Tag Archives: legal suppression of religious principles

To Flee or to Stand Your Ground? What is the Right Thing To Do?

Recent news included a report of the safe arrival of an American family in Chile after they were rescued from their small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. How they came to be there will give any Christian food for thought.

Interviewed in Chile after their rescue, the family explained that they fled the US in their small boat, because they felt that US culture and US government had become hostile to their faith. The brief comments reported included the allegation that the government of the US had become a religion, a state church.

This family undertook to do something that doubtless occurs to others. Public discussions of the massive changes in the cultural landscape accompanied by legal changes emanating from legislation, court decisions and new regulations regularly include the poignant questions, “What do we do? Where could we go to escape? What should a Christian do under these circumstances?”

The Gastonguay family’s convictions are rooted in the Bible. They claim no relationship with a church, probably due to their conviction that US churches are under the control of the government. Their viewpoint doesn’t sound so outrageous when you consider that in countries like China and Vietnam more Christians belong to underground house churches than belong to legally recognized denominations for precisely the same reason. Most American Christians would not agree that American churches are controlled by the government to the same degree that Chinese churches are, but many Christians deplore the degree to which leaders in their denominational hierarchy appear to be shaped by political considerations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is today a mere shadow of what it was in 2008, because of its decision in 2009 to declare that the wisdom of the church had transcended biblical teaching on the subject of homosexuality. Many of the churches and individuals who have since separated from the ELCA did so feeling that the ELCA had caved in to political activism. Those people would concur with Hannah Gastonguay’s assessment that the church was following, not leading, the government.

Hannah named several subjects on which the family felt the government had gone astray. They oppose abortion on demand and consider homosexuality to be a sinful aberration, not a normal congenital variation. Christians across the nation feel tyrannized by government in these areas, and many have undertaken homeschooling for their children in order to assure that their children are brought up with Christian values and views on these subjects. They want to prevent the government from requiring their children to learn how to experiment with sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. They may not run away to a tiny Pacific island, opting rather to arm their children for a lifelong battle over their values. Christians sued because they are not willing to photograph a same-sex wedding or rent a hall to celebrate such an event may ask themselves now and again if it might be time for them, too, to set sail for some other place where their values are respected.

Persecution develops over time in cultures where the first stepopposition to Christianity – gains strength. In the USA that opposition is steadily increasing. Beginning with Christ, Christians have always experienced opposition in the world, but historically, wherever the opposition becomes powerfully aligned with the force of law, it begins to restrict the rights of Christians to live their faith.

Currently in Nigeria, a country where people of all faiths once lived in harmony, Muslim activists, supported by a cultural majority and a lack of government commitment to religious liberty, are able to wreak murder and mayhem at will against Christians and Christian churches. The culture in northern Nigeria is dominated by opposition to Christians, creating a climate receptive to anti-Christian activism. Terrorism against Christians is condoned even if not advocated by the cultural majority. The pressure of the culture creates a real danger to government officials who might otherwise act to protect the life and property of Christians. Today the national government publicly distances itself from the lawlessness of the Boko Haram, but it takes little meaningful action to put a stop to its rampage. Cultural opposition motivates disinformation that props up injustice, which has now become routine mistreatment of Christians. This is the historic path that leads to severe persecution.

Today in the US, a growing demographic of outright atheists accompanied by an even greater increase in general secularism mounts strong opposition to the Christian faith and its adherents. A willing media encourages and propagates a great deal of disinformation about Christians. Demographics coupled with media pressure give the minority’s opposition and disinformation an inappropriate weight in political agendas that restrict and suppress the religious liberty of Christians. Already, injustice is being done in the name of public education, civil rights and preventive health services. Some may not see a requirement to speak affirming words to a homosexual who works in the next cubicle as mistreatment but if failure to do so may result in discipline or discharge, it certainly qualifies as injustice. The path marked by opposition, disinformation, injustice and mistreatment leads directly to persecution, where police become unwilling to investigate abuse of the property or person of a Christian, Christians are arrested on contrived charges, and Christians suffer beatings, torture and even executions in the courts or in the streets. The patterns that historically lead to out-and-out persecution of Christians are mounting in the US.

