Category Archives: Government

Christians Can Officially Stop Worrying About Gay Marriage

When the Supreme Court’s decision in the case referred to as Obergfell was published, confessing Christians were outraged. Conservative voters were outraged, too. There were even people who might otherwise have been classified as progressive or neutral or independent who also objected. American citizens objected for various reasons, most of which centered on the consequences they feared. A ruling that created a whole new definition of marriage upset many people.

One of the reasons people objected to the use of the word marriage for a union of two people of the same sex is that the human race has never before defined marriage that way. No matter how primitive a culture is, the union of two people of the same gender has never before been called a marriage. Archeological and anthropological studies reveal that every human culture to date has relied on a marriage bond between a man and a woman as a pillar of the society. It makes sense; only that union can produce children, and most cultures did not want to go the way of the Shakers. There has never been any evidence of any past culture where the union of two people of the same gender was called marriage. Redefining the word marriage completely redefines human culture.

Of course, everyone who objects to such a transformative redefinition of the culture expects that there will be consequences. Some have predicted that there would be revolution, actual mortal combat, perhaps as violent as the one in 1776. Others have suggested that the country would be divided again, with some states seceding from a union that allows such a dramatic redefinition of marriage and human culture.

Some have also predicted that a culture that allowed same-sex unions to be considered equivalent to the marriage of two people of opposite sexes would immediately legitimize pedophilia. In their eyes, the destruction of any moral pillar might be considered to delegitimize all the others. Some people proclaimed that God would punish a nation that legitimized the whole notion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Some even predicted that that a culture which allowed a same-sex union to be called a marriage would ultimately outlaw all religious behavior. The advocates of same-sex marriage currently enjoy themselves by making fun of such predictions and scoffing at the very idea. They particularly enjoy belittling Christians who trust biblical teaching and try to live by it. The Bible does not equivocate on the subject of homosexuality; in the Bible, such behavior is a sin.

It is fairly easy to see that so far, there has been no revolutionary war,  and no states have seceded. Yet even if one crosses revolution and secession off the list of the consequences of Obergfell, there actually do appear to be consequences. If one allows the full scope of all various definitions of the word revolution, then it begins to appear that there is, indeed, a revolution and that a country utterly unlike the United States of America is being created by this revolution.
Start with the idea that pedophilia will be normalized and legitimized. While the support for such behavior is far from being widespread in the country, the Obergfell decision makes it easier for people to advocate any sexual perversion whatsoever. If one deviant sexual behavior is suddenly declared to be normal, on what basis is any other sexual behavior considered to be deviant? If one deviant behavior can be legitimized as a cure for loneliness, then what others can be excluded? Where is the standard by which sexual behavior is evaluated? Who gets to say what is normal and what is abnormal? On what basis do you tell anyone that sexual behavior of any kind between any two people, or even between people and animals, is abnormal? Deviant? Perverted? When the standards fall, then it becomes difficult to tell pedophiles that they are sick and need help.

As for the prediction that  God will mete out punishment, people who doubt God’s existence certainly would not recognize or acknowledge God’s punishment even if they saw it with their own eyes, yet these are the people who presume to tell us that God is not punishing homosexual behavior, same-sex couples who marry, or anything else, for that matter. Since God does not always make public announcements of his punishments or “sign” his work, it is pretty silly for these people to declare that God is not punishing anyone. How would they know? If they saw it, would they acknowledge it?

