Saturday, May 30, 2009

Christians Persecuted In America?

A small home bible study group claimed they were being persecuted by a county office in big, bad, who-knows-what-they-believe-out-there California, USA. (Apologies to everyone who lives in that beautiful and much maligned state. That was a very small attempt at sarcasm related to the way CA used to be viewed in the Bible Belt...and in some areas, still is so viewed by some folks.)

My take on the facts, at this time, after a brief investigation on the internet:

This is a non-issue that was resolved according to county ordinances, given the time for the investigation to work through its legal stages. Someone complained about some issues with a group that was gathered at a house near their friends' home and a standard form letter was sent, but the wrong form letter, indicating that ordinance violations were being investigated and fines and permit fees would be assessed for any violations of local ordinances as to land use and assembly. In the end, it was made clear that the county had no interest in pursuing a mistaken form letter demand. The county admitted the error and followed their internally prescribed steps to investigate and respond to the issue - eventually informing the home owner that the county was dropping the matter because no legal action was warranted.

In a litigious society, it is not surprising that certain individuals and/or groups of professing Christians will also get caught up in the desire to litigate instead of negotiating or (gasp!) serving our neighbors...or simply waiting for the system to have time to work. So few can even begin to grasp the concept of actually deciding not to pursue every right they might claim that religious groups of all kinds (though we admittedly hear disproportionately more from groups professing to 'Christian') are turning more and more directly to civil courts to settle disputes with one another, with local governance/ordinances, and with other interest groups (like neighbors and neighborhood associations and even neighbors' friends). One can only wonder what folks would do if a house was so fully packed with people listening to a guest teacher that you'd have to cut a hole in the roof in order to get in! (How many times and ways can you see THAT turning into lawsuits??!!!)

Further reflections:

It saddens me to think that more and more children are being raised to think of this kind of response from a group (however small or large) of Christians (led by their pastor, no less) as normative behavior. Paul addressed this to some extent, as had Jesus also, to some extent, during His ministry. And it seems important to me that neither Jesus nor Paul advocated the public outrage approach, nor the take-those-who-offend-you-to-court approach, either.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise to someone raised in a spiritual heritage defined, transformed, mutilated and splintered by litigious actions over a hundred years ago - and for which there has still yet been no wide-scale resolution of the original issues. Instead, myriad other issues have been used to solidify the dissolution of a unity movement that died when the first case went to court, no matter how we try to revive its corpses or deny that THAT movement has died. In its place today we have a hollow shell of a claim to similar interests, while most of the things being pursued today bear little resemblance to the kind of efforts that were taken when Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell were alive, much less during the time when they labored so long and hard to get the thing started. What is left today remains more as a testimony to the evolution of groups into that which was once opposed than as a living testimony to the kind of effort Stone and Campbell envisioned and plead for so passionately. So why should we be surprised when someone claims to follow Christ and then takes actions in opposition to those advocated by the Christ and by His apostles?

So, no, I am not surprised. I am saddened, though, that the lost have been handed on a platter more lame reasons to resist efforts to reach them with the gospel; and I am also sadly resigned to having to address the difference between what Jesus taught and what many claiming to follow Him have pursued instead. Stories like this one give me nightmares about what it must be like to hear so many crying out, "Lord, Lord" when there is so little attention paid to what the One being addressed taught. It must rip His heart to hear the cries He longs for coming from us when we ignore His teachings and yet cry when things don't go well for us, as if we should expect things to go well anyway - having chosen to follow One who was crucified, literally, for those very teachings and for the sake of those who killed Him. Shall we expect to be treated differently, on however mild or harsh a level, than He was treated? Jesus said we should expect what He received.

If I follow Jesus, and if I believe Him, then the kind of persecution we will face is going to get a lot worse than an erroneous assembly citation in the mail. And the question remains: What will we do then?




Tim Archer said...

Thanks Glenn! That's helpful information that I hadn't read anywhere else.

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Candle (C & L) said...

Well done