No matter how egregious the persecution becomes, many Christians nevertheless see it as their duty in obedience to Christ to stand firm and testify for Christ rather than flee. In Egypt, for example, despite the fact that thousands of Christians have fled the mayhem, thousands remain, convinced that God has called them to fight this battle by loving their enemies, praying for their persecutors and blessing the situation with acts of love and grace. It is a matter each Christian must face within his own conscience. Secularists are laughing at the Gastonguay family, as they laugh to scorn any public statement of faith. Christians need to view this news thoughtfully and prayerfully. Every Christian must accept the fact that he, too, could be faced with the necessity of making a choice someday, even in the US. When that time comes what will you do? What do you think of the Gastonguays? How will your prayers change now that you know their story?

Religious Persecution Takes a Variety of Forms

In the USA, we are accustomed to the freedom to choose and practice any religion. Or no religion. There is a certain amount of friction over the boundaries between some religion and no religion. There is friction. In February, 2012, the friction boiled over into a hot dispute about the boundaries between religious practices and government. Americans believe that our right to exercise our religion is inherent in our constitution, but sometimes disputes with government hinge on dark semantics.

In the USSR, a country founded on Marxist principles, religion was severely repressed. Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the people,” and the government of the USSR viewed religion with scorn. When the USSR collapsed and its government was dissolved, many people thought that religions would automatically flower in the nations which formerly comprised that vast union. It hasn’t happened everywhere. It hasn’t happened in Belarus.

Article 16 of the constitution of Belarus says that the country has no state religion. However, the country does require that religions be registered. A law passed in 2002 makes unregistered religious activity a criminal offense. The secret police of Belarus monitor all religious activity. The law prohibits meetings of unregistered religious groups, and restricts any religious activity directed toward children. If the federal government of the USA suddenly announced that private citizens who wanted to hold prayer meetings or Bible studies in their living rooms were required to fill out a long form and receive a registration number from Washington in order to be legal, Americans would be outraged. Americans would be equally outraged if police raided a group of people meeting in a storefront or someone’s basement on Sunday because they could not afford to buy a church building. In Belarus, pastors are fined more than they earn in a month if the police find them conducting services in unregistered locations or if a policemen discovers that they are reading the Bible and praying with people on sidewalks in their home towns.

If the USA were like Belarus, this scene would be credible:

Sandra, at the cash register at Safeway, pays her bill and receives her receipt. She glances at the cashier’s name tag and says, “The peace of Christ be with you Darlene.”
Darlene:  “Thank you so much. I need to ask you something.”
Sandra: “What is it?”
Darlene: “Would you pray for my granddaughter Jenny? She is only eight years old and she has pneumonia. Her mother is worried.”
Sandra: “Of course. I pray God will bless Jenny with healing. May he comfort Jenny’s mother and give the doctor wisdom to care for Jenny.”
In the line behind Sandra, a man shoves two people aside and strides up to Sandra. He shows a police badge.
Policeman: “Step out of the line and come with me.”
Sandra: “Why?”
Policeman: “You know it is against the law to pray outside of a registered church building. I have to take you in and book you for unregistered religious activity.”
The policeman cuffs Sandra and leads her away.

Would you want this sort of law in the USA? 

In countries where religions must be registered, their activities and influence are severely constrained. In the USA people can choose a religion, change their religion or decide to have no religion, and to date, people think it is no business of the government. Recent developments have some people asking if something changed.

Various religions in this country provide a range of social services whose quality far exceeds that of any programs operated by any level of government. They have provided those services following policies guided by their freely-chosen religious principles. However, recent news stories report that the federal government has intruded on the religious principles of numerous Christian agencies and institutions, demanding that social services be provided under policies consistent with federal social policies, regardless of Christian teachings to the contrary. Christian adoption agencies have been ordered to place children with same-sex couples in direct conflict with Christian teaching that homosexuality is sin. Christian pharmacists have been ordered to provide counseling for morning-after abortifacients and to fill prescriptions for morning-after abortifacients even if the phatmacists hold the view that it is a sin to provide and use such medications, even if they are willing to graciously refer patients to providers for whom there is no religious conflict with the service. Christian hospitals and universities have been ordered to provide contraception, abortion and sterilization as covered services in healthcare benefits for their employees, even though the institutions are founded and operated by people who belong to a religion that teaches that such “services” are sin. How is arresting people for conducting unregistered religious activity different from fining people for refusing to conduct activities in direct opposition to their religious principles?

Around the world, Christians are praying for their fellow Christians in Belarus to be free to choose and exercise their faith. Maybe we should also be praying for some power in the USA to resurrect the First Amendment and protect the free exercise of Christian faith in the USA, too.