Paul, Prison, and the President


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

Persecution Prison Theology ChinaStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. The righteousness of God was a primary motivation in Paul’s life (Rom 5:20-21). Possibly, righteousness had something to do with Paul’s extended stay in Philippi, too. God’s justice expects justice from men. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In the face of suffering injustice from the Roman rulers, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a legal wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. Christians will sometimes sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of these early Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

Christians more and more are having occasion to point out injustice. We will benefit from thinking thoroughly about when and how to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

The Obama Administration has sustained a consistent assault on the historic concept ofObama Obamacare Abortion religious liberty. Four years ago, I pointed out how the first amendment was morphing into something less like the constitution and more like the Communists ruling China. More recently, Ed Whelan has listed several examples of the current administration’s active attempts to rewrite the First Amendment and restrict religious activity in the U.S.

  • In the international arena, the administration has reduced religious liberty to a shriveled concept of individual religious worship and has instead aggressively promoted its LGBT initiative at the expense of religious liberty. See, e.g., Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun,” Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC (2012), the Department of Justice contested the very existence of a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that that exception had been uniformly recognized by the federal courts of appeals. According to the Obama Department of Justice, religious organizations, in selecting their faith leaders, are limited to the same freedom-of-association right that labor unions and social clubs have in choosing their leaders. At oral argument, even Justice Kagan called DOJ’s position “amazing,” and in its unanimous ruling the Court emphatically rejected DOJ’s “remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
  • Despite the fact that its own independent review board ranked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops far above other applicants for a grant to assist victims of human trafficking, HHS political appointees denied the grant because USCCB won’t refer trafficking victims for contraceptives and abortion. See Jerry Markon, “Health, abortion issues split Obama administration and Catholic groups,”Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2011.
  • Against the backdrop of an escalating clash between gay rights and religious liberty, the Obama administration irresponsibly abandoned its duty to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When President Obama finally cast aside his professed opposition to redefining marriage, he opened the way for an intensification of the vitriolic attacks on traditional religious believers (and others) who continue to hold the position that he had so recently claimed to embrace.
    (Ed Whelan, testimony before congress).

Whelan’s list offers a clear testimony to the increasing likelihood that Christians will run afoul of those enforcing the new tolerance.  As with Paul and Silas, Christians today may sense the need to speak up, to take a stand, or take a seat in prison, waiting for justice to arrive. Law professor Richard Epstein has recently written about one such Christian—Barronelle Stutzman.

(to be continued…)

One thought on “Paul, Prison, and the President

  1. Excellent. And it’s mind boggling the speed in which our liberty and religious freedoms have vanished. The rate it has increased during President Obama’s administration leaves me to wonder how anyone cannot recognize what’s going on.

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