Tag Archives: religious liberty

Religious Liberty Means What the Government Says It Means

Let every detail in your lives—words, actions,
whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus.

Colossians 3:17 (the Message) 

US citizens justifiably rejoice in the existence of the First Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment protects the right of every individual to express his chosen religion, or the lack thereof, in his daily life. Ongoing power struggles between government and believers have tested the meaning of the simple words of that amendment, but the fact remains that in the US, people have more freedom to live according to their faith teachings than anywhere else on earth.

There are many countries that declare that they enforce the principle of “freedom of religion” and many even specify that they enforce “separation of church and state.” However, as is the case with most legal language, even though many countries use the same words to describe the way they deal with religion, each country has a unique twist to the meanings of the words. If the government is dominated by secular thinking, then the twist of these words will be different than if the government is dominated by a religion.

Uzbekistan is a good example. Uzbekistan was part of the former USSR, and after the dissolution of that nation, it retained the predominately secular viewpoint in culture and government which had been fostered in the Communist state. Uzbekistan proclaims that it protects “freedom of religion” and “separation of church and state.” The Constitution of Uzbekistan says:

” Art. 18. All citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have equal rights and freedoms, and shall be equal before the law, without distinction by sex, race, nationality, language, religion, social origin, convictions, individual and social status.”

Everyone is equal before the law, a principle that we honor in the USA and portray by statues of Justice wearing a blindfold. That concept sounds wonderful. We would expect that article to assure that nobody in Uzbekistan would be harassed by the culture or the police for expressing and living according to his religious convictions. We would not expect a woman in Uzbekistan to be arrested as she stepped off a bus and be held in prison for days because she had a Bible and a Christian DVD in her purse, but it happened.

Uzbekistan’s Constitution also says:      

“Art. 31. Freedom of conscience is guaranteed to all. Everyone shall have the right to profess or not to profess any religion. Any compulsory imposition of religion shall be impermissible.”

This sounds like an elaborate way to say the same thing our First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” An American contemplating a visit to Uzbekistan might read the Uzbek Constitution and believe he would feel right at home there. In fact, the Constitution of Uzbekistan adds another comforting element, the separation of church and state:

Art. 61. Religious organizations and associations shall be separated from the state and equal before the law. The state shall not interfere with the activity of religious associations.”

An American who reads these words could easily be lulled into a sense of brotherhood between the USA and Uzbekistan with regard to religious liberty, but it would be a mistake to jump to that conclusion. As we are learning in the USA, the Constitution is one thing; law is another. In both the USA and Uzbekistan, the law can and does run roughshod over the Constitution. In both countries, legislators and administrators proceed with their own agendas unless and until a court with the power of Constitutional review changes things. It remains to be seen what the Supreme Court of the USA will do with an issue such as the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The consequences of Constitutional review, or the lack thereof, in Uzbekistan are quite evident, and they provide a cautionary tale for those of us who think words in constitutions and laws have definite meanings that are generally agreed to. The growing dominance of secular thinking in the US federal government demonstrates some interesting parallels with Uzbekistan’s government practices.

When the government of Uzbekistan considered what needed to be done to assure the religious liberty of the citizens, government minds choked on a question that would not occur to you or me: how is the government to know if a group of people have a religion or just some private club? Most of us believe we know what a religion is. It is something people almost intuitively know the answer to. There have been attempts like that of my college professor who declared his dog to be a god and his household to be a church so he could deduct the price of dog food as a contribution to a church, but that sort of blatant fraud does not pass the test of common sense or plain language. (It did not pass muster with the IRS, either.) Only government needs thousands of pages of laws and more thousands of pages of regulations and forms to work out that Hinduism is a religion and therefore is protected by the Constitution.

In Uzbekistan, the Constitution notwithstanding, two laws define the government’s attitude toward religion, and one agency, the Committee on Religious Affairs, administers government policy toward religion. If all religion is “separated from the state and equal before the law,” most readers would believe that people of faith have nothing to worry about. However, the laws include many requirements that must be satisfied in order for any group to be considered a legitimate religion, entitled to religious freedom. Any religious group that is unwilling or unable to comply with all the government regulatory requirements for a legitimate religion is illegal in the eyes of the government. What does that mean?

