkind and rude outburst against a female Georgetown University law student, so did the cause of religious freedom.

The student, Sandra Fluke, told democratic lawmakers that Georgetown University, a Catholic institution, did not provide insurance coverage for contraception. This, she said, meant that Georgetown law students would have to spend $3,000 of their own money for contraceptives over the course of their law-school tenure.

A reasonable response to Ms. Fluke’s statement would be to ask why a Catholic institution’s First Amendment rights should be overturned just because Ms. Fluke and her fellow law students want free contraception.

But Mr. Limbaugh’s response was anything but reasonable.

And because of that, he violated the rules of charity and civil discourse — and he gave the Obama administration and the supporters of so-called “reproductive rights” the ultimate political weapon: a symbol, a sympathetic victim, a martyr for the cause.

Well, when advertisers started withdrawing or threatening to withdraw from Limbaugh’s program, Limbaugh apologized. But the damage has been done.

The president didn’t miss his opportunity: He called Fluke and told her that her parents should be proud of her. The New York Times ran a front-page article about her. And you can bet we’ll be seeing plenty of her in the weeks and months to come.

The media, the administration, and its allies now have the poster-child they need to keep framing the issue as being all about curtailing a woman’s access to contraception. That’s a red herring. Nobody is suggesting restricting access to contraception.

The issue here is religious freedom: whether religious institutions should be forced to violate the tenets of their faith by offering insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. It will now be, I am sorry to say, an uphill climb to keep that issue in front of the public — a public that is driven more by images like that of a clean-cut young law student than it is by reason and constitutional issues like religious freedom.

So folks, what do we learn from this? First, we see just how coarsened our culture has become, the level to which public discourse has sunk — especially among the talking heads and some politicians. Ad hominem attacks, name-calling, outrageous statements designed to get attention … well sadly we’ve come a long way since the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Second, we Christians should remember the words of Paul in Romans 12: We are to overcome evil with good; we are to love our enemies. So, when we engage in debate, we must do so civilly, with winsomeness and charity, with respect for those we are debating, as we did so carefully in the Manhattan Declaration (ManhattanDeclaration.org). If we don’t do this, then not only do we sin against charity, we set back the cause of the Kingdom.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., liked to say, “Whom you would change, you must first love.” Vital words to remember as we try to shed light in this increasingly dark culture.
From BreakPoint, March 6, 2012, posted with permission of Prison Fellowship, www.breakpoint.org. Chuck Colson is founder of Prison Fellowship.

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  • Chuck Colson