Tag Archives: living the faith

Could I Be Arrested for Being a Christian?

Open Doors USA creates an annual list of nations where it is dangerous to be a Christian. When they prepare the list, they take into account factors expressed in five spheres of life (and other factors which I will not address here). The five spheres are:

  1. 1.      Private life
  2. 2.      Family life
  3. 3.      Community life
  4. 4.      National life
  5. 5.      Church life

As I read about the way the World Watch List is prepared, I was motivated to think deeply about the way I live my faith. After all, whether I am persecuted or not, I live in those five spheres. People in those spheres of life view my actions and words. I had to ask myself, if I lived in a country where it was common to persecute Christians, would my behavior in all those spheres lead people to persecute me?

Our faith begins, of course, in our private life. Whether we come to the moment of decision in a church gathering or alone in a dark room, the decision happens inside before anything else matters. If nothing changes in my heart of hearts, then nothing changes. However, in my world, nobody is challenging my right to make that choice in my private life. I can sustain my private life, my personal time for prayer and Bible study, in any way that pleases me. I can create a tiny personal worship space if I wish. I can lay a Bible out on a table or light a candle or use a devotional book. My space belongs to me. It is very difficult for me to accept the idea that in North Korea, nobody is permitted to have a private life. Nobody in that country has ownership of private space or time. Finding any way to have private time or worship time is extremely challenging. So, I ask myself, if I lived in North Korea the way I live today, would anybody arrest me? Would the police come in and smash my private space and my belongings? Would they find any clue that I am a Christian?

We all live in families. There is probably no setting where it is more difficult to live our faith, because our families know all about us. We may put on a façade of righteousness when we go out in public, but the family knows. A spiteful, selfish attitude can’t be a secret from the sister with whom you share a room. Even a little child observes parents that live differently inside their home than they appear to be when they go to church. Our families push all our buttons. We may build relationships in the family, or we may destroy relationships. We may even build barriers around ourselves to prevent relationships. Within my family, is there anyone who would report me for being a Christian if the police wanted that information?

Even people on mountainsides or on sprawling ranches in the Great Plains have community connections. They buy groceries, borrow money, participate in food drives and so forth. When the community is devastated by some disaster, they either help or whine or run away. People in the community know if a person speaks truth or lies. They know if that person is light or darkness. If my community required people to live in districts defined by their religion, would anybody who found me in the atheist corner demand that I go back into the Christian district?

There may have been a time when there was land unclaimed by any nation, but no more. Google maps alone would put a stop to that. Everybody has a nationality. Some countries have religious liberty; some don’t. If I lived in a nation that required everyone to be a particular non-Christian religion, would I be arrested for failure to comply? Could the religious police discern from my attitude and behavior that I am a Christian? If I speak up in a country with complete religious freedom, will anyone be able to distinguish me from a secular thinker or a Buddhist?

And then there is my church life. Like my family, my church knows me well. Or do they? Does my participation give any clue that I am a member? If I fail to attend on Sunday does anyone even notice? Does my name appear anywhere in the list of contributors? Has anyone ever seen me work on a mission project? When my name shows up on a member list, do people scratch their heads? Will anyone know?

My life in Christ has numerous dimensions. This list of the spheres of life makes me ask: Do people see Christ when they see me? Or do they just see another mouthy do-gooder who wants her own way all the time?

A Verse for Meditation

Torah Scroll

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine. Isaiah 43:1 

  • Very often in the Bible, when God speaks directly or when an angel speaks to someone, the first words spoken are, “Don’t be afraid.” Think of two or three other places in the Bible where an angel said, “Don’t be afraid.” Why would you need to hear these words when God is speaking? Do you feel afraid when you hear God speaking to you?
  • What self-perception in Isaiah’s heart and mind would make him feel that he needed redemption? Do you feel guilty about anything? Do you feel that you need to be redeemed?
  • What difference does it make to you that God calls you by name?
  • Sometimes when we walk out the front door in the morning, we feel we have entered a war zone. God says, “You are mine.” How does God’s claim affect the way you feel about the day ahead?

If you have been thinking about memorizing Bible verses in order to be able to recall them when you need them, this is a good place to start. Write this verse on an index card. Stick it in your pocket or your purse. Take it out and read it any time you wish. Say the verse to yourself when you feel under assault or tired and discouraged. Soon it will write itself in your heart.

