Should Christians Stage Protests Against Persecution


So, in part one of this post, we saw that prayer was the first response of the Italian Bishops to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and Nigeria. While not exactly endorsing their view of invoking the Virgin Mary in their prayers (I’m Protestant!), I still commend the bishops for a biblical recourse to prayer. The Apostle Paul constantly cried for Christians to help him through his suffering by joining with him in prayer (Eph 6:19, Col 4:3, 2 Thess 3:1ff).

Christians Protest PersecutionPrayer is no small part of our aiding our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is effective (James 5:16).  And yet, we always feel that we should do something more. So the question rises, can we do more? More specifically, we must ask, Is it good for Christians to protest Christian persecution? All around us, folks in our democratic republic have determined to protest publicly, thereby raising awareness and calling for government action on behalf of their special political concerns.

In America especially, protesting has been employed as an instrument of righteousness, calling both the government and the country at large to notice injustices like inequality for blacks and women. Of course, some—like the misguided Westboro Baptist family—abuse the privilege of protesting. But protesting is not altogether unbiblical.

While the New Testament did not arise from the context of 21st century America and, thus, does not have recourse to staged protests on Capitol Hill—the New Testament does offer a small dose of the spirit of government protest. For example, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison unlawfully in Philippi. While there, they were beaten without having first been tried. So, when their release orders came, rather than celebrating their release and taking off to preach the gospel (or just getting the heck out of town), Paul and Silas staged a protest instead.

“Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.  And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out’” (Acts 16:37, NIV).

More recently, in response to the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, displaced Iraqi Christians in Australia and Canada have begun staging protests, calling on government and citizens to take action, leveraging the power of the state in favor of aiding desperate Christians. I think we can support the actions of these brothers and sisters of faith. While our primary thrust must always be to avoid trusting in Australian chariots and Canadian horses, we are stillChristian persecution Mosul Iraq a part of those democratic governments. As citizens ourselves, we are still salt and light and should make use of every instrument available to us to endorse righteousness before God and man.

Christians ought to write letters to prisoners, write letters to congressmen and senators and governors. Christians ought to protest as they feel led. Christians ought to write songs, make movies, write books and articles, and stage events which remind the church and the culture at large that our king has come and will return, bringing with him great rewards for those who embrace the life He came to give.

Protesting, while neither the first nor the best response to persecution, is a legitimate biblical response. Just as John the Baptist held Herod accountable for his unrighteous deeds, so, too, Christians can graciously and prophetically call leaders to correct their unrighteous behavior—especially when that unrighteous behavior is directed specifically against the body of Christ. So, we can be thankful that Christians in Australia and Canada are speaking out. And we Christians in America may want to think about what more we can do in addition to our prayers.

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


I don’t remember what I was doing on June 10th.  It was a regular work week for me. Since then, I have done some planning for the Fall 2014 semester,Christian persecution Mosul Iraq and I have made a couple of trips to the airport so my kids could travel to see family. All in all, nothing much has changed for me and my family since June 10th.  But we don’t live in Mosul, Iraq.

Below, I have copied a letter from the Jubilee Campaign, along with a sobering timeline produced by the Assyrian International News Agency.  This timeline surveys the diabolical work of ISIS since June 10th.  In six weeks, the tangible signs of Christian presence have been eliminated: Church buildings, homes, actual Christians, and even a Christian cemetery—all gone.

(From Jubilee Campaign)

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq.  Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide.  Please listen to him.  You can find his speech here.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

The Arabic letter “n” (inside red circle), signifying “Nasarah” (Christian), on a Christian home in Mosul.(AINA) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

  • There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.
  • All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).
  • All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.
  • Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.
  • Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.
  • 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

  • June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).
  • June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).
  • June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).
  • June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).
  • June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).
  • June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).
  • June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).
  • June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).
  • June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).
  • June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).
  • ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).
  • June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).
  • July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).
  • July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).
  • July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).
  • July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).
  • July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).
  • July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).
  • July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).
  • July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).
  • July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


Thank you all so much for your willingness to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Many of you have been using the Arabic “N” symbol below on your Facebook or Twitter profile to show your concern for Christians being targeted for extortion and/or extinction by soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  God bless you for identifying with our brothers and sisters under attack.