As for the prophecy that as a consequence of gay marriage, the nation would outlaw religious belief, the fact is that animosity toward people of faith, no matter what faith they hold, is at an all-time high for the USA. Obergfell may not be solely responsible for this state of affairs, but it is certainly part of the climate that energizes such an attitude. A chaplain for veterans is told that even he may not give a patient in a VA hospital a Bible. A school administrator is told that there will be no praying during commencement exercises at graduation. A football player is publicly maligned for kneeling in a prayer of thanks after he makes a fabulous play. Employees of a restaurant are told not to say, “Merry Christmas” even if customers say those words to them. Children in the school lunch room are reprimanded by teachers if they pray over their food. Recipients of federal grants are informed that they may not use grant money to fund “inherently religious activities,” such as “worship,” “religious education,” or “proselytizing.” Since all the terms presented in quotation marks are subject to a wide variety of definitions, depending on who creates the definitions, the scope of forbidden activity is quite uncertain and subject to a great deal of dispute. Suppression of and scorn for words and deeds consistent with a life lived in submission to God and his authority is becoming common. Obergfell is certainly part of the social climate that is leading many people to declare that people who live according to biblical teachings are extreme.

For example, when Indiana tried to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, social activists declared that to allow a Christian the religious liberty to refuse business that conflicts with his Christian principles is to allow the Christian to discriminate while pretending to be a faithful Christian. People who are not Christians declare that a Christian baker is obligated by US law to bake a cake and prepare it to be served at a wedding of two people of the same gender, no matter what his religious convictions are.

People who are not Christians declare that no Christian principle that conflicts with the objectives of their social advocacy can be permitted, because to permit it is to permit discrimination; this is another example of a term whose definition is being changed in such a way as to limit the exercise of Christian faith. Those who interpret the “free exercise” clause as a notion that encourages discrimination believe that they must suppress religious liberty in order to allow progressive social goals to evolve. Social activists reject the most clear meaning of the First Amendment, which recognizes that Christians submit to God as a higher authority than the social goals of society.  Obergfell is just one example of a way in which the culture suppresses religious liberty, but the same court that issued Obergfell is unlikely to issue any future rulings that strike it down or lessen its impact. In the Obergfell decision, social activists have found a weapon to begin to degrade the entire concept of religious liberty, a right granted to human beings by God that encourages human beings to put God ahead of the state. Social activists consider the state to be the source of all rights, and they define rights as privileges granted by the state, not powers invested in human beings at the moment of creation–people who reject the idea that each person is created by God naturally reject God as the source of human rights.

Gay marriage by itself does not cause pedophilia, God’s punishment, or the end of religious liberty. However, the path of social advocacy, culture change and government rulings has been inexorably modified by Obergfell, and it is quite reasonable to assume that if the nation as a whole chooses to do things and promote behaviors that God forbids, he will allow or perhaps orchestrate consequences that people will not think are pleasant. The book of Revelation speaks metaphorically, but the metaphor tells us that when God begins to react to what people do, people will hate and fear his actions so much that they would prefer burial under a rockslide to living in the presence of Almighty God.

There are social and political activists who utterly scorn all the statements by Christians who say that our country is sinking deeper and deeper into sinful attitudes and behaviors. They are willing to scorn God, because they utterly scorn the Bible and everything it stands for. As a person who believes that the Bible is God’s Word to human beings, intended to be our guide for faith and life, I believe that while revolution and secession may not happen to our country as a direct consequence of Obergfell, it is completely obvious that pedophilia, God’s punishment, and the suppression of religious liberty is happening already. There is a cultural revolution in place, and many people whose principles collide violently with the momentum of the revolution may very well look for ways to “secede” in some way or other from an immoral, godless culture.

What is the impact of Gay Marriage? The mindset that allows and promotes gay marriage is destroying the culture. Children’s minds are being poisoned by aggressive force-feeding of secularism in schools. Already children 10-20 have been indoctrinated in school to believe that homosexuality is only one of many “normal” variations in sexual behavior. They believe that cohabitation instead of marriage is normal. They believe that marriage is unnecessary. They believe that the government, not the parents, should set the moral climate. These things did not begin with gay marriage, and the moral disintegration does not end with gay marriage.