For starters, every church must be registered, and legal religious worship must take place inside that registered location. That requirement all by itself prohibits prayer meetings and Bible studies in homes. Of course, such activities in the US can take place in parks and on street corners, too, none of which will happen without unpleasant consequences in Uzbekistan. Registration requires completion of a form designed by the government, and errors as small as a grammatical mistake in the native Uzbek language can result in the rejection of the form. The information on the form is the way the government determines if the applicant meets the government definition of a religion protected by the Uzbekistan Constitution. In fact, the form may never even be acknowledged. The seemingly simple act of registration is not so simple. Some groups balk at registration because the form requires the names of at least one hundred members, and some forms have been rejected for misspelled names or because one member or another is accused of association with criminals. It is not a simple matter for the government of Uzbekistan to be sure when to protect the liberty of a religion and the seemingly simple Constitutional protection of religious liberty does not automatically extend to every religious organization.

The government of the USA is just as easily flummoxed as the government of Uzbekistan when it tries to define what is and what is not protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, the Department of Health and Human Services began to write the regulations and design the forms that would implement this monstrous law. Mindful of complaints that the law trampled on the religious convictions of some Christians by requiring an employer to fund contraception, abortion and sterilization (yes, the morning-after pill absolutely qualifies as abortion), Americans were told that the Department took that problem into consideration. In a nation where religious liberty has been a highly valued protection for citizens, Americans certainly expected a conscience exemption for employers who religious convictions conflicted with the use of medications and devices that produced contraception, abortion and sterilization. They never expected that the US government, like the government of Uzbekistan, would choke on the very idea of religion. The US government looked at the situation and, just like the government in Uzbekistan, created a definition of the entity that would qualify for exemption from the ACA employer mandate to provide contraception, abortion and sterilization. This definition embodies the definition any secularist would use for religion.

The US government’s definition of a religious employer:

(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;

(4)   is a non-profit organization    

With regard to point 4, the government has stated in court documents that “for-profit secular employers generally do not engage in any exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment.” In plain language, the government has determined that personal religious convictions do not apply in the operation of a business for profit. This comes as a shock to Christians who have spent a lifetime expressing their religious convictions in the way they operate their businesses.

The government of Uzbekistan has its definition of religion, and it uses its definition to create a process by which will suppress the religious freedom of some people and allow the religious freedom of others. In the same manner, the US government has created a definition of religion that feeds a process by which it will suppress the religious freedom of some people and allow the religious freedom of others. Everything depends on what definition of the word “religion” the government uses.

In Uzbekistan, the problem grows bigger under the legal requirement that the government must authorize every religious publication. This law is a partial response to the problem of freedom of religious expression. How can the government know what written expressions constitute legitimate religious expression unless it verifies first that the material is produced by a legally identified religion and second that the words are in compliance with the definition of the religion in question as identified on its registration form. Religions are free to print and distribute legally approved documents, but it is no mean trick to obtain that approval. The government retains for itself the power to declare what is and is not approved reading for followers of any religion. Religions, legal or not, may not import documents, such as Bibles, tracts or theology books. Those documents will not have the approval of the Committee on Religious Affairs, and is government authorities discover them in anyone’s possession, that individual will be arrested. To date, the US government has not gone down this path. That is something to be thankful for.

A major hurdle for any religion in Uzbekistan is the prohibition on proselytizing. In fact, the hurdle is raised another notch by a law prohibiting religious instruction of a minor without parental consent, even in a registered church using authorized literature. The government and the culture cooperate in suppressing freedom to speak about religion in ordinary conversation or to make any attempt to persuade anyone to change his chosen religion. Christians are called by Christ to make disciples of all nations, but it is actually dangerous to try to make a disciple of anyone in Uzbekistan. In the US, prohibitions on prayer in schools and on the display of the Ten Commandments have arisen due to the same kind of thinking that shapes Uzbekistan’s version of freedom of religion. Court documents show that a fear of even the hint of a “proselytizing” outcome is enough to drive a judge to squelch all sorts of religious activities, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

The training of church leaders in Uzbekistan is also inhibited by government. No religion can have a “central office” if it does not have registered churches in 8 of the 13 districts of Uzbekistan, and only a religion with a “central office” can have a school of any kind to train leaders such as pastors. In the US, the government has expressed no interest in controlling the training of religious leaders. However, in China, a country with which the US has increasingly close ties in the financial realm, the expression of religious freedom is heavily shaped by religious leaders educated in schools where the government controls the curriculum and the faculty. Could it happen in the US? Who knows?