Christian persecution mosul IraqOthers are understandably cynical about simply changing a profile pic as a reminder to pray. You think it’s too small of a gesture—that we must do more. And of course you are right! We all share some of that same attitude, I think.  Our American “can-do” mentality begs for a place to direct our anguish. We want to “do” something about the situation.  I spoke with a zealous young man today who graciously—yet excitedly—challenged me to “do something.” “We have to do something. Tell me what to do!” He cried.

My first response was to embrace his angst wholeheartedly. We really must do something. Our Christian brothers and sisters have been marked for death.  Their wages have been stolen.  Their homes and their homeland is now instantly closed to them. If they stay, they will be killed. If they leave, they will lose everything they once relied upon—houses, cars, money, jobs, friends. The situation is brutal.  Surely we can do more than pray!

And yet, upon further reflection, I reminded my young friend that prayer is no small thing. We ought not too quickly dismiss its potential for saving our fellow saints.  As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  James uses the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and cured a drought in Israel which lasted 3 ½ years.  Imagine—a man with a nature like ours altering meteorological phenomena for more than 1,000 days in a row!  (Talk about man-made global warming!) James could have chosen many other examples such as the prayers by Israel which brought about her Exodus from Egypt and Egypt’s destruction:

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” Ex 2:23-25 (ESV).

God knew! Are we to wonder whether God—now that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been more clearly revealed—is still near and dear to His people? May it never be! Jesus Himself swore that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Hbrws 13:5) and that He would be with them even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).  And so the all-powerful, all-knowing God of infinite love remains faithfully concerned for His people and capable of accomplishing great things on their behalf. With that in mind, we can (and must?) pray in at least these four ways:

Fervently from the heart.  Our prayers must be urgent, zealous, fearful, yet fully-fired with faith. Think of it this way: What would you do if you came home from work this evening only to discover that a gang had captured your sister and informed her that she had 24 hours to pay a ransom or die?  Would that not be a fiery trial that would cause you to cry out to God on her behalf? Would you not shriek with horror and beg for mercy? Fiery trials no doubt beget fiery prayers. There is a sword at the throat of our family. Pray!

Second, Despairingly—from a position of weakness. This may sound odd, but I take my cue from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice how Paul admitted being excessively burdened—beyond any human strength. Is that not the burden our brothers and sisters are under now in Iraq?  What earthly power is (a) willing to save them and (b) able to save them?  Some (like the U.S. Military) seem able but not willing.  Others perhaps are willing but not really able.  So, where are Christians to turn?  As we pray for our brothers and sisters, we should pray from the position of complete and utter despair of human deliverance.  In that position, Paul says, we find our sure hope of trusting not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead!

Third, Victoriously—as though Christ has truly been raised from the dead. Who could ever have imagined that eternal life would spring from the humiliating execution of a stricken, smitten Jewish carpenter?  And yet, our Christ has been raised from the dead!  The Apostle Paul took courage and believed in his own deliverance from the mouth of death because of the Resurrection life of Christ.  Pray for our brothers and sisters to move from the Christian persecution Mosul Iraqdespair of their current situation to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.  God is no less able to deliver today than he was when Paul was preaching the gospel in Asia (and the Middle East). So pray to God that he would raise the dead to new life in Mosul, Iraq. Pray for the current loss to be made gain.  After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), the early church was scattered on account of the increasing persecution. Nevertheless, the gospel went forth with power everywhere the Christians fled.  Even so, God’s gospel will triumph somehow. Pray for His people in Iraq to trust God’s purposes by faith.

Fourth, Effectively—as though you expect your prayers to affect much. The prayers of saints saved Paul’s life. Why not now? Why not the lives of those in Mosul, Iraq?  If, as we see in 2 Cor 1:11, the churches were able to secure Paul’s release from certain death, then why would not be possible today for our prayers to be the very means God uses to deliver Iraqi Christians from what appears a certain death? Is our God no longer able to deliver? Surely, God is no less powerful now than He was on the day He delivered Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

My friend and I talked about how we would love to help others learn to pray for the persecuted church. We will continue thinking about our prayers for the persecuted, and we hope to be providing much more helps in the future, Lord willing. So, stay tuned…

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Here’s a Great Test for True Religion


Our van was nothing fancy.  No one would have mistaken it for a limousine. It was plain, boxy, kind of like a Volkswagen cargo van in which someone bolted a couple of seats to the floor. Nothing about the van stood out in the bustling African streets of Addis Ababa. Like everyone else in town that day, we darted and beeped and chugged along through the crowded automotive corridor, windows down, taking our oxygen from air saturated with a mix of dust and exhaust fumes.

