Recently, David Mathis, who serves in a pastoral position at Cities Church in St. Paul and is editor on John Piper’s Desiring God website, wrote a blog post titled “You Can’t Arrest the Gospel.” In that entry he asserted that Christians in America are beginning to see lots of social unrest aimed at them. For example, many Christian business owners are beginning to bear the brunt of the homosexualist agenda. In addition, Mathis urges all Christians to be ready for this and exhorts them not to complain and bellyache about it.
I think there are a handful of commendable points made throughout the article but, to be quite honest, the post was a bit frustrating to read as well. Indeed, the exhortation often sounded like a call to inaction when faced with discrimination or persecution. Here are a few of the comments made:
“The Scriptures seem to suggest we should be more concerned if we’re not being persecuted, than if we are.”
“Embracing persecution for the sake of the gospel is Christianity 101.”
“…arrest and advance go together in God’s invincible story.”
“We have great cause to be optimistic about our good news, to ‘joyfully accept’ prison and the plundering of our possessions and even our freedoms.”
Taken together, these remarks seem to border on the call to seek persecution. Yet, that comment is never explicitly made, so, I won’t force the point. However, these statements also certainly do make a point rather implicitly, namely, that it in our current circumstances it is wrong and perhaps, even cowardly, for Christians to try to prevent or flee persecution. That is the tone and tenor of the article and I take some issue with it. I think that, given our current circumstances, a more robust understanding of the Christian response to legal discrimination (a form of persecution) is needed.
It is often suggested that because the homosexualists (i.e. gays and gay agenda advocates) are supposedly a “minority,” they have little power and lack the ability to persecute. This, however, is a myth on both accounts. While the number of homosexuals may be a small demographic, there are many homosexualists who support the movement and cause. With the president of our country on their side and the media constantly pushing the ideology upon society, this group may, in fact, be the most powerful contingency in America.
In addition, I should say here that it is simply false that a minority cannot discriminate, persecute, or hold power over a majority. One only needs to look at ISIS or the Taliban to prove this. Or, one only needs to look at the playground bully or small group of bullies who keep everyone in the schoolyard on their heels. Minorities are very often the aggressors and, in social-scientific speak, prone to and known for using outside pressure type tactics as agents of change. So, again, this is simply false logic and neither history nor common sense can bear the weight of such a claim.
But moving on, I want to suggest that, as a Christian, my understanding is that all humans are made in the image of God. Some live into the image; others do not. Regardless of whether or not one lives into that image, however, I believe that all humans have certain inherent human rights. In my view, the right to religious freedom is as essential as the right to education, food, water, and housing. And this is one of the places where so many would disagree with me. Indeed, some view religious freedom as an evil that needs to be eradicated from the face of the earth. What they fail to realize, however, is that even their ability to hold that religious view, cloaked in anti-religious language and garb, is ultimately the result of religious freedom. And as for me, I am willing to allow my neighbors to hold that view; yet, the ironic thing is that they are often not willing to afford me the same…because I am religious, and because I am Christian.
At the same time, I am also willing to allow people to choose their own sexual preference. I do not hold the view that, as a Christian, I must force my theology of sexuality or my morals upon them. But again, at the same time, they should be willing to let me have my views. There should be space enough to let me disagree with certain sexual actions and activities. And there should be space enough for us, in the midst of that, to be able to disagree and still live alongside one another.
But this is precisely where the problems begin to surface. While I may be willing to afford persons the space and right to choose their religion and their sexual preference, while I may be willing to afford them the space and right to choose which ideology and lifestyle to abide by, those same tenets are not granted to me. As a Christian, I am told that anything less than the actual support and celebration of the lifestyle amounts to bigotry, hate, hatefulness, and inhumanity. And the crazy thing is, if I try to turn the tables, I get ostracized even more. If I say, for example, “But why aren’t you affording me the same space and rights to choose…” I get put on blast.
This is why we are seeing bakers, florists, and photographers who, of the Christian persuasion, are being taken to court and having their livelihoods demolished. This is nothing more than bigotry in the opposite direction! There is nothing fair about me letting you speak and disagree with me but when it comes my turn to speak, you silencing me!
In spite of the fact that Christian discrimination is occurring on the frontlines of bakeries and floral shops, which seems rather lighthearted, the matter is certainly a serious one. And now Christians are beginning to ask: “What can I do to defend myself and my livelihood?” And some are even asking: “Is it cowardly to, as a Christian, stand up for my rights and engage in the legal process? Isn’t that putting my trust in humans rather than God?”
I want to suggest that it is anything but cowardly to defend oneself and one’s livelihood in a non-violent manner. The tools of reason, logic, theologic, and law are all good resources to assist in doing this. And further, there is nothing cowardly at all about employing these, even in the context of civil and legal matters. This is not a form of simply avoiding persecution, though it may be a means of preventing it…which is a good thing.
It is simply foolhardy to imply that because the Gospel flourishes in the midst of persecution we should welcome it with open arms. Indeed, when ISIS wipes out an entire city of Christians there’s nobody left there to share the Gospel. And if, in America, Christians simply sit back and keep silent when confronted with social, legal, and political issues like this, they may well find that, in time, they’ll have totally lost their voice.
Preventing and avoiding persecution has scriptural precedent. For me the likes of Jesus slipping out of the crowd or venturing away from the crowds (e.g. Mt 4, 12; Jn 7, 8, 10) and Joseph and Mary heading to Egypt (Mt 2) come to mind. Elijah hid (1 Kgs 19) and Paul did too (Acts 9; 2 Cor 11). Likewise, Jesus did defend himself at one point during his trial (Jn 18) and so did Paul (Acts 16, 22, 25). In fact, Paul made good use of his legal knowledge to do so. I could give more examples but these will suffice.
I think there are two things to bear in mind when considering preventing and avoiding persecution: 1) Motive; and 2) Action. With regard to the first of these, the motive must always either be a) To advance the Gospel; and/or b) To stop an injustice. The action must always be peaceable and non-violent. If one is seeking to prevent or avoid persecution with the end-result that it will be advantageous for the Gospel, then it is valid. And if it is to prevent an injustice, such as an infringement upon a human right, then it is valid. And again, the action must always be peaceable and non-violent.
So, when it comes to Christian business owners who happen to be faced with the powers of the homosexualist machine that may want to bring them and their livelihoods to the ground because they do not condone gay marriage, an act of non-violent retaliation is permitted against such discrimination. This is permitted because it is an infringement upon a human right. This is also permitted because such an act may well help advance the Gospel. Part of that Gospel is the teaching that homosexual activity is wrong. And always in our demeanor we must be peaceable and non-violent. And rest-assured, being peaceable does not simply mean being silent; no, one can argue aggressively and strongly, and one can use the resources of logic, theologic, etc., to counter argue. This does not mean being silent. It simply means not retaliating with violence or force.
Here at the end, I would suggest that no Christian should seek persecution. Just as well, I would argue that it is right and good and just and holy to celebrate when persecution can be and is avoided. In fact, we should seek that and, at this point in our history, seek it aggressively.