Dimming the Light of Christian Liberty
That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26a).
As we enter a new millennium, there are deep wounds being inflicted on the Body of Christ; and sooner or later, every member is likely to experience the affliction personally. There has been, perhaps, no parallel experience in the history of the church since the days when first-century Christians huddled together on the floors of pagan arenas, awaiting their certain death. If this assessment seems extreme, think again; and listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters, whose blood cries out to us. We cannot say we have not been warned. The only question is, Who is listening?
In his book The New Tolerance (Tyndale), Josh McDowell writes: “We may very well wake up in the not-too-distant future in a culture that is not only unreceptive but openly hostile to the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, a culture in which those who proclaim the gospel will be labeled as bigots and fanatics, a culture in which persecution of Christians will not only be allowed but applauded.”1
McDowell’s perceptive words are already a reality for Christian believers in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, they are rapidly becoming a reality for people in the West, including the United States of America.
The Long Lines of Martyrs
In January of 1999, a band of radical Hindus in India surrounded a car in which Dr. Graham Staines and his sons Phillip, 11, and Timothy, 6, were sleeping. Dr. Staines was a medical doctor and Baptist missionary who had served among lepers in remote parts of India for more than thirty years. The mob surrounded the vehicle, set it afire, and watched while the doctor and his sons burned to death.
In Indonesia, two hundred Christians were killed and two schools and thirteen churches burned by radical Muslim leaders inciting followers by calls for Jihad, or holy war, against Christians. Another one hundred eighty Christians were later killed and three hundred injured, according to a report from Compass Direct News Service.
In a Reader’s Digest article, “The Global War on Christians,” Ralph Kinney Bennett gives a chilling report from Their Blood Cries Out (Word), written by Paul Marshall. “Sudan’s Nuba Mountains,” says Bennett, “where Christians have lived since the sixth century, are now a wasteland of mass graves, destroyed villages and camps filled with starving women and children. Sudan’s ruling Islamic National Front has killed half a million Nuba Christians, virtually all men, in the past decade.”2
This is an excerpt from Marshall’s book: ‘‘The word genocide is a harsh one thrown around too frequently and too cheaply. In the case of Sudan, however, it is simply a factual description.”3
In Colombia, South America, the search continues for three New Tribes missionaries abducted in 1993 by Colombian rebels. According to a report by a former guerilla, they were murdered in 1995.
In Chechnya, where Russian and radical Islamic rebels are engaged in a fight to the finish, two pastors were beheaded and two elderly women killed in the Grozney Baptist Church.
Syndicated columnist Carl Alpert, in an article entitled “Christians in the Mideast: An Endangered Species,” writes: “The steady Christian emigration out of the Palestinian [Authority] areas is revealing. [Christian Arabs have become] an endangered species in PA territory, where harassment [is] impelling more and more Christians to heed the Moslem warning, ‘We do not want you Christians here.’ Emigration is always to the West, never into Moslem countries.”4
This short list of examples highlights what is taking place under the collective noses of governments proclaiming their commitment to basic human rights. One obvious reason these governments ignore this cruel treatment of Christians and refuse to crack down on the countries involved is because they fear the possible economic repercussions.
A report issued by World magazine in November of 1999 states that “the Chinese government regularly harasses churches that will not register with and submit to official religious agencies. The commission [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] asked U.S. diplomats to emphasize religious freedom in discussions with Chinese officials and the U.S. business community. The commission stopped well short of calls for sanctions or trade-status restrictions.”5
Stopping short of punitive economic action only tells these repressive regimes that money is the bottom line, and it’s okay to conduct business as usual—even when it comes to persecution.
To make matters worse, the secular media have spread a virtual blanket of silence over these atrocities. Sadly, much of the Christian world, awash in affluence, chooses to be blind and deaf as well. Columnist Carl Alpert summarizes this unresponsiveness:
“The tragic story of the Christian plight is yet to be told in full….With rare exceptions, this kind of news seldom makes headlines, and most of the Christian world prefers to see and hear nothing.”6
Bigotry Moves West
On September 29, 1999, House Majority Leader Dick Armey spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Commenting on America as “the unchallenged superpower in the world,” he expressed serious concerns about the treatment of conservative Christians in the United States.
“Tonight I regret to say that one area where we’re losing ground is our treatment of religious believers. We are witnessing a rising level of bigotry against people of faith, especially Christians.”7
Representative Armey then cited an extensive list of cases related to out-and-out persecution of Christians and denial of their basic rights. One of the most telling examples involves the federal Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, which funds a middle school curriculum that is unequivocally hostile to people of faith. It provides school counselors with “warning signs” to help them identify a child who might pose a danger to society. One of the signs, said Armey, “is if he or she grows up in a ‘very religious’ home. This without one shred of evidence showing linkage between Christians and any of these terrible acts of violence that our nation has faced.”
