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 step – opposition 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?