Ethiopia Widow True Religion Cochran blogAs inconspicuous as our vehicle was in the city traffic, our faces were not so unnoticed. Our skin was noticeably pale compared to the native melanin. Immediately upon entering the market area our van became a gathering spot for kids selling toothbrushes, kids shining shoes, and kids selling packs of chewing gum. But worse than the badgering of the ambitious children trying to make a living was the agonizing appearance of destitute women, widows we were told.

In Ethiopia (and in many other places in Africa), there is little provision for widows. In the market place, haggard ladies wearing mismatched patches of dirty material draped over their malnourished figures tap incessantly on the van windows before we’ve even parked. Through the obstacles of a language barrier, they somehow communicate very clearly that they are starving and want money for food. They know we have money because we are, after all, going shopping at the market.

How could we not help these women? They were widows. And what is pure and undefiled religion if it isn’t helping widows in need?

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV).

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we had the opportunity to visit widows in their affliction with help that was sorely needed.

In Nigeria, an African nation just three countries to the left (west) of Ethiopia, widows also cry out in the name of pure and undefiled religion. But in Nigeria the pure religion being sought lately is not the care of widows and orphans. Instead, the pursuit for pure religion has become the occasion for turning these women into widows.

The pure religion being sought in Nigeria is not that which is mentioned in the New Testament book of James; rather, it is the pure religion of Islam—according to the terrorist group Boko Haram.  And the widows are crying out not simply because their husbands are dead, but because their husbands were murdered in Boko Haram’s effort to purify Islam by ridding the country of its Christians.

According to this report, more than 2,000 women have unexpectedly become widows as the result of their husbands being murdered by Boko Haram’s quest for Islamic purity in Nigeria.  These women are destitute.  They have children to feed but no means of providing them the basics of food and shelter.

Here–in this Nigerian nightmare–we have a true test of pure religion. On the one hand, Boko Haram in the name of Islam believes that Christian men should be killed, leaving in the flow of bloodshed a wake of widows and orphans–hoping eventually for a purely Islamic Nigeria. On the other hand, Christians have a clear statement from James 1:27 that pure and undefiled religion does not result from killing opposing ideologies. Instead, pure and undefiled religion is on display when we help these widows and orphans pick up the pieces of their broken lives—somehow helping them reassemble the shattered mess of their lost hopes, dreams, comforts, and expectations.

In the case of Nigeria in particular, Christians have the duty to act. It’s easy to see a widow’s need when we are forced to look into her hungry eyes. It’s harderPure Religion James 1 Widow Orphan Cochran blog when the widow lives an ocean away.  And yet, our Christian sisters in Nigeria represent the actual intent of James’s admonition.  In the New Testament, the first responsibility for widow and orphan care exists within one’s own family (1 Tim 5:4, 8).  When the family cannot provide, the church must—starting with widows and orphans within the body of Christ.  For James, the pure and undefiled religion of caring for widows and orphans would begin with the church taking care of Christian widows and orphans (for more, see here or here).  James has been addressing his readers as “brothers” throughout the letter, signaling that this is from a Christian brother to other Christians.

Furthermore, James spells out that his talking of the poor means primarily poor brothers and sisters in the faith (2:15).  He is constantly speaking throughout the letter to brothers and sisters about righteousness and faithful works.  Like any believer in the first century, James thought in terms of a covenant community. The church was like family, and who could allow orphans and widows in his own family to starve? No one could if they understood God’s nature. Just listen to Exodus 22:22ff.,

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

How awfully dreadful is the state of those who oppress widows and orphans! I have no doubt that those who murder Christian men in their zeal for a purified religion are under the weight of the wrath of God almighty for causing children to be fatherless and wives to be destitute.

But what about us? Do we not have an opportunity—even an obligation—in the face of this wrongful attempt to purify religion by killing Christians to actually demonstrate the pure and undefiled religion God requires? It’s time for us to come to the aid of Nigerian widows in distress. How pure is our religion? The African widows know.

 

What Happens When a 1,600 Year Tradition Ends?


Persecution Iraq Christians ISISThere are two traditions that have recently ended.  The contrast between them is astounding.