Those who doubt that God will punish the nation for going along with gay marriage should remember that the Israelites exhibited the same disregard for God that advocates of gay marriage exhibit. As a consequence, the stone on which God’s finger had written his commandments was ground to dust, thrown in the water, and forced down the throats of the Israelites. That story is a metaphor. God’s punishment will fall on the nation that flouts the law of God. Christians who are obedient to God can stop worrying about the consequences of same-sex marriage, but those who advocate and promote it still have a lot to worry about.

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Can We Trust the Government?

Government exists on earth as the repository of God-given authority over human beings for the purpose of good order and safety. That is the thesis underlying the Declaration of Independence, and the guiding principle in the design of the Constitution of the United States of America. The men who wrote those two documents were quite familiar with the passage in Romans 13 where Paul wrote about the good purpose and function of government:

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1–7 ESV).

Paul did not write such words out of ignorance that some people who serve in government are violent, murderous thieves. Nobody was more cognizant of sinful human nature than the apostle Paul. Rather he wrote this short essay to comfort Christians in the capital city of the Roman Empire, and his words are preserved for all generations to be equally comforted. Roman citizens who received Christ and followed him had the same issue with government authority that contemporary Christians have: If the government demands that we do something God himself has forbidden, what do we do?

Paul’s description of the proper function of government makes it very clear that government’s authority comes from God. Therefore, government that operates in respectful submission to God’s authority will never pose a threat to Christian obedience to God. This is the reason that the representatives at the Constitutional Convention believed it to be unnecessary to insert a clause that protected the freedom of a citizen to obey God rather than men. Those representatives considered that freedom to be a foregone conclusion that was obvious to everyone.

The discussions surrounding ratification made it clear that many people did not consider the unstated assumption of the Convention to be clear enough that they felt safe. Rather than seek a safe space west of the Alleghenies, they advocated for an amendment that would protect their freedom in case someone did challenge the authority of God. The First Amendment to the Constitution recognizes that every person must put God’s authority first, above all other authority, and that is the reason that “free exercise” of religion is protected.

The major thrust of the work of the Constitutional Convention was to create a government that did, in fact, secure and protect the God-given liberty of the citizens while assuring that nobody used liberty as a license to steal, murder and destroy things.

The problem with any government, however, is that it is made up of human beings, all of whom are born with sinful human nature. Government puts those imperfect vessels of authority in close proximity with both money and power, and there is little to prevent officials in a government from doing evil things, especially if they are very clever. Imperfect individuals in the possession of great power and authority can do terrible things. A police officer whose sin of considering himself greater than the people he serves is an example. He may extort protection money. He may sell his services to the underworld. He may delightedly murder citizens who are at his mercy just because he can. If all police officers, or even if most police officers, behaved that way, our nation would be quickly destroyed. Police officers are supposed to enforce the peace, but murdering innocent people creates violent reactions, not peace.

The tradition of good government is to have a process in place for identifying and punishing police officers who exceed their authority or commit crimes such as murder and theft. However, like any other human undertaking, the administration of good government is often as flawed as the police officers it must manage.

Personal venality of members of the government is not the only threat to good government. The government is almost always under assault by people who want to change it. They do not want to follow the slow process of winning hearts, obtaining voter support, holding orderly meetings and elections and etcetera. They want change, and they want it now. One of the powerful strategies to agitate citizens to demand change is to circulate half-truths, self-serving statistics, and hints at possibilities. People become agitated. They can’t get the truth, and they feel betrayed.

This state of affairs describes the attitude toward government at all levels in the US today. It is the reason that #Blacklivesmatter is able to recruit so many people to its side. This is the reason Nick Pitts says, “The enforcement of justice and the restoration of peace are heavenly echoes in an earthly wilderness. Although heaven is perfect, we are not.” Government has a perfectly godly role in the universe, a role defined by the Creator, but it does not always fulfill that role with integrity and honor.

When government fails the citizens it serves, something must give. Our Constitutional government at the federal level, and our state, county and local governments as well, are all accountable to the voters, but sad to say, voters, too, are human and subject to corruption. Their motives are not always pure, and their hands are not always clean.

