In October 2005, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals received approval from the FDA for a cancer drug that vastly increased my odds of long-term survival after breast cancer. It was perfect timing for my particular case, and I still remember how excited my oncologist was when she told me about the results of the studies. I have a love-hate relationship with the drug. The side-effects are frightening, but there is no question that the drug has played a part in my surviving for almost eleven years now since I was diagnosed in October 2003.
Pfizer also manufactures the birth control pills I used during my child-bearing years. And the company manufactures drugs that are used to induce abortions.
None of this is surprising. All pharmaceutical companies manufacture and market drugs that save lives. And the vast majority of them also produce prescriptions that some of us find morally questionable.
What is surprising is that Hobby Lobby, the company that won this week’s Supreme Court ruling—that closely held, for-profit companies whose owners have religious objections to contraceptives—invests its retirement funds in Pfizer and a number of other pharmaceutical companies that produce not only contraceptives but also drugs used to induce abortions.
Admittedly, most of us pay little attention to where our retirement funds are being invested. I am sometimes surprised when my church denomination, the relatively liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) sends out news releases stating that the church leadership has divested itself of funds that have questionable practices on issues of social justice.
So I’m willing to concede that conservative Christians, who object to abortion and even contraception, might also be surprised to learn that the organizations they work for invest in companies that market products and services they find objectionable.
I find it hard to believe, though, that Hobby Lobby’s lawyers did not inform the Green family, when they filed suit over the Affordable Care Act, that they were involved in a conflict of interest. And even if the lawyers did not, a host of media outlets, most notably Mother Jones, quickly searched public records and wrote numerous articles about the companies in which Hobby Lobby invested. And according to Forbes Magazine, a whopping 75% of Hobby Lobby’s retirement assets are invested in such companies.
According to a Kaiser Foundation survey, 55% of Americans believe that for-profit companies should be required to provide contraception, even if their owners have religious objections. That number increases to 61% among women and to 64% among 18 to 29-year-olds. But five Supreme Court justices—all male, all Catholic, with an average age of 69—have ruled that such a provision is a violation of religious freedom.
That, in itself, is troubling. But what is more troubling is the disturbing trend in recent years of people and organizations cloaking themselves in the mantle of Christianity and seeking redress from the government in the name of religious freedom. Many of these people sound more like the scribes and Pharisees that Christ rebuked than like the Christ who is the foundation of their faith.
In his first public sermon of which we have record, Jesus tells his audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NRSV). In the same Gospel, Jesus devotes an entire chapter to listing the offenses of the scribes and Pharisees, to whom he says, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24 NRSV).
Denying contraception on religious grounds while investing in numerous companies that provide not only contraception but drugs that induce abortions seems to me uncomfortably close to gagging at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
But even that isn’t the most troubling thing about this trend. What is most troubling to me is that those of us who should most be calling attention to such hypocrisy—other Christians who are doing the best we can to follow Christ’s example—are largely silent.
It is hard to point fingers. After all, Christ told us not to judge lest we be judged. Do I have a right to speak out when my own retirement portfolio, like most of us who have pensions managed by others, likely invests in these same companies?
And if I’m going to rail against a company that provides abortion-inducing drugs, should I take a cancer drug made by the same company that may save my life? Well…yes, that’s a pretty easy answer. If Mrs. Green had estrogen-receptive breast cancer, like me, she should take the drug, even if the company does make abortion drugs. But it seems to me that Christians should at least ask the Greens to think about whether they are standing on solid ground, no matter what the Supreme Court decided.
Admittedly, some questions don’t have easy answers. But we should at least be asking the questions.