Post-Pandemic, Will China’s Church Be Changed Forever?

Each day, Aaron Zhang—all names in this story are pseudonyms—wakes up and helps his two children get ready for their day. His oldest is in elementary school, and like a growing number of other Chinese Christian families, their family homeschools.

Last year, they were dreaming about overseas mission work. Zhang even quit his job to prepare. But now, with restrictions tight, the family can’t obtain or renew passports. Their goal of being missionaries is on hold indefinitely.

These are difficult days for Chinese believers, and darker days loom. On February 1, 2020, harsh new regulations overseeing every aspect of faith practice went into effect across China. These completed a spate of regulations initially rolled out in 2018.

But during the 2020 rollout, the government’s attention was diverted: one week before, Wuhan was locked down. Chinese society entered a season of intense quarantine and separation.

More than a year later, life in China remains somewhat bizarre, yet largely functional. But there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

Restrictions

The new restrictions require Chinese Communist Party oversight for every measure of religious life—staffing, fund management, gatherings. China’s unofficial churches, known as house churches, have operated in recent decades in an ambiguous space: they have rented public space, welcomed visitors, and been open about some of their activities, all without official government sanction. The February restrictions effectively close that era of semi-openness.

In China, there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

More ominously, these measures specify that all religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

“I think a lot of the churches could disappear,” said S. E. Wang of China Partnership. Still, “God is leading the way forward. This pandemic . . . is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.”

Short-Term Opportunities

Even before COVID-19, a lot of Chinese house churches couldn’t meet face to face.

“Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic, because it forced churches to close their public meeting places,” said Simon Liu, a pastor who trains unregistered church planters.

All religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

Since the pandemic, Chinese pastors have held online crusades. These are not intended to replace Sunday worship, but to preach the good news and unite disconnected Christians. And they require courage: the evening’s preacher must be willing to show his face to a non-vetted crowd, which can be dangerous.

“The risk is there, but I think more and more see opportunity,” Liu said.

The online meetings average 1,000 to 2,000 direct connections. One northeastern Chinese pastor began his message this way: “The Christian hope lies in this—we are not stronger or purer than others, but rather than believing in ourselves, we believe in Jesus, who upholds us whenever we fall, who strengthens us when our strength is drained, who loves us when we are in pain.”

Christians have invited their family and friends, but also have asked their enemies. “Some people have even invited their local police,” Liu said. “The persecuting parties feel like they are also vulnerable: ‘Maybe I could get this virus. Maybe I will die. . . . You are not afraid of death, so maybe something in your faith is quite unique.’”

Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic.

Believers have also done what they can to serve and care, whether next door or around the world. Chinese social media were replete with stories of Christians donating masks and caring for quarantined neighbors.

A Chinese Christian in New York received nearly 6,000 masks from mainland Chinese Christians at the beginning of the pandemic. Those masks came in small packs of 100 or 200, from Chinese brothers and sisters who reported it took as many as nine hours to obtain and ship one such small package.

Long-Term Worries

Even while leaning into short-term opportunities, Chinese pastors see problems ahead. The pandemic likely ushered in the beginning of a new reality.

In the United States, churches radically altered the life of their bodies to conform to pandemic norms. Although some of those modifications will remain, most American churches have already returned to worshiping together. In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days.

“This is not short term,” Wang said. “Even if the pandemic is over, the public space has been squeezed very small for the churches to gather. There is no public space for people to go back to.”

He’s referring to tightening government controls, which mean house churches will no longer be able to rent commercial space for corporate worship, as many have been doing.

In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days. . . . ‘There is no public space for people to go back to.’

Private space is also tightly controlled. These days, nervous neighbors are more likely to report a gathering of 20 strangers. “Basically, you cannot have larger than two families, or three,” Wang said. “That will be a new norm for Chinese churches.”

“The Devil is using this opportunity to crack down on the church, that’s for sure, but God will use it in a different way,” one Chinese pastor said. Before persecution intensified in the last several years, many in China were attracted to the celebrity-pastor model. Gifted teachers attracted national and even international followings.

This new normal means less elevation of central leaders and a sharper focus on smaller groups. As Christian communities are broken down into smaller clusters through plague and persecution, church leaders must raise up a new generation of local leaders equipped to walk their people through marriages, deaths, and family conflicts.

Much of the training has to be indigenous: many missionaries were driven out of mainland China last year. Even after the pandemic ends, the number of overseas workers ministering in China will be much smaller than before the pandemic.

To that end, preparing capable teachers remains a priority.

“Even if today everything is going down, all of a sudden the door could open widely,” Wang said. “It is our responsibility to make that start to happen, so that when the door opens, a group of ready preachers can go to the streets and stadiums and preach the gospel.”

Pandemic and Persecution

The book of James is clear that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Life is a mist that appears and then vanishes.

“The pandemic and the persecution have led to a new situation,” one Chinese pastor said. “We still do a lot of active planning, but more humbly we say, ‘Lord, if you are willing: this is your time. Use it.’ . . . We don’t know what the future holds.”