Henri Nouwen’s book “The Selfless Way 0f Christ” is a Call to Faithful Testimony

Blogging Through the Book — The Selfless Way of Christ by Henri Nouwen

Every Christian at least occasionally thinks about what it means to give testimony to the work of Christ in his life. In The Selfless Way of Christ the author puts it this way: “We can only call ourselves witnesses of Jesus when we have heard him with our own ears, seen him with our own eyes, and touched him with our own hands.” (p. 14) He further says that the basis for the work of the apostles was not knowledge but rather their “having lived with Jesus.” (p. 14)

The testimony of a Christian is, therefore, crafted by living with Jesus. In prayer, in Bible study, in worship, in conversation, in quiet moments when truth bursts into evidence like a pyrotechnic extravaganza – these are the moments in our life with Christ that shape our testimony. Testimony does not emerge only inside worship buildings during the activity of worship. Our testimony is our life. Washing dishes. Making beds. Navigating rush hour traffic. We are living with Jesus every moment, and every moment testifies to him.

We may have trouble saying it clearly, but our lives are our testimonies. This is why people of faith live in constant tension with people who only acknowledge time and space as reality. The indwelling Holy Spirit places us at the intersection of time and eternity. Secular thinkers protest that this time/space reality is all there is. Some secular thinkers kindly tolerate our testimony as a gentle aberration, but others take offense at the idea that there is something beyond the universe we keep trying to measure. Their offended feelings are beginning to be expressed more commonly in our culture.

In the US, our culture predominantly self-identifies with Christianity, but the percentage is trending downward in recent years. Immigrants affiliated with a variety of different religions are part of that changing trend. However, over the past twenty years one statistic has increased noticeably, and in 2011, one poll reported that 19% of Americans self-identify as completely secular. Even that number is deceptive, because many religious people adopt secular standards in public. Many religious people agree with pure secularists that religion is a private matter and religion should not be discussed or even mentioned in the public forum. There may be a poll that records this category, but lacking that, personal experience suggests that 20% of the population, if asked, would agree that religion ought not to be mentioned in public. Christians who hold that view believe that all testimony and all evangelism must be confined inside the walls of a building dedicated to religious activity.

Henri Nouwen would find this observation appalling, because he says, “To be a Christian is to witness to this Word,” the “Word” being Christ, the Living Word of God. Most Christians would agree that this is a good definition of the life of faith, but in our culture, most secular thinkers and most religious people who prefer the secular standard in public life, reject this definition. Many simply think it is good etiquette to avoid the subject of religion in public, but some are adamant that freedom of religion is not enough; the nation needs freedom from religion. This latter concept challenges adherents of any faith who believe that their faith is the basis for their moral and ethical choices.

As the acceptance of secular thinking increases in the culture, it is natural that it will increase in the government. Students of the judicial system report many cases in which long-standing cultural practices growing out of respect for the Christian faith have been ended or dramatically modified in recent years. Interestingly, the secular standard has also been embedded in administrative regulations during the past year. The employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act does not authorize an exemption for all individuals or employers to opt out of the mandates of the law based on their ethical and moral convictions that grow out of their faith. There is a conscience exemption for some employers, but it is exceedingly narrow. The wording of the rule for this exemption is clearly consonant with the ideas expressed by secular thinkers on numerous websites:

American Humanist Association

Council for Secular Humanism

Freedom From Religion Foundation

There are many more that you can find by searching the web. 

The rule says (in DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 45 CFR Part 147)

a religious employer is one that—(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code.   

We who live with Jesus do not confine our exercise of our religion to the limits of this definition. Every moment of our lives is shaped by the presence of Christ. When we are hiring employees, building a house, planting a garden or changing a baby’s diaper we are always living our faith. We do not leave our faith in the church building when we depart. We exercise our faith when we buy insurance or set up a break room for employees.

The First Amendment guarantees citizens of the USA the freedom to exercise their faith. It sets no limits on the place where they can do that. Even though many Christians hate politics (with good reason), all Christians need to stand firm for our freedom to live our faith. Christians around the world suffer under governments where speaking the name of Christ is grounds for arrest or where a Christian who prays in public may have his home burned down while the police watch it happen. Those persecuted Christians only dream of a day when they have protected freedom to exercise their faith.

The regulation implementing the Affordable Care Act for which the conscience exemption is written may not even compromise every Christian’s personal standards. That issue is something every individual must decide for himself. First Amendment protection for the free exercise of faith, however, is every Christian’s concern. When Jesus ascended into heaven, his last words to his followers were not, “Go into buildings and pray there and do it often.” The last words of Christ as Eugene Peterson translates them are, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” (Matthew 28:19) The phrase “everyone you meet” means the people we encounter in daily life, not just the people we see at church.  The training is not to be how to get to a church building; it is how to live “this way of life.”

If the federal government’s definition of religious activity is allowed to stand, then the First Amendment is a lot of empty words. We must be free to testify to our faith. In order to do that we may need to choke back our desire not to be sullied by politics and at least write to our representatives and senators, asking as free citizens in a free nation, for the government to enforce the freedom embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Henri Nouwen has given us a powerful explanation of Christ’s call to make disciples by testifying to our faith at every opportunity. We cannot permit the government to act on a secular definition of religion that prevents us from living our testimony as Christ calls us to do.