In Uzbekistan, the simple statements that religion is no part of government and that all religions are equal before the law have given birth to a bureaucratic nightmare which threatens the religious liberty of Uzbek citizens the way the Affordable Care Act threatens the religious liberty of American citizens.

The parallel is uncanny. In order to protect religion in Uzbek, the government had to define what that means. In order to protect religion in the USA, after more than two hundred years of religious liberty, the government felt that it needed to define what religion is in order not to protect anything that does not meet the definition. Just as Uzbek citizens find it challenging to understand how their government decides what a religion is, US citizens are puzzling over the same question.

Recently a pastor in Uzbekistan was arrested and charged with possessing and distributing unauthorized documents. He was tried, convicted, and fined 100 times the average monthly wage in Uzbekistan. Before 2005, the fine was only 10 times the average monthly wage, but in 2005, the government increased the fine dramatically. It is a very costly offense to possess unauthorized religious documents. The pastor has appealed this conviction, but the prospects of reversal are very slim. Courts in Uzbekistan take a dim view of someone possessing documents that the Committee on Religious Affairs has not approved. It isn’t clear if these documents are unapproved because the words were not approved, or if the documents were printed in an unauthorized location. It is hard to sort out all the laws and regulations that may apply to this situation. Citizens in the US should read this story attentively as they follow the path of court cases that dispute the US government’s definition of “religion” and the implications of that definition for all citizens. It is not a big leap from government definition of religion to government definition of religious documents.

Read more news about religious persecution in Uzbekistan at Living on Tilt the newspaper

Citizens in the United States read our Constitution and its amendments, and they believe that the plain sense of the language protects their religious liberty. Citizens of Uzbekistan might believe the same thing if they read their Constitution. Developments in Uzbekistan should at the least make us aware that without citizen vigilance, the plain language of the US Constitution could easily be reinterpreted by law and policy to mean something very different from our understanding of the words. In both countries it can safely be said that all citizens lose liberty if one citizen loses liberty.

Every Christian knows that we are called by Christ to be “little Christs” in the world around us. Most of us sang about being sunbeams when we were children – “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam at home, at school, at play.” It seemed easier to do that when all of us sang that song together as children than it seems now when powerful public figures say that no rational person would pretend that anything religious happens in a for-profit enterprise. Yet Jesus still calls us to be light in a dark world – at home, at work, at play. We are expressing our faith when we shine our light. If we let our government suppress the light in one place, the government can then feel free to suppress it anywhere else. If we let the government put out somebody else’s light today, we will have nobody to help when the government comes for our light tomorrow. Pray. Speak. Shine. In the name of Christ. 

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

 

The President of the USA Still Does Not Understand the Christian Life

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

Matthew 7:24-25 

On Friday, February 1, the President announced a new rule for the administration of the Affordable Care Act. Last February, when the original rule defining religious exemptions from the employer mandate was announced, the government also created what it called a “safe harbor” for some employers for a period of one year while the government reviewed the problem posed by employers whose religion rejected certain required coverage. However, the safe harbor only applied to employers with some religious connection to the business itself, and the newly-announced accommodation in the rules implementing the Affordable Care Act retains that limitation. A university operated as a ministry of the Catholic Church can be exempted from paying for health insurance that provides contraceptives to employees, but a hardware manufacturer who lives by the teachings of faith is still required to fund that coverage.

The President and his administration still do not understand that a Christian lives by the teaching of his faith at all times, not just in church. The administration remains of the opinion that religious convictions apply only within the bounds of religious organizations. The original conscience exemption definition was limited to the walls of a church or its organization, and this new announcement barely reaches outside to ministries that are governed by or closely attached to the church body. Clearly, the President and his administration share a common secular misconception about the Christian faith. They all believe that people express their faith inside a church and its organizations. This is a solidly secular view of religion of any sort. It is not true of Christianity, despite the secular perception that Christianity is defined by church rules and hierarchy. Jesus called people to live selflessly, putting obedience to God ahead of all other loyalties in every area of life. The US government does not understand that when a person receives Christ the commitment to serve Christ applies to every moment of life. A Christian does not divide life into sacred and secular partitions. Every part of life is sacred. Christ is Lord at all times. Jesus died to redeem all of life, not just the part that takes place in a church building or a denominational organization.