Armey concluded by saying, “In case after case, people of faith are told to mind their own business, keep to themselves and stay out of the affairs of the rest of society. People of faith are called extremists, labeled out and out threats to our nation and generally find ‘Not Welcome Here’ signs all over the place.”8
Congressman Armey’s remarks emphasize the fact that we have clearly entered a period when we are beginning to reap what the nation has sown for decades. Producers and scriptwriters in the motion picture and television industries have passionately hammered away at discrediting traditional Judeo-Christian values. Pastors are almost consistently depicted as bigoted buffoons, while disreputable characters elicit sympathy and, in the end, walk off as the winners. Dysfunctional families have become the norm; fathers are scorned, responsible mothers put down. Only “partners” who descend to the level of their immature teenaged offspring are portrayed as desirable influences.
In his book A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America (Huntington House), columnist Don Feder comments on Hollywood’s brand of prejudice:
“Christians are the only group Hollywood can offend with impunity, the only creed it actually goes out of its way to insult. Clerics, from fundamentalist preachers to Catholic monks, are routinely represented as hypocrites, hucksters, sadists and lechers. The tenets of Christianity are regularly held up to ridicule.”9
Missionaries have long been denounced as public enemy number one for their attempts to reach tribal people with the gospel and to help them physically and spiritually. On the other hand, the native tribes, living in squalor and medical deprivation, are portrayed as superior beings who should be left undisturbed in the jungles, despite the fact this means they probably will die in their thirties or earlier, plagued by sickness, superstition, and malnutrition.
In this twisted world we live in, we need only look to our classrooms in America to see jungle life of another kind. We have denounced God and banished Him from our schools. An “anything goes” attitude, which is too often the norm among secular educators, has yielded a crop of out-of-control bullies who beat and sometimes kill innocent children and who arrogantly roam the schools, pushing drugs in the hallways and on the playgrounds. In many instances, the only thing students are not allowed to do is mention their faith, particularly if Jesus Christ is central to it.
A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has gone so far as to rule that any student mentioning the name of Jesus in a graduation prayer will be sentenced to six months in jail.
In an address to the Christian Coalition, Alan Keyes, a conservative Republican and recent presidential candidate, said, “Where do we find the most persecuted Christians in the world?…in the classrooms of our government schools, where the assault is not on the body, but the soul.”10
In public life, we are often subjected to the same spiritual and moral slander. Placing the Ten Commandments in a public building or erecting a manger scene in a town square brings down the wrath of anti-Christian lobbyists who have virtually become the most catered-to minority in American society.
Last December the Southern Baptists announced they were launching a missionary effort to expose Hindus, Jewish people, and Muslims to the message of the gospel. Protests from some members of these groups brought a scathing rebuke from the president’s press secretary, Joe Lockhart, whose reply was reported in The Washington Times. Speaking on behalf of President Clinton, Lockhart said:
“I think the president’s made very clear his view…on religious tolerance and how one of the greatest challenges going into the next century is dealing with intolerance, dealing with ethnic and religious hatred and coming to grips with long-held resentments between religions. So I think he’s been very clear in his opposition to whatever organization, including Southern Baptists, that perpetuate ancient religious hatred.”11
So much for the traditional freedom to evangelize.
Sadly, educators, public officials, and biblically devout people who attempt to make a constructive difference in society and raise citizens to a higher level of decency and civility are shouted down or ruled out of order by judges and officials pandering to self-indulgent radicals and hedonists.
A defining statement reflecting the spirit of the times was made by CNN media mogul Ted Turner in an interview published in the National Review, June 8, 1992. Mr. Turner was quoted as having said, “Over-population is the cause of drive-by shootings and other social ills, but the root of the problem is Christianity, which posits that people are more important than sea otters and elephants.”12 Turner has also been quoted as saying, “Christianity is a religion for losers.”
Turner, who has said he made a profession of faith during a Billy Graham meeting but later renounced Christianity, has since apologized for such remarks. His statements, however, reflect the fundamental humanist idea that, in reality, human beings are but refined primates operating on their own, without the need of assistance from a divine being.
In such a rejectionist cultural environment, the question, sooner or later, must become what to do with those who are believers and are, therefore, hindering the progress of an enlightened, secular global world order.
Crafting the Global Village
What does all this have to do with the prevailing winds of the new millennium? Everything. America is no longer viewed as an independent republic. We are being merged into a pseudo-global community that will inevitably regard as intolerable bigots those who dare to obey Christ’s command to witness of His love and grace to others. There will be room for all the “you’re okay, I’m okay” religionists. But truly evangelical Christians will find a “KEEP OUT” sign at the gate of the new Utopia.
Some words from the Old Testament seem appropriate.
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life,…his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:17–18).