When you read the question in the title, you probably said to yourself, “I don’t think I know any terrorists, but wouldn’t it be interesting if I did?” The right answer to the question in the title might seem obvious to you at a casual glance. What if I told you, however, that you do not know the definition of a terrorist, and therefore, you probably do not know that you do know one or more terrorists? Philosophers always refuse to argue with each other until they have defined their terms, although they will argue at great length about the definition of the terms. People who study contemporary culture need definitions, too, because the definitions change frequently.
On July 7, in Russia, the nation that was the core of the former Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin signed a law that gives new meaning to the words terrorist and terrorism. If that law had been signed by Barack Obama, it is highly likely that you would have recognized immediately that you know one or more terrorists very well. The horrifying aspect of this news is that there are forces in the USA this very day who would love to see this “anti-terrorism” law enacted in the United States.
Many aspects of the law have already been common in other nations for quite a while. For some time now it has been illegal in Tajikistan for persons younger than 18 to attend religious services except for weddings and funerals. In Uzbekistan, the only legal version of the Bible is the one approved by the national government, and possession of even that Bible is illegal if it was purchased anywhere except a store approved by the national government. In Turkmenistan, all religious activity must be confined to buildings legally registered as houses of worship. Those nations are mostly secular nations where a perceived need to limit the ability of Muslims to recruit jihadis led to suppression of all religions. If anyone asks Putin why Russia needed this law, it is likely that this is the answer he would give. You probably believe that something must be done to make it hard for groups like ISIS to recruit young people willing to die for them, but you probably do not believe that allowing a mother to tell her children Bible stories at bedtime qualifies as making her a potential ISIS recruit. Russia’s new “anti-terrorism” law begs to differ with you. In the eyes of the Russian government, a mother who reads Bible stories to her children or teaches them a bedtime prayer is engaging in extreme behavior that warrants arrest and fines. Legally, she herself can only pray inside a building legally registered as a worship site, and that is also the only place where she can teach her children how to pray—or model prayer for them or let them practice prayer.
Watch for the Freedom From Religion Foundation to propose the same law in the United States of America.
Here are some of the details of the Russian law, as cited by Steve Berman at the Resurgent:
Under the law, all personal evangelism on the streets and in individual homes is now restricted. Evangelizing outside registered churches will result in fines. Christians meeting in homes are not allowed to invite unbelievers.
Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they are not allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities will be forcibly disbanded.
Besides rendering evangelism illegal, the law will also punish not reporting violations. Russian believers and missionaries will be under constant scrutiny of officials and even neighbors.
Individuals found guilty of violating the new law will be fined up to $800 USD, while organizations found in violation will be fined up to $15,500. Foreigners found in violation will be deported. All aspects of the law also apply to internet activities.
Why do I think anybody will want that law in the United States?
The answer is that there are plenty of people in the USA who do not like any of the behaviors restricted or forbidden by this law. For example, many secular thinkers consider it child abuse when a parent tells a child that he or she is sinful. Secular thinkers believe a child is appears magically when a clump of cells in a woman’s uterus bursts out with arms, legs, and a head at an event called “birth.” To them, that child is a blank slate, unsullied by the world, ready to be led into self-actualization as the outcome of a journey of discovery called childhood. Secular thinkers believe that a child cannot possibly be a sinner, because the child has not yet made any choices. To teach a child about sinful human nature and then tell the child he or she must repent of bad attitudes sounds crass and unfair to secular thinkers. When a parent teaches a child the tenets of the Christian faith, secular thinkers call the parent an extremist.
Secular thinkers also consider it to be an example of extreme behavior when somebody silently reads a Bible on a public bus, or offers to pray for someone met in a grocery store. Barna Group discovered that almost 50% of non-religious adults in the USA consider Christianity to be extremist. They uncovered a long list of behaviors that many Americans now consider to be extreme, and you might be shocked to read the list:
- Refusal to participate in and celebrate lifestyle choices that conflict with personal religious convictions
- Demonstrate against immoral behavior (The people who consider it extreme to demonstrate against abortion consider it admirable to demonstrate for #blacklivesmatter. Hmmm)
- Preach a religious message in a public place where nonbelievers might hear it
- Teach children that homosexual behavior is morally wrong
- Pray aloud for a stranger
- Protest government policies that conflict with personal religious convictions (but demonstrating for standards that make a person feel good about himself is desirable and something to mimic.)
- Leave a high-paying job to be a missionary in a third-world country
- Read the Bible silently in a public place
- Attend church every week
- Tell a stranger about Jesus and ask him to follow Jesus
These behaviors are considered extremism by 50% of non-religious people, but a surprising number of people who claim religious connections also consider these behaviors to be extreme. It isn’t all that surprising, when you consider how few professed Christians ever attend church or read the Bible or pray aloud anywhere. All these behaviors are illegal in Russia since July 7, and as Barna would confirm, a great many people in the USA consider them to be detrimental to peace and good order. It is not inconceivable at all that somebody could soon propose that the USA pass a law just like the one in Russia.
In case the means of enforcing these restrictions in Russia was not clear, just contemplate what it would mean for you and your church.
- What if it were illegal to meet for worship in a building not licensed as a place of worship?
- What if a licensed building had to renew the license every five years, or even more frequently? What if a license were only issued if the application for a worship license had to include the names, addresses, birthdates, and attendance record of at least 150 people in order to be valid? What if the approval process for a worship license included personal government interviews of every person listed on the application?
- What if it were illegal to engage in any sort of commerce (Christmas bazaars, for example) on the property of a licensed worship facility?
- What if no private dwelling could be used for worship under any circumstances? (illegal to have a prayer meeting in your living room, illegal for your family to read the Bible and pray around the kitchen table at breakfast, illegal for you to teach your children the Ten Commandments or Bible verses such as John 3:16 in your house or your yard)
- What if it were illegal for a youth mission group to pray on the front porch of a house they were rehabbing for a week?
- What if you could be arrested if your neighbor complained that you told him that he should follow Jesus? Or even if you told him that following Jesus was the best thing in your life?
- What if it were illegal to pray with your co-worker whose marriage is struggling, even if you prayed in the bathroom away from the work areas?
- What if it were illegal for you to stand in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic and counsel women considering abortion to consider life instead?
- What if it were illegal for a licensed worship facility to open its doors for worship unless a licensed worship leader (pastor) was present to conduct all the proceedings? (Your pastor is on vacation, no supply is available, and members want to worship anyway. Then what?)
- What if you could be arrested if police investigated a neighbor’s report that you were teaching your children Christian songs, and during the investigation in your home, they found a Bible that was not a federally approved translation published by a federally authorized publisher of religious materials?
All these things are happening in countries where all religions are considered to be hotbeds of terrorism and all congregations are considered to be made up of extremists.
Russia’s new law may be the first evidence of a first-world nation with a law that so seriously limits religious liberty. It won’t be the last, because the secular thinkers who run the nation of Russia have colleagues around the world who agree with them that religion must be suppressed and contained and silenced. The founders of the USA believed that God himself gave human beings their right to love and serve God, even above the obligation to serve human authority. Many citizens of the US today believe that God does not exist, and that what we call unalienable rights are unearned privileges that the government has the right to grant or withhold. It is not at all inconceivable that the US Congress might soon be considering an anti-terrorism bill that is in actuality an anti-Christian bill.
Do you personally know any terrorists? If you are a Christian, it might be you.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the autumn of 2016