-My apologies. This conclusion comes weeks late. I'm trying to tidy up some loose ends and I have a tendency to have too many things going at once. Time gets away from me and suddenly I realize these last couple of posts for this series should have been put up weeks ago. I could easily write several articles and commentaries a day, but I don't have enough time. I end up with a series of partially finished pieces and works in progress.
This hasn't been a very popular series either. My ability to strike a chord is rather hit and miss...With regard to this topic, people either aren't interested, don't see the importance, or already see it and perhaps are bored with the topic? I'm not sure. Anyway, these last segments address some of the real concerns I have...what I believe to be the telos of this whole trend in Evangelicalism with regard to politics and the law. The previous installments can be found here: http://proto-protestantism.blogspot.com/2011_11_01_archive.html
One more example and some final thoughts....
While I was finishing up this series I heard Al Mohler talking about some related issues. On his show he was discussing the case of a couple in California running into trouble with a local zoning board because of a Bible study at their house.
Many will have heard something of this before, either this specific case or one like it. Mohler argued that if a wedding reception was happening, no one would question it, but the anti-Christian city won't allow the study of God's Word and prayer. As usual, a bit of an oversimplification.
First of all they apparently have about 50 people showing up every week, and that's weekly, in other words on a regular basis... not a unique event like a wedding reception. Fifty is a pretty substantial group, with undoubtedly a lot of cars. I can see why neighbours might complain. It depends on the circumstances, the parking in the neighbourhood and so forth.
This does not excuse the city's zoning board. I'm guessing rather than overt Christian persecution it's a case of an overly zealous and typically self-important group of bureaucrats. I deal with these folks all the time. Many of them remind me of Barney Fife from the old Andy Griffith Show. They want so badly for everyone to know how important they are and yet often they're pretty incompetent. That's not universal of course, but I've seen it more than a few times.
So what's the solution? How do you solve this problem of Christians being hassled by a local government entity?
I would say the Christian response is this- If you believe you are doing right and they are asking you to sin in ceasing the activity, then keep on doing it regardless of the consequences all the while being polite and respectful.
Keep having the Bible study. When they fine you...the group (not the individual) should pay. When they throw you in jail...the group should show up and encourage the homeowner. Bring food for the guards and prisoners.
The idea is to be salt and light. Shame them into dropping the charges, changing the rules, or be patient....others in the community will eventually rise up and toss the corrupt officials out of power.
We've seen the Amish employ these tactics around here. Eventually the officials feel like fools when they keep harassing these peaceful people that just want to be left alone. The others in the community start speaking out....leave them alone. It often works.
If it doesn't....oh well.
The Sacralist response is to sue the local government and demand our rights.
In a nearby town a local 'church' (though I can't really call it that) wanted a downtown storefront for their place of meeting. The city government resisted. I don't know the details but I did hear parking issues were involved. There are a number of nearby restaurants and I can see why they wouldn't appreciate the parking logjam.
Of course if you're a Sabbatarian Sacralist (believing the Sabbath applies to the unbeliever as well) this might be viewed as a way to make them keep the 4th commandment...hinder their Sunday business. I doubt that was what motivated this particular 'church', but I wouldn't put similar ideas past them. The so-called pastor used to write a column in the local paper, so his ideas are somewhat known.
Nevertheless, there was a tussle, the so-called church sued the city and won. In fact there's sort of an ongoing battle in this little town. The community consists of a large numbers of Evangelicals, Baptists and Holiness groups, as well as a large population of non-church goers, many associated with the local university. It's sad that when my family (with my wife and daughters in skirts that day) walk into a local shop, the owner gets nervous. It's a kind of 'hippie' store that carries handmade crafts, jewelry, and 'Fair Trade' items from the 3rd world. It's the type of establishment that is not frequented by American Evangelicals, it's associated with things 'liberal' and so forth. The guy sees us and assumes we're Christians, but then he assumes we're there to make trouble, lecture him, force literature on him or something. He had received opposition in getting the store open.
Free markets for all right? A level playing field right? It rarely happens. And when I hear Christians appeal to these concepts...sorry, but I rarely believe them. More often than not, they don't mean it. They are not for free markets when segments of the marketplace violate their vision for society. In the present 2012 Republican primaries, Rick Santorum is making this position pretty clear.
We had a great talk with the guy and as we walked out we shook our heads at the behaviour of the local Christian community. What a great witness for Christ. That's being salt and light? The guy probably doesn't like Christians, because of the offense of the gospel? Hardly. He doesn't like them because they're a mean, power hungry lot that obviously despises anyone who doesn't agree with them.
Sorry for the aside. Back to the Bible study in California...
What's wrong with this group suing the city? Shouldn't we stand up for our rights? If we don't, won't the unbelievers just keep taking advantage of us? Don't we have the same rights as other citizens? Didn't Paul appeal to the law to protect himself?
Paul was willing enough to appeal to the law and his status as a citizen in order to keep from being scourged by the Romans in Jerusalem. And, we need not to be afraid to call out officials who are breaking the law themselves and abusing their power as the city rulers were in Philippi. While they may sound like suing for justice, there's a key difference. Paul wasn't trying to take over the power paradigm. Or to put it another way...was Paul going to go to the magistrate and argue for force (Roman soldiers) to enforce the law for the Church or to get justice? Would he have called on a higher magistrate to come and scourge and imprison the corrupt magistrates who violated the law by throwing him into prison? That certainly would have been the penalty for their abuse of power.
I'm all for speaking truth to power...but with the right paradigm, the right understanding. If we're doing it...it's not to become a competing power...but to be a witness. That is not the case with 99% of American Christianity. It's not witness based...it's political. It has a political agenda with distinct legislative goals tied in with some form of sacral theology. This is not what you find with Paul. Study the passages in Acts and weigh them versus what has happened throughout Church history and what is happening today. Those who argue pagan Rome is to be differentiated from a Christian America or even a non-persecuting secular America are making a theological statement with regard to the state. I'm saying...all states in the modern era are pagan Rome's, or Babylon's. How you answer this question is key to understanding the issues and the host of questions that arise as we seek to live out our Christian lives in society.
Remember government is the power to compel, it's legitimate force. It's power backed up by violence. There's a reason for it, and sadly it's necessary, but there's an inherent danger in wielding the power and a terrible consequence if the Church starts looking to this power for either sanction, validation, protection, or promotion.
The modern Evangelical Church is engaged in all four. The lawsuit is but a stepping stone, a tool, or a weapon to bring about larger goals.
I’m not against litigation in every instance. In fact it serves a vital role in our society. I’m not against speaking truth to power.
I am against using litigation as a political weapon. I am against the Church using litigation as means to accomplish its goals.
It’s bad for both Church and society.