The men who wrote the Constitution understood what it meant for all of life to be subject to God. This is the reason they wrote in the First Amendment that Congress could not write any law to limit or proscribe the “free expression” of religion. That freedom is not bounded by the location where religion is expressed, by the organizational connections of the group expressing it, or by the work that the individual is doing while expressing it. The religious liberty protected by the First Amendment applies to all citizens at all times.

The Sermon on the Mount is a long speech by Jesus. It is a guide to life that clearly covers every facet of life. Nobody reading this text would confuse it with a worship guide. It is about business and family, friends and neighbors, life and death. Most students of Christianity, whether or not they put their faith in Christ, recognize that in this sermon, Christ called people to a way of life, not a ritual. The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the birth of the nation that became the United States of America recognized that religion was not simply an obligation to attend worship on Sunday morning. They knew that whether a person put his faith in Christ or Vishna, the faith teachings shaped a way of life, not a worship schedule.

Until recently Christians believed that the First Amendment protected Christians, and all other people of all faiths, from the kind of oppression that other governments in the world showed toward religion. Some governments suppress all religion, preferring that citizens not put any loyalty ahead of service to the government. Other governments favor one religion above all others and suppress any competitors. Sometimes the suppression is expressed by government order, and sometimes the suppression is expressed by allowing violence against religion to proceed unacknowledged by government. In the US, we have believed that our government protects all citizens and restrains itself from interfering with anyone’s faith convictions because of the First Amendment. We are learning that it is possible for the government to say the words of the First Amendment without meaning what we think the words mean. This latest announcement makes it clear that we must continue in prayer and action to assert the full religious liberty protected by the First Amendment.

History teaches that when citizens permit any government to restrict freedom, the restriction only grows tighter with time. If we want the freedom to live our faith unhindered by government, then we must exercise both our civic responsibilities and our Christian faith. As citizens, we must use our right to speak with our elected leaders and influence them to comply with the Constitution. As Christians, we must pray for our elected leaders and for our own courage to stand firm in faith.

One footnote. Some Christians have said that they do not agree with the employers who reject the employer mandate for religious reasons. They are quite comfortable in compliance, and they see no need to speak or act in support of individuals and businesses who feel persecuted by the mandate. We do not need to hold the same beliefs in order to agree that every person has the right to express his faith in his life. The issue is not whether we agree theologically; the issue is whether we will give up the freedom to live by our faith. If one faith loses that freedom, all faiths lose that freedom. Pray. Speak. Act. Do not permit our religious liberty to be lost forever because it is not your toe that is being stomped. 

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29

 

Pray for Saeed Abedini and his family

In an article published shortly after Pastor Saeed was sentenced, his wife said that he has twenty days to appeal his conviction. Pray Psalm 57 for Saeed Abedini. Speak his name instead of saying “I” or “me” as you pray this psalm.

How Should Christians Respond to Problems in Sudan and South Sudan?

south-sudan-map-2011The headline reads, “Christians Threatened by Islamist Attacks and Famine.” The dateline is Sudan. What is going on here?

Anyone who begins research on the issues that plague Sudan and South Sudan immediately discovers a plague of confusion. News articles are not necessarily clear about geographic references unless the names of towns are included. Spoken references to “southern Sudan” and to “South Sudan” sustain the confusion until the researcher gets the map clearly in mind. However, Christians in the USA need to focus on the issues that shape the map, and when they do, they will learn some truths important for everyone.

The country of Sudan has a long history in Africa. It was administered by Great Britain during the colonial era and achieved independence in 1956. The population then, as now, was largely Arab in the north and tribal in the south. In the north, Islam was and is the dominant religion, while in the south, Christianity thrives alongside numerous animist religions linked to tribal identity. To complicate matters, rich petroleum resources in the south began to be developed in the late 90’s, and the pipelines that transport the crude oil to the marketplace run through the northern section. The nation suffered disconnects along ethnic, religious and economic fracture lines from the beginning. It seems no more than natural that the southern region of Sudan agitated for independence for years before it officially seceded in 2011. Today Sudan and South Sudan are still embroiled in the conflicts that led to separation.

The problems in Sudan and South Sudan are brought to our attention by the cries and prayers of Christians suffering persecution there. These problems should give all Christians pause.