Traditions are interesting things. Our traditions anchor us to the past while guiding us toward the future. They act as handrails along our paths, offering us both security and a sense of affirmation as we continue walking life’s road. Too often, in fact, we are so comfortable in this walk that we forget—or simply fail to realize—the presence of tradition.

And then something happens. The tradition is threatened, or taken away. Our senses are shocked, as we experience the full, paralyzing thud of a tradition ended.

A couple of years ago at Auburn University, a tradition was threatened when Harvey Updike, a rabid Alabama fan, poisoned the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. The tradition of rolling the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn football victory moved from “threatened” to “altogether lost,” as the Spike 80DF poison which Updike used did its work, leeching the life from the root system of the trees.

Before the trees were completely dead and taken away, the university along with the city of Auburn—indeed most of central Alabama—held one last rally to roll the oaks at Toomer’s Corner.  You can see the spectacle of this tradition ending by watching the video below. (I believe my daughter, an Auburn student, is somewhere in the mass of humanity captured by the robotic camera.)

No one knows when or exactly how the tradition of rolling the oak trees began, but how it ended is now obvious to all. And most folks—even the Auburn Football Traditionsmajority of Alabama fans—understand that something precious was lost when the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner finally died.

Yet, it must be said (despite the images in the video) that throwing toilet paper into oak trees in central Alabama is a small tradition. The tour guide who introduced me to the trees (when they were still alive) suggested the tradition was at most 100 years old (probably less). And the tradition had to do with football, which, contrary to the primitive emotional purgations of Saturday afternoons in the fall, is not a life or death matter.

The tradition of ringing church bells in Mosul, Iraq, on the other hand is a life or death matter. It has to do with the life and death of Christ.  This tradition has been incalculably more significant than rolling oak trees with toilet paper.

First, the tradition of ringing the bells signals the serving of Mass—an Orthodox Christian tradition—in a predominately Muslim culture. At the very least such service is courageous. At its best, the service is an offering of Christ to those who understand their need for an atoning sacrifice.[1]

So, second, because the tradition concerns the gospel of Christ, it is a matter of life and death—eternally speaking. The church tradition also represents a heritage and a way of life for thousands and thousands of Orthodox Christians who have inhabited the Middle East for more than a millennium.

Third, the tradition of ringing the church bells for Mass in Mosul, Iraq, has been a more significant tradition because of its age and endurance.  The tradition began closer to Paul’s ministry than to ours. There was no hint of a USA or a Soviet Union or France or even England when this tradition began. Week after week, the bells have rung.  Week after week the Mass has been served.  These church bells have been ringing for one thousand, six-hundred years–that’s 83,200 weeks. And now they’ve stopped.

As of June 15, church bells ring no more in the ISIS-controlled[2] area of Mosul, Iraq. Violence against Christians there has almost ensured that the Orthodox Christian tradition will soon no longer be found in that ancient place. Over the last decade, approximately 90% of Christians have fled from their homes, business, and church buildings in Iraq as a result of the intense persecution they’ve suffered.

And yet, the bells went quiet so silently. There was no last hurrah to say good-bye.  Indeed, the scene in Mosul was the exact opposite of that found at Auburn. At Auburn, people swarmed in masses to make the final TP offering. In Mosul, people ran away by the thousands.  At Auburn, TV crews parked with satellite towers and provided aerial coverage. In Mosul, like the church bells, everything got very quiet. No one seemed to notice. But the Orthodox Christian tradition ended.

The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1,600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday June 15.   

 

 

[1] I am neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. Thus I do not ascribe to the presentation of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Mass is—in one sense or another—a presentation of Christ (either in offering or, as in my tradition, a remembrance).  It is a weighty matter of eternal significance.

[2] ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

This Simple Prayer Request May Be the Best Request of the Year!


There is no spiritual equivalent to the Academy Awards. Could you imagine a gala event in Nashville where Billy Bob Johnson from Plano, TX, wins this year’s Golden Bible for “Best Supporting Evangelist”?  John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll could slug it out for “Best Argument over Spiritual Gifting.” Admittedly, the concept is mildly grotesque.

Christians North Korea PersecutionBut if there were an award for “Best Prayer Request of 2014,” I would nominate the following:

“Pray with us.”

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But consider the origin of this request. It comes from a Christian living in North Korea. Many have called North Korea the worst place in the world to be a Christian. You might remember back in March 33 Christians were scheduled for execution on account of their work in the underground church.

