A Conflict of Liberty?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

There is a divide in the church today. Unfortunately, this statement could likely be made at any time in history past, present, or future, until the Lord returns.

I just read an article about a local megachurch, in which they had taken a survey of their members. According to the pastor, there was about an equal split between members who believe they should meet in person immediately, those who think they should wait the situation out a little longer, and those who believe they should wait till there’s a cure or vaccine for COVID-19. Right after reading that, I read a post from a Christian leader who believes it’s cowardly for pastors not to immediately open, especially given that the President said he supports churches opening right away, even though some governors have kept them closed or placed lots of restrictions on them; she was discouraged that many pastors elected to remain closed.

Our small church did open today, allowing for following CDC recommendations, while not demanding churchgoers follow these protocols. We had some folks in attendance, as well as some watching online.

Christian seems to rise against Christian, some claiming we need to stand up for our rights, while others say that doing so violates Biblical principles. While I agree that the Bible trumps the Constitution, I also would posit that the Constitutional framers did so with Biblical principles in mind. Initially I asserted the view that we should lay down our First Amendment rights for the greater good of protecting our brother from harm; however, I’ve appreciated some contrary perspectives, and, while I don’t claim to have a perfect answer, I want to propose consideration of these thoughts:

  1. If someone slaps me on the right cheek, I can offer him the left; however, if someone slaps all of us on the right cheek, or if slapping me on the right cheek could lead to abuse of others, I should strongly consider standing up for our collective rights.
  2. I should examine my motives; if I’m driven by fear, greed, unrighteous anger, or any other sinful attitude, I should reconsider my position. Once my motives are pure, then I need to establish the best plan of action and follow it.
  3. What precedents are we setting by allowing our Constitutional rights to be infringed upon? How will our response impact future generations? We need to be wary of giving up rights that our God-fearing forefathers and generations of military members secured for us, many of them giving their lives, and all of them being willing to do so. More importantly, we need to prayerfully consider what is worth giving up the freedoms for which Christ set us free. We have been commanded not to be subject again to a yoke of slavery. The enemy of our souls can make a very convincing argument, and we need to be vigilant and discerning, lest we be led astray.
  4. What effect do our actions and inactions have on those who witness them? What will most glorify God to the watching world? There is a prevailing thought that Christians need to be compliant, docile, and unassuming at all times. Jesus called us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Some people believe that, since Jesus was described as meek, we are not to assert ourselves. However, meekness isn’t weakness. Meekness is power under control, not a lack of power. Jesus stood up against oppression and injustice. He spoke out against the Pharisees, who placed unbearable yokes on others, and against the moneychangers, who took advantage of others. He did not gloss over sin, but lovingly confronted transgressors. Should we not follow in His steps?
  5. How has our culture shaped our view of what it means to be loving? Is being nice the same thing as being kind? In this era of political correctness, we have been brainwashed into trying to please everyone and to avoiding actions that may offend others. To love another means to want his or her best. I would never condone shaming someone who doesn’t feel comfortable returning to church, to work, or to society because they are in a high-risk group; we are called to prudence. However, if we give the impression that the only way to be loving is to watch church at home, to keep our businesses closed, to wear a mask everywhere, and to support the governing authorities’ every decision, we may not be giving the full picture. Isn’t it also loving to visit the sick (provided we are healthy and not caregivers for others in a high-risk group), to contribute to our neighbors’ livelihoods by utilizing their businesses, to contribute to society with meaningful work, to uphold truth, to confront error, and to preserve our countrymen’s God-given rights?
  6. Do our actions show favoritism to any person or group? It seems that we are listening to the counsel of some medical professionals but not others. There are plenty of solid medical personnel, some of whom use conventional medicine and others who use alternative methods, who say that the recommended measures are inaccurate and even counterproductive. Even though many are using recent data or reliable research to verify their stance, not only are they being discounted, many are effectively being silenced, because their recommendations don’t fit the prevailing narrative put forth by many in government and the mainstream media. We also seem to be showing favoritism to those vulnerable from a health standpoint, to the exclusion of those vulnerable from an economic or spiritual standpoint.
  7. What is the highest authority in our country or state? It is not the president or governor, and it definitely isn’t any worldwide organization or philanthropist. The Constitution guides our government, and the government is “by the people, of the people, and for the people.” Who are the people? The citizens of this country. When governors, presidents, legislators, or judges violate the Constitution, we need to question whether obedience is necessary. If we follow the Constitution, we are not breaking the law, even if we are told that we are.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, a masterpiece of logic, morality, and theological exposition, as applied to the issue of segregation is the source of the famous words, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Do you know the audience of this letter? Dr. King addressed this apologetic for “civil disobedience” to white pastors who thought he had gone too far by encouraging his followers to break the law. He echoed Augustine, saying that an “unjust law is no law at all.” He said that a just law is in harmony with moral law, that any law that degrades human personality is unjust. We must ask ourselves if quarantining the healthy is in harmony with moral law. We must consider whether destroying people’s livelihoods, keeping them from attending church, and imposing social isolation, especially in the midst of compelling evidence that this virus isn’t a serious threat to otherwise healthy people, is the correct coarse of action.

Pastors and other Christian leaders are called to be countercultural. We are to obey the authority placed over us, but in this country our highest authority is the Constitution, which was primarily written from a Biblical worldview. The Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar in the face of injustice; in America, the equivalent would be to appeal to the Constitution. Our Constitution says that nobody should prohibit the free exercise of religion, of speech, the press, or the right to peaceably assemble (Amendment I). Furthermore, “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Amendment XIV).

Some of you live in open states, and may wonder what all the fuss is about. Churches in Washington State and Minnesota have unjustly been kept from operating, and many still fear government reprisal. This morning, the Chicago mayor was reported to have sent police to shut down a church gathering in her city. Churches, daycares, and small businesses in Kentucky have far too many restrictions to practically operate. Everywhere the mainstream media mafia perpetuates fear and censors informed citizens in an attempt to control the narrative.

Christians, we must not be silent. Pastors, part of your calling is to admonish the flock according to Scripture and to equip us for participation in all spheres of life, including the media and the government. Please challenge us to speak into the culture, rather than to assimilate. Please give us permission not to be nice, but rather to be holy and effective at fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Please activate us in the spiritual war that has the whole world in its grip. Please don’t sit down and shut your doors. Please don’t bow to those who rule unjustly, no matter how “well-intentioned” they may seem. Please bow only to God, and refuse to allow His commands to be twisted into irrelevance.

In the words of Dr. King, “it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends … it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.” Let us be neither complacent, nor arrogant. Let us not use our liberty as an excuse for sin, but also let us not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. We were bought with a price. It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Let us walk in that freedom, for the good of our country and our fellow countryman.

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