Chinese Christians have watched God work in uncertain times before. During the Cultural Revolution, believers were forced underground for decades, and many Western observers despaired at the church’s future. But in the 1980s, the Chinese church experienced an explosive period of growth. Today, there may be as many as 100 million Chinese believers.

“Sometimes we feel like God is pretty close to these things; sometimes we feel like God is pretty far,” Liu said. “But we know that everything is under his control, and he is behind everything. Whatever happens is God’s way to prepare his church. He is always preparing his church.”

Aaron Zhang agrees. “Through uncertainty, we depend on our certain God,” he said. “God calls us to live an uncertain life, so that we can trust and rely on him.”

Embattled on All Sides, Does Religious Liberty Have a Future?

Back in the 1990s, religious liberty possessed nearly bipartisan consensus on its importance in American life. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act—now under question in the latest version of the Equality Act—passed in 1993 with overwhelming support and even sponsored by Democratic figureheads Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy. The idea of prominent Democrats lending their support for religious liberty today is simply unheard of. On the Left, the consensus holds that religious liberty gives room to bigotry and poses the final obstacle to the untrammeled success of the sexual revolution and the Imperial Self.

But a new challenge has also arisen among more traditionally conservative avenues. As American culture secularizes at breakneck pace, it’s common to see figures on the right side of the spectrum question whether a laissez-faire approach to religion isn’t partly responsible for the fragmenting of American culture. This argument says America is defined by its founding era’s association with the Christian worldview. The country didn’t arise out of a vacuum, and its unique governing vision is a result of its Christian influence. If America ceases to be Christian, it ceases to be America.

What are Christians to make of this argument?

Institutions Are Essential

There is an element of truth here. I don’t believe nations emerge out of a vacuum. Ideas are enmeshed in cultural ecosystems. If America is stretched beyond its limits, it runs the risk of rejecting the constraints that made its propositional ideals possible. As the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, reflecting on America’s uniquely religious landscape, “Despotism can do without faith, but freedom cannot.”

What I think Tocqueville means is that mediating institutions (family, church, or any voluntary association) must stand as meaning-giving buffers between an all-consuming libertarianism and an all-consuming state. Liberty’s loss is on the horizon when a society stresses only individual meaning or government enacting a utopian vision. Pope Benedict XVI warned against “the dictatorship of relativism.”

Societies need authorities that anchor their foundations beyond mere convention, raw majoritarianism, expressive individualism, and state totalitarianism. That’s where a specific type of religion comes in. It should not strive for utopias. And it should allow for error, within reason, as established by governing bodies.

Challenges from the Left

The challenge is knowing how to use freedoms nobly and virtuously. As Tocqueville said, “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

The challenge is knowing how to use freedoms nobly and virtuously.

Stresses owing to the human condition (whether autonomy or oppression) mean that both the Left and the Right eventually challenge religious liberty.

On the Left, challenges are born not only of sexualized identity politics, but general discomfort with the essence of religion. In 2017, religious scholar Reza Aslan hosted a program on CNN looking at religion and spirituality. He said in a promotional video:

Faith is mysterious. It’s indescribable. And religion is just a language you use to describe your faith. Although we’re all speaking different languages, we’re all saying pretty much the same thing. Religion is about who you are, how you see yourself, your world; that’s what it means to say “I am Christian,” “I am Muslim,” “I am Jewish,” “I am Buddhist,” “I am Hindu.” These are far more statements of identity than they are statements of faith.

This is a deeply troubling way of understanding religion, and explains why some may be skeptical of religious liberty. Not only is it another example of subjugating the transcendent to the personal through identity politics, but it also fundamentally misses the stark differences between religions.

If framed wrongly, religious liberty can easily be confused with a relativist pluralism. In this model, religion is a matter of preference among options that no one can say is true. If religious liberty is concerned with downplaying differences and treating claims of various religions as essentially equal, no wonder some would show caution.

Challenges from the Right

But a similar claim can be found on the Right. This suspicion says supporting the freedom of other religions, or basic viewpoint neutrality, is to invite immorality and idolatry to roam unchecked. To be sure, not all viewpoints are equal. I think there are legitimate ways to curtail obscenity in accordance with the Constitution. But the contest we wage is figuring out how to protect the liberty we enjoy without denying it to others. Leo Strauss referred to the struggle “to reconcile order which is not oppression with freedom which is not license.”

But what of the charge that religious liberty gives space for idolatry to run rampant? On the surface, it has merit. After all, Scripture tells us to flee idolatry, and making room for idolatry to flourish seems incompatible with the New Testament message of Jesus as Lord. Should Christians defend the rights of others to persist in their sin and idolatry? Does religious liberty mean Christians want to see Islam enjoy greater success and gain more converts?

To answer this, we must ask why defending liberty in general is worthwhile. We defend liberty not to protect people’s right to sin, but to protect their ability to live in accordance with their grasp of truth. This doesn’t mean what a person believes is necessarily true, but that the person making a sincere religious claim strives to comprehend truth as best as possible.