Yet Eric Foley, a missions strategist intimately acquainted with Christians in North Korea, makes a strong case against thinking of North Korea as the worst place to be a Christian. Foley says,

“I think that if people say the ‘worst’ and mean the costliest, then that’s an accurate statement. I’ve never met a casual Christian in North Korea! But if we mean that it’s a place where God’s power is least evident, or where Christians feel the most forsaken, then North Korean Christians would deny that adamantly,” he explains.

“North Koreans insist that they receive everything they need from God in order to be faithful. So they say: ‘Don’t pray for us, pray with us. God will find us faith where he calls us, and he will provide’…”

There it is! Believers in North Korea—where if caught they will be sent to a concentration camp or killed—do not feel defeated. They do not want us to pray for them, as though they are needy. They want us to pray with them—for the gospel to triumph in North Korea! What a difference a little preposition makes!

A simple preposition makes this prayer request one of the most profound I’ve ever heard. It shatters complacency. It kills any hint of defeat—or even retreat! It says the gospel is alive in North Korea. It bids us join with our prayers for the victory that one day will come. Won’t you join the fight and pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea?  Don’t you think this simple prayer request demonstrates the Spirit and power of Christ?

 

 Christians in the Worst Prisons

Persecution Terribly Real in North Korea

North Korea NOT the Worst Place to Be a Christian?

 

5 Reasons to Pray for the Persecuted Church


I have a close brother in the ministry who sent a text to me last night asking me to pray for him as he ministered to a family in need. Another brother needs me to pray for his daughter who is recovering from a complicated surgery. Yet another friend needs prayer because she is struggling with forgiving someone.

Greg Cochran Prayer for Persecuted ChristiansI, too, am struggling with discipline, devotion, and evangelism. I, too, need prayer. What Christian doesn’t need prayer, right? Have you ever asked someone to pray for you? Did you mean it? Do you really think it matters?  Of course, you do. You know that you are often sustained by the prayers of the saints lifting your cause before God’s throne of grace.

We all wish others would pray for us. Therefore, prayer for others—maybe especially for the persecuted church—falls under the rubric of Christ’s “Golden Rule” found in Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Do you want or need folks praying for you? Pray for them, especially for those suffering the greatest needs.

Second, the Bible almost commands us to pray for the persecuted. I know that’s weird to say, but there is no direct command which says, “Pray for the persecuted church.” I think that’s because the Spirit makes it so obvious that we don’t really need to be commanded to do it. What Christian would think there is no need to pray for those Christians whose home has been destroyed and whose lives are in constant danger (as is currently the case in Iraq)?

Even if there is no direct imperative to pray, there are several commands in Scripture which point to that end. Paul commands the church at Thessalonica to pray for him and his team so that they will speak effectively and be rescued from the evil of their persecutors (2 Thess. 3:1-2).  If Paul needed Christians to pray that he might be faithful through persecution, then, perhaps, Christians suffering persecution today need prayer, too.

In addition, Christians are told to pray concerning their own experiences of suffering (see Matthew 24:20, for instance). And Christians are commanded to pray for those who are persecuting Christians. It seems to me that such a command argues that we ought to pray not only for the persecuted, but also for the persecutor.

Third, there are biblical examples of prayers being effective on behalf of the persecuted. One great example concerns the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul tells of a desperate situation he suffered while in Asia. The situation was so bad, he says, that “he despaired even of life itself.”

And yet, he was miraculously and powerfully delivered from what seemed to him certain death. How was he delivered? Ultimately, he says, he was delivered by God, who raises the dead. Yet he also commends the church for the role she played in his rescue: “you also joining in helping us through your prayers.” We can conclude that the prayers of the righteous are effective for delivering needy brothers and sisters from desperate situations of persecution. The church helped Paul survive his suffering in Asia. And the church can help those suffering today through faithful prayers.

Fourth, praying for other brothers and sisters in their times of suffering helps Christians to obey the command of Hebrews 13:3. While not a direct command to pray for the persecuted, Hebrews 13:3—the command to remember the persecuted—surely includes prayer. Indeed, it is a more broad command than simply praying. Remember Christians in prison, as though in prison with them. Remember those suffering ill treatment on account of Christ. Yet surely such remembering includes praying for the persecuted.