The people who believe that too many black men have been killed by white officers with malignant attitudes can be forgiven for assuming that this allegation is true. When even one person you love is murdered, it seems like one too many. However, God wants good order and safety on the earth for all the people. When people with grievances destroy good order and compromise safety, when the people with grievances destroy as much as or more than they grieve, when people with grievances cannot show respect for other people, then the government still has the role of enforcing good order and safety. That is the role given to government by God himself.

Government at all levels in the US needs to be held accountable for honest administration of good laws and good policy. Voters need to talk about the problems, and voters need to reshape government that is not doing its job. Some will say that the solution is “Throw the bums out!” There are mechanisms to do exactly that. Some will say that the solution is better laws or better policies or more citizen involvement. All those things can be done, but nothing happens overnight. In the meantime, if we want any semblance of freedom, peace and good order, each of us must exert the self-discipline to behave responsibly no matter what we think of the government.

Here is the conclusion of Paul’s statement on good government. It is a fitting conclusion for us as well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8–10 ESV).

Do You Personally Know Any Terrorists?

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

 

 

 

Discussing the Bill of Rights is not an Argument about Politics

In a recent Facebook discussion I was admonished by someone for bringing up politics. The discussion was about the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The Bill of Rights, like many other elements in the Constitution, is not a political subject; the Bill of Rights is a moral statement.

The statement certainly was crafted in the body of a political discussion. The political issue arose, because citizens of the nation defined by the Constitution were understandably concerned about the way the new government would treat them. They looked at the Constitution and asked, “What restrains the government defined here from stepping outside the defined limitations and wreaking havoc with human rights?” The answer from the men who wrote the document was that their intention was for the government to receive only the powers specifically listed in the Constitution. The writers of that document expected its limits to be the limits of the government.

The Bill of Rights is a moral statement.

Many people, very thoughtful people, considered human history and believed that it would be difficult to restrain government by saying, “If it isn’t in the powers enumerated in the Constitution, it is not part of the federal government.” History has proved them to be correct. In fact, the federal government can scarcely restrain itself when exercising an enumerated power; it always wants “just a little bit more,” and always “for the good of the people.”

People who foresaw that very problem were adamant about establishing serious, powerful limits on the exercise of power by the central government defined in the Constitution of the USA. Those people who were vocal during the process of ratifying the Constitution. They complained long and loudly. They exacted promises from those who promoted ratification, promises to protect the rights God had given people at the moment of creation.

CHRISTIAN ARRESTED FOR EXTREMISM BECAUSE HE OWNS A BIBLE

One day soon, you may see a headline like this one in the New York Times, or in your hometown newspaper, or on the Drudge Report. For now, this headline comes from Uzbekistan, but after you read the story and think about the language of public discourse in the USA, you may discover that it would be no stretch at all for this headline to be about you.

The news from Uzbekistan is this. One article of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan outlaws “keeping and storing extremist materials with the purpose of further distribution.” To Christians in the USA, a Bible would not be called “extremist,” and the possession of it would not mean that its owner was an extremist. However, in Uzbekistan, the Bible is regarded as a severe threat.

In fact, Uzbekistan’s government harshly suppresses all religious activity of any variety—Muslim, Christian, and all other groups. In the current year, Uzbekistan is the 15th most dangerous country in the world for Christians, but this government does not limit its threats to Christians. Uzbek law requires all religious groups to be registered, and the requirements for Christians are at least no more onerous than the requirements for other religions. The requirements for registration filter out very small groups such as independent house churches and other small congregations who cannot meet the standard for numbers of members. The law further requires that all religious material, Bibles, devotional books, Sunday School lessons, and so forth be inspected by the government, and only approved materials may be possessed. Only one version of the Bible is approved, and only people belonging to registered religious groups may possess even that version. Some tiny Christian churches refuse to attempt registration, because the penalty for continuing to meet after a rejected registration is more onerous than the penalty for illegal gatherings of unregistered groups.