First, we are all part of the body of Christ, and when one part suffers, we all suffer. In the spirit of shared suffering, we pray for Christians in Sudan and South Sudan. Continuing border disputes with Sudan have left some Christian communities inside the borders of Sudan in the southern part of the country. The Sudanese government, a government which has claimed to want “100% Islam” in the country, has expressed itself by allowing, if not actually instigating, aerial bombings of Christian communities by Sudanese Security Forces. Christians in southern Sudan are just as much the victims of aggression on behalf of Islam as those who died in New York on September 11, 2001.

Second, the concept of “100% Islam” is hard for free people to comprehend. Americans are accustomed to decide what they want to believe in the realm of religion and to act on it with complete freedom. They cannot imagine what it would be like to live under a government committed to the principle that everyone in the country should be Muslim. Furthermore, Americans would say that a member of the United Nations ought not to persecute any religion, because that behavior is proscribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government of Sudan, however, courting the support of the majority of its population, is not only advocating that the nation be “100% Islam,” but it allows national security forces to attack, arrest, and even torture non-Muslims. The predominantly Christian population of the southern area inside Sudan is under constant assault, and even after the formation of separate countries there have been instances of cross-border aggression against Christians in South Sudan.

The facts suggest, however, that the pro-Islamic fervor and the anti-Christian aggression are likely as much about economics as religion. The Islamic population of Sudan has few sources for water and few resources for economic growth.  The majority of sources for both water and petroleum are in areas where the majority population is Christian. Government leadership appears disinclined to negotiate the sharing of resources, opting instead to tacitly approve aggression against the “infidels” in the region where resources are plentiful.

What can Christians learn from the battlefields of Sudan and South Sudan?

First, they can learn to pray for all parties to the religious persecution. Christ taught us to love our enemies and pray for them. Christians who take their faith seriously do not simply want the bombing of Christian villages to stop, desirable as that may be. We always and supremely want every person to know Christ and to know his forgiveness and grace in their own lives. It isn’t easy to pray for someone you first need to forgive, but the Christians who suffer persecution and those who suffer and pray with them must keep Christ first in their hearts and first in their prayers.

Second, they can pray for all parties to the economic despair that adds fuel to the fires of aggression. All the people in Sudan and South Sudan suffer because their economy is a wreck. In the late nineties when oil production began, before the country was divided, they all started to see some hope for improvement to a way of life that is hardly subsistence level. However, the cultural and religious differences that split Sudan and South Sudan have disrupted development of petroleum, the one resource they all had for any hope of prosperity, and the continuing battles against Christians gain focus because most of the Christians live in the area where most of the oil is located. When Sudan threatened exorbitant fees for use of the pipelines required to transport South Sudan’s oil to market, South Sudan simply shut down production. The outcome? Ever deepening poverty for all. Christians must pray for God’s provision and for God’s guidance in the use of his provision. The resources exist for a comfortably prosperous nation, but self-serving leaders and narrow vision strangle the process that could provide for all.

Third, they can pray for two governments, multiple religions and countless tribal groupings who truly do not comprehend that it is possible for them all to prosper and live in peace together. Why? Because very few of the people involved have ever seen people of various ethnic, religious and economic origins live in peace together. It is too late in time to judge Great Britain for failing to nurture self-respect, tolerance and productive behaviors during the colonial era. The empire had its own problems, and of course, nobody is perfect, but the outcome is that when Sudan gained its independence, the newly-independent people still had a lot to learn, and to un-learn. They are still learning. A careful reading of news and editorials posted on websites in the two countries makes it clear that voices of reason and integrity are bubbling to the top, occasionally making themselves heard above the voices of partisan economic, religious and tribal agitation. Christians need to pray for God’s Spirit to work in these two countries to transform their leaders into responsible, accountable servants of the people instead of venal thieves lining their own pockets with the revenues people can ill afford to sacrifice for the elusive blessing of good government.

When Christians hear that other Christians are being persecuted, it is easy to feel empathy pains, but Christians should not jump to the conclusion that persecution is the whole story. We are called to be little Christs in all situations. We may not personally be able to take any action to change things in Sudan and South Sudan, but we can invoke the mightiest power in the universe to act there, simply because we know that Christ loves the people of Sudan and South Sudan – the Muslims, the Christians, the animist worshipers in tribal religions, and those whose despair has led them to doubt there even is a God. We can pray. We must pray, with the faith that moves mountains.

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Some material is this post is drawn from weekly prayer updates provided by The Voice of the Martyrs.