Finally, our praying for suffering Christians reflects the love of Christ Himself for the church.  Christ stood to receive Stephen, the first martyr after him (see Acts 7). He is as concerned for the suffering church as a groom is concerned for the appearance of his bride (Ephesians 5). What if wedding congregants were to spit upon the bride, curse at her, kick her, and beat her while she made her way down the aisle? Would the groom not erupt in violent anger?

So it is with Christ. He is working to make His bride ready for the final consummation. According to Ephesians 5, Christ is working to make His bride—the church—spotless and blameless, to present her to the Father in all her splendor. This means, of course, that those who persecute the church are persecuting Christ’s bride and body. It is impossible for Christ to be more intimately linked to others than He is with His church.

There is no question that Christ lives to make intercession for His church. Thus, when we intercede on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters, we imitate Christ. We can believe it is the Spirit of Christ who so compels us to pray for the persecuted.

Why Pray at All? (Awesome Privilege of Prayer)

A Simple Morning Prayer for You

Should We Pray for Satan?

Pray for the Persecuted and the Persecutor

Why Hobby Lobby Decision Matters for All American


There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in June 2010. Certain provisions did

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

not take effect immediately. One of those delayed provisions was the Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive coverage. Now that this mandate is in effect, businesses and other entities nationwide are suing the federal government to demand an exemption on the basis of conscience.

The latest business to join in the lawsuits is Hobby Lobby. They are the first evangelical Christian business to join the fray, but hopefully they will not be the last. In all, there are27 different lawsuits in the courts on this issue.  The objection is to the mandate’s insistence that all companies (and Christian schools) provide insurance coverage (without co-pay) for abortifacient drugs like the morning after pill or the week after pill.

The Obama administration is arguing two basic points germane to religious liberty. First, they argue that Christians must abandon their religious liberty when they choose to enter the commercial marketplace. This argument is based on their second argument, which is that religious liberty extends only to official houses of worship, not to individuals in their diurnal affairs. In other words, religious liberty (according to the Obama administration) means an American can go to a facility on Sunday and do his worship thing there without government interference (except for theaforementioned tax code restrictions), but he mustn’t think his liberty extends beyond the building.

The Obama administration clearly does not believe in religious liberty at all.  Instead, they believe in restricting religious liberty to “houses of worship” only.  Arguing for this view of religious liberty would be like arguing that a prisoner is actually free because he can do whatever he wants (inside his cell).  This is a radical departure from American history and reflects more of a communist view of religious freedom than an American one.

Communist Chinese flagIn China, for example, Christians are “free” to join the public, Three-Self Patriotic Church and worship there—in that “house of worship.”  They are not free to gather in homes or worship elsewhere. They certainly are not free to carry their Christianity into the workplace or the university. The defense of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare rests upon such a demolition of religious liberty.

In addition to the Obamacare drama unfolding, there is a second stream of American stories all pointing to the same enslaving end. There is a rash of code enforcers around the nation taking aim at house church gatherings. We have seen instances of this in Illinois, California, Arizona, and now it has come to Florida as well.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, is representing the Florida couple who is being threatened with a $250/day fine for having a small group (6-10) in the home for a Bible study.

Dacus says“They are having a specific problem with this family solely because they are having family and friends over to read the bible and pray.  That may be fine in some tyrannical parts of the world. That is not okay in the United States of America.”

The idea behind the code enforcers is the same as the idea promoted by President Obama: Keep your Christian God in a box. Go to your church building and do the Christian thing, but don’t bring the subject up at your work or your home. This is a Communist view of freedom, which, of course, means this is no freedom at all.

Code by code, insurance plan by insurance plan, America is shutting out its Christian past and killing the concept of liberty and justice for all.

2 Persecution Lessons from a Keeper’s Broken Leg


Well, this isn’t exactly from the 2014 Fifa World Cup, but it is related to soccer and, more importantly, to our persecuted family.

Before the game, our team took note of the size of the goalie. He was at least 6’3” and weighed in at a solid 280. He was a big guy—like a mountain with a t-shirt. We thought (or hoped) his size would limit his agility, but then we realized he wouldn’t need agility because he filled the goal simply by standing in front of it.

Unfortunately, this young man broke his leg on a freak play shortly after the game began.  We never got an2 persecution lesson's from broken leg opportunity to see what kind of goalie he would be. Though we didn’t get to learn much about his goal-keeping skills, we did get a chance to learn a couple of important lessons from him.  At least, I learned from watching this accident unfold.  From watching this injury drama play out, I realized two important lessons about the church in relation to persecution.

