Tag Archives: US Constitution

How Can Christians Prevail in a Hostile Culture?

Many Christians feel completely flummoxed by daily developments in the USA. Having grown up believing that the USA was a country where Christian values predominated, many Christians are mystified by evidence that those values do not predominate in the culture today. When employees are told not to wish anyone a “Merry Christmas,” when government does an end run around parents by asserting that children will have sex and must have Plan B medications, when the idea that a homosexual union could be called a marriage is even discussed publicly – in the midst of such events, many Christians feel that they must be having a waking nightmare. What became of the USA governed by the Constitution? What causes voters to elect people with no apparent principle except “What’s in it for me?” US currency still bears the phrase, “In God We Trust,” but it doesn’t appear that the majority of the US population has any connection with God at all. What happened?

Christians have not yet come to grips with the fact that people with Christian principles are not the most numerous component of the US population or the US voter rolls. It is still statistically true that more people self-identify as Christians than any other religion, but close examination reveals that many of those who consider themselves to be Christian do not hold a Christian worldview. Since politics is fundamentally the enactment of a worldview into law, the worldview held by voters is extremely important. If most people do not hold a Christian worldview, then how shall Christians protect the culture from changes that feel at least uncomfortable and at most threatening?

The answer isn’t simple or satisfying. Every law represents a majority of the people who had a chance to vote on it. Every cultural trend must be satisfactory to more people than not, or it would not be a trend. If the culture or the government takes on traits that don’t feel right to Christians, some sort of majority choice is, nevertheless, at work. Perhaps the most honest thing to say about it is that even a lot of people who call themselves Christians don’t actually want a Christian world. Christians must remember that Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Later he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

In other words, Jesus warned Christians not to think that being Christian would be the popular thing. Christians in the USA can be grateful they don’t live in some of the other countries around the world.

In Uzbekistan, government authorities recently broke into the home of an elderly Christian woman. They found her Bible and some other Christian literature, all of which they declared to be unauthorized religious material. They confiscated all of it, took her to court, and fined her ten months’ pay.

In China, the widow of the pastor of a house church is daily pressured by the Chinese government to merge her church into the Chinese Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the authorized Christian church in China. TSPM reports the names and addresses of all members to the government, uses only government-printed materials such as Bibles and study guides in the activities of the church, and allows only pastors authorized by the government-appointed national bishop of the TSPM. This widow knows that most of her church’s members will simply disappear and may or may not join other house churches if she signs this document.

In Laos, church members watched in dismay as government officials brought earth-moving equipment to their church site and demolished the building before their eyes. The building was alleged to be an unregistered church meeting in an unauthorized building, despite the fact that church members have submitted required documents several times, only to have them returned for alleged errors and omissions. Recent submission of new documents were at the time being processed, but the local officials refused to allow the church to exist any longer.

In Egypt, many long-standing Coptic Christian congregations have been shattered by violence in the country’s ongoing unrest since former president Mubarak stepped down. Buildings and individuals are attacked and abused while police stand by and let it happen.

How do Christians remain strong and faithful while under such pressure? Can the persecuted church teach American Christians anything about thriving under cultural and governmental restrictions? The answer is unequivocally YES.

Christians have survived and thrived for more than two thousand years, not because of political power, but rather, because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They have trusted God and acted in obedience to him, and God has blessed that faithful commitment. Christians in persecuted countries know that they are targets, but they also know that the real target is Christ. They cling to Christ’s promise “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:24)

If you want to learn more about the weapons Christians have available in the culture wars and in the conflict with Satan and Satan’s people, read Ephesians 6:10-18. There you will find a clear statement of the problem Christians face in the US and the real solution to this problem. It is both comforting and disconcerting. People hope to find an answer that puts an end to the problems, but God doesn’t give us that option. In Ephesians you will find an answer to the question, How can I deal with this situation? But you won’t find an answer than ends the situation. You need to go to Revelation for that answer, and that will be part of some future post. For now, take the time to read Ephesians 6:10-18. Then pray for insight to understand how you can take up these weapons and use them every day. God has not left us destitute, but he hasn’t made it easy for us, either.

It is impossible to predict when, or if, the Christian worldview will again prevail at the ballot box. Don’t let the ballot box be the focus of your hope for the future. Rather, put your hope in God, and start learning to use the weapons he provides for your protection and victory in daily life. Leave a comment if you have suggestions for others from your own experience.

 

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Can Christians Impact Cultural Change?

The culture of the USA is a toxic stew of issues that challenge Christian values. Some of the issues challenge the values of other religious groups as well. Without any intent to diminish the concerns of other groups, this blog focuses on the concerns of Christians. The purpose of this blog is to inform Christians about the issues that challenge Christian faith and to inspire Christians to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their responses. It is a call to Christians in the USA to recognize their civic duty as voters to be informed of the issues that make our country more free or less free, especially relevant to religious liberty, It is a warning to Christians in the USA of the parallels between social and political developments in the US and similar developments which lead to cultural restriction and religious persecution in other countries. It is an exploration of the fine line between the legitimate expression of the views of a citizen with Christian moral views and the illegitimate attempt of a citizen to assert a “right” to win the discussion simply because his views are Christian. Here you will find discussions of issues on which Christians are as divided as the rest of the country. This blog will advocate a viewpoint believed to be in accord with Scripture, but you will not find any advocacy for abrasive, abusive, or aggressive language in the discussion of this viewpoint.