Cultural Rejection Leads to Legal Persecution

 

Iran is frequently in the political news, because of the aggressive stance of the president of Iran toward western civilization. News of internal events is less frequently reported. Iran does not wish foreigners to know much about what happens within its borders, but some news does get out.

 

This week, Voice of the Martyrs reported that four leaders of a Christian church in Iran had been arrested, convicted and jailed. Their crimes: “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, as well as propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting Evangelic Christianity.” It sounds strange to western ears that “converting to Christianity” could be a crime, but to Muslim ears, this is important truth. Muslims are taught that converting to any other faith is a sin, and where the government embodies Islamic teaching, it is a crime. In Iran, an Islamic theocracy, conversion is a crime. People who choose to receive Christ and be baptized have committed a crime, and everything they do to tell others about Christ and to influence other people to become Christians is a crime as well. On October 15, the pastor, his wife, and two other ministers in the church were each sentenced to a year in prison for their crimes. They have the legal right of appeal, and it is reported that they plan to appeal.

 

The right of appeal does not hold the same hope for these Christians in Iran as it holds for convicted prisoners in the USA. Only a year ago a pastor serving a one-year sentence for similar crimes was informed a day before his scheduled release that his sentence had just been extended to six years. This judicial behavior sounds capricious to American ears, but in other countries around the world, it is not uncommon.

 

Iran today is known as a stronghold of fundamental, aggressive Islam. It is startling to discover that it was one of the earliest outposts of Christianity. The book of Acts records that on Pentecost “There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world.” (Acts 2:5) In the list of pilgrims were Persians, Parthians, Medes and visitors from Mesopotamia. Those pilgrims took Christianity back to the region known today as Iran, and Christian churches in the country date from that early era. Christianity has a 2000-year history within the boundaries of present-day Iran.

 

Christianity has legal rights in Iran’s constitution, too. However, Christians are often arrested on the basis of Islam’s legal rights. When those rights conflict with the rights of Christians, the rights of Muslims prevail. Most of the news of persecution of Christians is suppressed by the government as propaganda deliberately detrimental to Islam.

 

Americans think such news items are outrageous and incomprehensible, unless they pay attention to blogs and comment threads online in this country. In the USA there is no established religion, such as Islam or Buddhism, to be protected by the state. Instead, increasing secular pressure scorns all religions equally. Bloggers and people commenting on news items accuse religious people of telling “ghost stories.” Most such comments are directed at Christians, but any religion is subject to be accused of being a complete myth. Karl Marx’s statement that religion is the “opiate of the people,” has been quoted more than once by fervent atheists expressing their scorn of religious people who want to exercise their faith in public. Christians receive the brunt of the attack simply because Christianity has a stronger historic presence in the US than any other religion. It can readily be observed on blogs and comments that while there is no legally-sanctioned persecution of Christianity in the USA, the culture contains a strong and aggressive element that wants Christianity to be kept out of sight.

 

Christians in Iran suffer because at the moment the government of Iran acts as an agent of Islam to protect Muslims from any influence that might lead them to some other faith. Despite a few weak legal protections for Christians, the preponderance of the government and the culture want Christianity shut down and wiped out of the country. The government participates by using laws that favor Islam to diminish the force of laws that protect Christians.

 

Christians in the US suffer cultural abuse and must battle for legal standing because of two parallel forces: 1) there is a growing population demographic with no connections to any religion whatsoever, and 2) there is a growing Christian current that has absorbed the secular notions of inclusion and diversity so deeply that it is willing to ignore or restate long-standing Christian teachings to accommodate cultural pressures. The combined pressure of these parallel developments diminishes Christianity in the eyes of the culture, and the culture, via political activism and actual votes, is gradually building barriers against the public expression of Christian faith. You might say that because of the combined force of these two secular currents, laws are interpreted to protect the secular view in the US just as laws are interpreted to protect the Islamic view in Iran.

 

It is shocking to hear that a pastor in Iran has been arrested for doing what pastors do: speaking to non-Christians about Christ and trying to lead them to faith. It should be shocking to hear in that a Christian in the US has lost her job for saying that she believes the definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Christians need to pray that all around the world we may have the courage to speak and live true to our faith. The one thing Jesus asked us to do as he prepared to ascend to heaven is to live true to the faith and to share it with others:

 

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20, The Message)