Lesson One: Suffering as One

First, this young man broke his leg, but his entire—uncommonly large—body had to be hoisted onto a gurney.  His entire body was taken to the hospital—not just his leg. The reason is obvious. Bodies are a single unity of several parts. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12, describing how the church is a body of many parts, each doing its own job, but all being unified as one.  In the same sense, each congregation belongs to every other congregation as one, universal reality called the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 13:3, the writer states plainly that all Christians (in all churches around the world) should remember the 2 Persecution Lessons from Broken Legpersecuted church “since you yourselves are in the body.”  There is one body, and all Christians are a part of it. The body suffers and triumphs as one.  The idea that a Christian could live unaware of the persecuted church is as unthinkable in the New Testament as the idea that this king-sized goalkeeper could play a soccer game without his left leg.  Bodies are very much aware when even the smallest parts are hurt, injured, or diseased. The whole body suffers as one. I saw this lesson plainly as the ambulance took this player away.

Lesson Two: Healing as One

Second, just as the body suffers as one, so, too, the body heals together as one. There is energy expended by one part of the body (the healthy part) in order to speed aid and healing to the other part.  Again, this goalkeeper helped me to see profound reality.

The game we played against his team was part of a high school soccer tournament. So, later in the evening—after he was discharged from the hospital, this goalie came back to the field to support his team.  Obviously, his leg was in a cast, and he was using crutches.  The crutches were the key for me to unlock this second lesson.

This young man is using greater energy and strength from his upper body in order to minister to the needs of his lower, injured body.  In the same way, as we minister to the persecuted church, we will both speed her healing and strengthen ourselves. This keeper is going to get stronger in his arms and his shoulders from lugging a 280 lb. frame around the schoolyard over the next two months. Just as you’ve heard that blind people often have more highly developed hearing, so, too, this lower body weakness will lead this goalkeeper to upper body strength.

We in America who suffer lighter persecution than our brothers and sisters abroad, should remember that we are one body with them. We ought to suffer with them (as though in prison with them).  As we do this, we, too, should get stronger in our faith. God has designed bodies to work as one, the stronger parts ministering to the weaker, while both are being made stronger.

Who knew that a soccer tournament with a terrible injury would serve as such a great reminder of our responsibility as Christians to remember those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ? What is your understanding of Christian responsibility to the persecuted?

 Persecution is a social justice issue

One Reason It’s So Important for All Christians to Understand Persecution 

3 Simple Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty in America


Freedom, though given freely by God, isn’t offered freely by Man. It must be fought for and won, sometimes through reasoned debate and cool persuasion, other times through battles with swords or guns. Tyranny is always lurking, scheming to usurp individual liberty. This is as true in America as it is anywhere.

Religious Liberty Persecution America FreedomI am thankful therefore for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC understands freedom. Recently, the ERLC hosted a panel discussion on the Hobby Lobby case and what it means for all Americans. The entire transcript is worth reviewing, but there are two points in particular that I hope you will ponder.

First, ERLC President Russell Moore explains that many people of faith seem to miss that religious liberty IS a gospel issue. Moore—provocatively and persuasively—demonstrates why Christians must oppose persecution and a loss of liberty in America:

So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before [Pilate], who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of [Pilate] because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. 

I have spoken to many Christians, young and old, who think that we should go like sheep through the tyrannical slaughter of our religious liberties. But it seems a bit irresponsible and unloving toward our own children, grandchildren, and future generations of the church. As I’ve pointed out before, when we as Americans give up the fight, the situation gets worse for believers all over the world. We may indeed be living through the end of our religious liberty, but let us at least not go down without a fight—for the sake of our spiritual progeny who will suffer more dramatically the ill effects of such loss.

The second significant point in the transcript comes from Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. Pastor Rick clearly and eloquently lays out the case for why religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberty:

The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental.

As I said, the entire transcript is worth reading. These two points, I think, nail our present situation and identify clearly for us why it is so important that we not abrogate our responsibility to speak up, to preach, to pray, and to serve the church and the world with healthy doses of Christian love.

America, and thus the rest of the world, losing freedom:

Some of the people Obamacare hurts

Another example of a loss of liberty

What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?