David L. Goetsch
Concerns Over Religious Persecution Raised by the COVID-19 Pandemic (2 Timothy 3:12)
During the current COVID-19 pandemic we have seen several Christian pastors and Jewish Rabbis arrested for holding services while a government-mandated lock down was in force. Worse yet, as states partially reopen some have continued to ban church services. Fortunately, government officials in most states have shown better sense, but there are still some locales in which church services remain on the list of banned activities. This kind of bureaucratic heavy-handedness has raised the specter of religious persecution in the United States.
Many Christians have asked a pertinent question: “If I am allowed go to Wal-Mart and the grocery store with appropriate precautions taken, why can’t I go to church using similar precautions?” This is a good question and the answer to it is, “You may.” The religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is not somehow negated by the pandemic. Consequently, government officials who continue to ban church services are overstepping their authority.
Let me be clear here. I have written about this in a previous blog earlier in the pandemic that just because we have the right to do something doesn’t mean we should do it. With every right comes responsibility. As Christians we are responsible for setting an example of cooperating with appropriate government actions and showing others he wise course of action. We stop cooperating with government when its edicts cross a line into religious persecution. Herein lies the problem. At what point do governmental edicts banning church services during a pandemic become religious persecution?
When the only establishments allowed to open during the pandemic were stores that carried the everyday essentials of life, my advice to Christians was to comply with lock-down orders, set a good example for others, and “attend” church services broadcast over the air waves. Attending electronic services is still my advice for believers in the most susceptible categories (i.e. medical conditions, parents with small children, advanced in age). However, in-person church services are once again an appropriate option for healthy believers provided, of course, the appropriate precautions are taken.
If Christians can shop at the grocery store, Wal-Mart, and Target with appropriate precautions, there is no reason we cannot attend in-person church services using similar precautions. This is why believers in those locales where church services remain on the banned list are justified in raising concerns about religious persecution. After all, secular humanists, agnostics, and atheists have succeeded in removing God from public education, public meetings, and the public square. Only the most naïve among us believe they are satisfied with these “victories” and will stop there.
Those who hate God have made “progress” in suppressing Christianity in America, but the big prize they seek still eludes them, at least for now. Anti-Christian ideologues will not be satisfied until church services are banned not just during the pandemic but forever. This being the case, I recommend against criticizing those believers who have raised the ugly specter of religious persecution in America. Based on what has happened in our country just during my lifetime, I believe religious persecution has been creeping up on us for some time now. Consequently, you and I need to be watchful, outspoken, and prepared to stand up for our First-Amendment religious rights.
As the United States drifts farther and farther from its Christian roots, secular humanism and moral relativism are steadily becoming the norm in American society. Secular humanism is a worldview that rejects the God of Holy Scripture and any other religions that worship a supernatural deity. With secular humanism, man is god. Moral relativism is a belief that there are no absolute rights and wrongs as set forth in the Bible. Rather, supposedly by applying logic and reason people can determine for themselves what is right and wrong.
Although there are holes in these two theories large enough to drive a truck through, both have made enough headway in America to drive God out of our public education system, colleges and universities, and the public square. In fact, humanists have been successful in altering the intent of the Founders in drafting the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Whereas the Founders sought to protect freedom OF religion, humanists, atheists, and other unbelievers have transformed First Amendment into a protection FROM religion, or at least the Christian religion.
The result of increasing anti-Christian bias in America is that believers sometimes become the targets of those who reject the God of Holy Scripture and wish to drive Him from all aspects of our lives. This is persecution and it is what has a lot of Christians concerned. Persecution means mistreatment, hostility, discrimination, or abuse based on a specific factor such as religion. Here are just a few examples of Christians who have been persecuted recently because of their religion:
A Christian school teacher was required to remove a Bible from her desk.
A Christian baker was sued for refusing to inscribe a cake with an anti-Christian message.
A Christian photographer was sued for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding.
A Christian businessman was told he could no longer wear neck ties to work that contained Bible verses.
A high school coach was reprimanded for praying with his team before a game.
As America continues its slow but steady drift away from God, it becomes more and more likely that Christians who openly live their faith will be subjected to persecution at some point. Consequently, it is important for believers to know how to deal with persecution in ways that will enhance our Christian walk and honor God in the process. The Bible has much to say about persecution. The following verses from Scripture provide valuable guidance for Christians who are confronted by it:
LUKE 6:22. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”
2 TIMOTHY 3:12. “Indeed, all who desire a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
MATTHEW 5:44. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These verses from Scripture contain important lessons about how to respond when you are persecuted for your faith.
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, learn the lessons contained in these three verses from Scripture. The first lesson is Christians who openly live their faith can expect to be persecuted. This is the message in 2 Timothy 3:12 where we read: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution of Christians is nothing new. Think of how Christ was abused, abased, and crucified for His beliefs.
The second lesson is that we are to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). This can be a tough assignment to carry out, but remember that even on the cross Christ asked God to forgive his oppressors. Finally, when responding to persecution in the ways prescribed in Scripture becomes difficult, as it surely will, remember that you are blessed when God haters treat you badly because of your faith in the Lord (Luke 6:22). Christians who never face adversity because of their faith may not be living it consistently enough.
If the persecution you are subjected to becomes untenable, you may have to seek legal redress. After all, the Constitution is on your side. Many Christians have had to choose this course of action. Nothing in the verses cited in this article precludes doing so. What these verses do preclude is using legal means to seek vengeance instead of justice. Even while pursuing a legal remedy, you can pray for those who persecute you and refuse to treat them the same way they treat you. Remember, for Christians the purpose of seeking legal redress in cases of persecution is justice not vengeance. Remember also that it is never too late for an unbeliever to find Christ and you might be the person who lights the way.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veterans’ Lament: Is This the America Our Heroes Fought For? Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press, (Release date: October,2020) and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press, 2020.