The guiding philosophy of Uzbek law surrounding religions is that the government considers the practice of religion to be extremist activity. In the eyes of the deeply secular government, the threat of extremism justifies extreme control. Religious registration requires that the groups give the government a great deal of information, including lists of members, and registered organizations are held accountable for compliance with laws surrounding buildings approved for religious meetings and the use of approved religious documents. In order to be approved, religious documents, including the Bible, must be published by approved publishers, sold in approved bookstores, printed in approved translations, and so forth. Failure to comply on any point is grounds for the accusation of promoting extremism. To offer to pray for someone in a public park is extremism, because the park is not an approved location for religious activity. To invite someone to receive Christ into his heart is extremism, because proselytizing is forbidden. To tell five little children playing in your yard the story of Noah and the Ark is extremism, because no children may be taught religion without written permission of their parents and no religious teaching to anyone of any age may be done outside an approved location for religious education. To read a Bible on the bus is an act of extremism if the Bible is not an approved translation which you acquired at an approved bookstore which verified that the publisher is on the government’s approved list. To have a lot of Bibles of any translation in your house, along with a pile of tracts and a few devotional magazines is to give evidence of personal extremism, and makes you subject to the accusation that you plan to distribute the materials and incite further extremism.

It is in this context that Majid (not the real name) was arrested for possessing unauthorized materials that are considered to be extremist, with the intent to distribute them. It brings to American minds the image of drug dealers and their paraphernalia. The comparison is appropriate. The government of Uzbekistan has its roots in the former Soviet Union, where political leaders learned that “religion is the opiate of the people.” Uzbek government does not want its citizens to be addicted to religion, and they regard religious activism the same way Americans regard street gangs that peddle drugs.

Majid is, unfortunately for him, a repeat offender. He was arrested once before for possessing extremist literature with the intent to distribute it. In the eyes of the Uzbeks, that experience should have taught him to eschew any further infractions, but Majid loves Jesus and wants to share Jesus with everyone. After he was released the first time, he made diligent efforts to acquire more Bibles and more Christian books to share. A second arrest makes him liable to greater fines and longer imprisonment. Prisoners in Uzbekistan should not, by law, be abused, but Christians arrested for extremism historically suffer beatings and even torture.

What does this story have to do with the USA?

In February of this year, Barna Group released a study of the way the culture in the USA views Christians. After 1000 interviews conducted in August 2015, Barna concluded that the culture strongly feels that a Christian, if not already an extremist, is a threat to become one. The responses of those who were interviewed established several points on which the culture’s perceptions of Christians is troubling.

  • Nearly half of non-believers consider Christianity to be extremist.
  • The behaviors that are considered extreme include many very common behaviors of Christians, even some behaviors that are considered integral to the fabric of the faith.

What sort of behavior qualifies as extremist in the eyes of the American public?

Here are a few examples:

  • Refuse to bake a cake to be served at a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage, on the grounds that your religious principles forbid you to participate in a same-sex marriage
  • Tell a fellow passenger on a bus about Jesus and invite that person to receive Christ
  • Tell your children that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful
  • Silently read your Bible while waiting in the boarding area at the airport
  • Tell your children that they are born sinful
  • Pray aloud in a grocery store for a woman who just told you her husband was terminally ill
  • Believe that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful (Presumably this attitude motivates you to teach this principle to your children, which makes you extreme on two counts.)
  • Protest a government policy that requires employers to pay for medical treatments and devices which the employer considers immoral on the basis of his or her faith in Jesus and commitment to biblical truth
  • Protest government subsidies for abortion providers on the grounds that abortion is murder of a human being
  • Quit working for IBM and become a missionary to Haiti
  • Have no sexual relations with your fiance’.
  • Tithe your income
  • Go to church and worship with other Christians every week

 

Most Christians will have trouble seeing any item on this list as extreme behavior. Sadly for Christians, this list is not exhaustive. It is merely a sample of the sorts of things considered to be extreme or to be incitement to extremism.