It is very challenging to live by Christian values in a culture that increasing devalues any idea associated with Christian teaching. It is very difficult to discuss issues with other citizens when those citizens attempt to turn the conversation from a discussion of ideas to an assault on every opponent as a selfish, bigoted, brain-dead throwback to prehistoric times. Laws are actually being written that Christians may not be able to obey. If cultural pressure produces legislation in keeping with all the social changes, it may soon be very difficult to live by Christian teaching in the USA.

US Christians who feel threatened by such developments can learn something by looking at what Chinese Christians are doing. Chinese Christians have lived with severe cultural and governmental restrictions since 1949. In 2013, small changes are encouraging Christians in China. There is some light on the horizon both culturally and legally. The government is becoming somewhat less aggressive against Christians. The culture is becoming somewhat more open to the expression of Christian faith. Open Doors International is suggesting to Chinese Christians that they begin to take advantage of tiny openings where they may be able to impact culture and government. The pressures that seem to be slightly subsiding in China are actually increasing for US Christians, and this situation represents a shrinking window of opportunity to influence government and culture, but the same strategies recommended for China should have value in the US. In fact, these strategies have always been part of the way Christians affect culture and government around them.

The key recommendation to Chinese Christians is “to impact their society by embedding Christian values through contextualization and community engagement.” US Christians might argue that Christian values are already embedded in the society, and that Christian values are dominant in most communities. The nation was founded by people who held Christian values, a fact expressed in the Founding documents repeatedly. However, due to major changes in the way the history is taught in schools, many children graduate from public education without a firm grasp of those facts. Due to massive changes in both culture and government during the past fifty years, the curriculum, the standards, the employment policies and the administrative regulations for education are all established at state or federal levels, far from the communities where the schools operate. Media, social and political activist organizations, and even government promote definitions of Constitutional terms and principles that are at odds with the historical interpretations, resulting in growing restrictions on Christian faith expression. Christians must be realistic about the fact that there are and will continue to be changes in the culture and the government. It is not easy for one Christian or even all the Christians in a small community to make an impact in Washington DC.

Christians may need to think creatively about ways to embed Christian values in the society. Probably the first idea that comes to mind is to be sure they rear their children according to Christian values. Unfortunately, there is actually a movement under way to make that plan difficult. Just last week it was suggested that children do not belong to their parents and that the “collective” should take more authority in the way children are brought up. Further, the President of the United States wants children to start school at the age of four, an age when children are extremely malleable. God created children to want to learn, and they most naturally learn from the people with whom they spend their time. In God’s plan, the influential people in a small child’s life would be his parents. Moses warned the Israelites about the importance of teaching the faith to children when he said,    

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Making government kindergarten the major influence in the lives of four-year-olds would vastly reduce the ability of parents to shape the values and perceptions of their children according to Christian teaching.

The most important statement in the Open Doors suggestions for Chinese Christians is the most important thing every Christian needs to remember: “Christians need to be encouraged to live out biblical values and show people what it looks like to be followers of Christ.” This is something every Christian ought to write on his heart. In fact, it is so important that a failure to do it is probably at the root of many social and political evils in the US today. Timothy Dalrymple recently wrote, As our nation struggles to clarify the status of same-sex relationships, it’s all too easy to ignore the fact that the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.” He develops a strong case for the failure of Christians to live by their own values as a major enabler of the cultural momentum to revise the whole concept of marriage and family, a change of cosmic proportions and apocalyptic portent for human society.

If the future depended on human ability to live like Christ, all hope would be lost. Fortunately, Christians do not believe that the future of the human race is dependent on human perfectibility, as secular thinkers do. The book of Revelation, terrifying images notwithstanding, is actually filled with inspiration and hope for the future. It isn’t a book of pep talks: Hang in there. Never give up. Just do it. Instead, the author of Revelation warns that terrible cataclysms will be the expression of the ultimate war between good and evil in time and space. Hope for the future, however, resides in God’s complete victory over Satan through Christ’s death on the cross. Because Satan himself has already been defeated in the realm of eternity and infinity, the horrific clashes between good and evil in time and space are simply the dying gasps of a defeated enemy. The apparent reality of Satan’s power is transcended by the real reality of Christ’s power through his death and resurrection. Revelation reminds us not to limit our understanding to the measure of our senses.

How does this truth shape our interaction with our culture? Why should we suffer if it is all up to God? The answer is that our battles are important. Our suffering matters in the eternal scheme of things. That is why we go ahead and stand up to socialist activism that wants to snatch children away from their parents, that wants to redefine marriage and family in self-indulgent terms, that demands that we lock God and all references to him inside buildings. God’s purpose for time and eternity requires that we live so close to Christ that he is our only treasure, so that we testify with Paul,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:8-10

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.