It is precisely such perceptions that lead a government to devise laws that require religious organizations to register and laws that tightly control the content and publication of religious materials, including Bibles. If the attitudes described above really are extremist, why wouldn’t it be normal to arrest someone who had a houseful of Bibles and other religious materials, with the obvious intention to distribute them to many people, thereby inciting others to his or her own level of extremism.

It is easy for Christians to say that it is Satan’s fault that people have this view of Christians and Christianity. Such accusations are flung out by long-suffering tongues through bitter lips. Christians are not wrong to recognize that Satan works hard to twist the perceptions of non-believers, but Christians must recognize that Jesus did not call us to be angry with the people who think this way. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

The popular way to deal with rejection like this is to apologize to the public and promise never to do it again. If that statement is accompanied with a comment that it was never your intent to threaten or scare anyone, that would be nice, and it would be even better if you said that you realize your words were hurtful and your actions were scary, and you plan to change everything so people feel better about you.

The problem is that the behaviors considered “extreme” by non-believers are central to what it means to be Christian. We are called to live our faith every moment of every day, in all places at all times. We are called by Christ to be the same no matter where we are. It is the highest hypocrisy to pray in church that sinners suffering Satanic enslavement to homosexuality will be released from that bondage and then go into the public forum and celebrate gay marriage. If we do things like that, we know we are betraying Christ, and we know that we are betraying our sacred responsibility to be messengers of Christ’s salvation, grace, forgiveness and transformation for sinners everywhere. We cannot pretend publicly to comply with the moral relativism of the culture and only secretly speak and act in harmony with our faith.

Just as Majid in Uzbekistan bravely continues to prepare to share his faith with others, even though proselytizing is against the law of Uzbekistan, we must continue to prepare to share our faith with others, even though the culture rejects our “extremism.” Just as Majid continues to discuss the Bible with other people in places not authorized for religious education, we must continue to share Jesus on buses and in airports and in the grocery store. When challenged, we must remember to love those who challenge us, to pray for them, and to bless them in every way possible. Why?

While the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesara, a visiting king named Agrippa asked to hear this famous prisoner speak. Paul told Agrippa how he met Christ and became a faithful follower of Christ, and then Paul said to Agrippa, “do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27). Agrippa was taken aback and said, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa clearly recognized the truth in Paul’s words, and Paul yearned deeply for the king to open his heart to that truth. His response to Agrippa’s hesitation is the reaction we should have to all the attacks and misconceptions and even lies that non-believers tell about Christians. Paul said, and we should say, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Majid demonstrates the right way to deal with the misconceptions of believers. He goes right on being a faithful Christian. It does cost him. In Uzbekistan, arrest and imprisonment for breaking the religion laws is often accompanied by stiff fines, fines that amount to years and years of normal wages. Majid knows that he is subject to this suffering when he obeys Christ and shares the good news with people. Each of us knows that if we live the way Christ calls us to live, we are subject to severe cultural harassment, and in some cases, we may even be subject to legal complications. We may be accused of discrimination,. or we may simply be charged with noncompliance with regulations. If the culture becomes more assertive in its characterization of Christianity as organized extremism, the rhetoric will become more hateful, and the laws may even become more stringent.

We have civil rights as American citizens that citizens of Uzbekistan do not have. We have much more voice in the legislation and administration and the processes of justice than Uzbek citizens have. As Christians, we have the right and the responsibility to advocate and take action and vote. We must be active, vocal citizens, but our rhetoric must always be the rhetoric of truth spoken with love. We may be accused of extremism according to the cultural definition of extremism, but we must live in a deep, integral relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ that assures we put the extreme demands of spiritual warfare in the hands of the all-conquering Christ.

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 summer of 2016