To protect the properly ordered use of a good, we make allowances for its misuse. Imagine a society in which every sin was a crime. Outlawing all sin or banning the misuse of something can endanger the architecture of liberty and create an invasive, burdensome, and stifling political society. To protect Christianity, should we really treat non-Christians as lesser citizens or stigmatize religious belief? Of course not. To think Christianity needs legal protections not afforded to other religions is to betray our confidence in the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The gospel, not government, is the power of God unto salvation.

We defend liberty not to protect people’s right to sin, but to protect their ability to live in accordance with their grasp of truth.

This speaks to a fundamental confusion surrounding religious liberty. Religious liberty isn’t about defending the right to idolatry; it’s about defending the cognitive faculties that can grasp religious truth. To allow for people to come to a saving knowledge of faith in Jesus Christ, we must leave room for people to believe error. Religious liberty, then, isn’t about defending the merits of a different religion or equivocating on the differences.

“Moreover, no one argues that individuals have an ultimate theological right to idolatry before God. God does not respect idolatry. And in the fullness of time, all idolatry will be judged. Rather, individuals have a penultimate political right to be uncoerced in their grasp and exercise of their religious faculties. To allow for people to come to a saving knowledge of faith in Jesus Christ authentically, society will have to leave room for people to believe erringly.

Religious liberty recognizes a simple truth: I can’t grasp religious claims for others. Because I can’t convert others by proxy, everyone must reach individual conclusions on who God is—which entails giving space for people to believe error. To protect the true exercise of liberty, we give space for others to believe wrongly. We hope as well that this liberty will give them a pathway to believe the truth.

We shouldn’t fight to defend the merits of anyone’s idolatry, whether born of identity politics or false religion. I want everyone to reach a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’m fighting to defend a context in which communicating Christian truths is not treated with hostility. This way, people can grasp these truths for themselves and live honestly in accordance with the dictates of the gospel.

Our society affirms it’s right and good to be treated equally before the law. We must extend the same freedom to all Americans. We may not like that other religions are given equal access to the public square, but the opposite reality would prove untenable: a society in which all religions are treated with second-class contempt.

Religious liberty recognizes a simple truth: I can’t grasp religious claims for others.

Affirming a shared legal status that allows for all to live faithfully with their conscience—even if in error—is not to defend the merits of another religion. Nor is it willing the advance of a particular religion. It is accepting that for the gospel to be proclaimed, it will have to do so without subsidy from the state. This is as it should be, as I write in Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age.

Realism in a Fallen World

America need not be exhaustively Christian to be America, but neither can it be wholly secular. Embracing this paradox means defending the religious liberty of all faiths. We have to understand, biblically speaking, that governing authorities mustn’t have the power of the sword over religious matters.

The legitimacy of a common social order isn’t tied to the social order uniting around the same religion. God has given us creational orders and natural law to make society habitable. Scripture witnesses to the intelligibility of creation and reason as self-attesting witnesses to God’s authority in the structure and design of the world, which necessarily includes the moral law (Ps. 19:1–3; Rom. 1:32; 2:15).

When we run afoul of these, of course society will endanger itself. But the alternate reality—in which we marginalize or coerce some and banish others—is not in keeping with a New Testament pattern of statecraft or soteriology. Of course, it would be desirable and ideal for society to be composed of regenerate Christians. But that’s not a reality we’re told is possible apart from Christ bringing his kingdom in full.

Religious liberty mustn’t fall victim to hyper-individualism, relativism, or over-realized hegemony. Behind these are anthropological, epistemological, and eschatological errors of assumption—that humanity is defined by desire, skepticism, and power. The allure of moral, religious, and cultural uniformity mustn’t come at the expense of religious freedom.

A baseline of religious liberty is thus essential. Unless all religions receive equal recognition under the law, one religious group will set whatever exacting standards it desires as the basis of societal membership and participation. Whether Catholic versus Protestant, Protestant versus other Protestant, atheist versus evangelical, one group is always tempted to exclude based on some religious or viewpoint criteria.

One thing can be sure: societies are inherently dynamic and majorities often change. The challenge is to preserve a constitutional structure that assumes these dynamics, and that perpetually retrieves their value in each age in order to secure liberty and justice for all.

9 Things You Should Know About Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

On Monday, the Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden as the nation’s next president and Kamala Harris as the next vice president. Here is what you should know about the person who will be the first woman, first African American, and first Asian American vice president in the history of the United States.

1. Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California. Both of her parents were immigrants who came to the United States to pursue a PhD. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was from India and worked as a biomedical researcher on breast cancer. Her father, Donald J. Harris, is originally from Jamaica and taught economics at Stanford University. Her parents divorced when she was 7. In 2014, Harris married Doug Emhoff, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, and became a stepmother to Ella and Cole Emhoff.

2. After graduating high school in 1984, Harris attended Howard University, where she earned a degree in political science and economics. She then attended the University of California Hastings College of the Law. After graduation, she took a job as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, working on sex crimes. In 1994, she took a leave of absence to take an appointment on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later to the California Medical Assistance Commission.

3. From 2004 to 2011, Harris served as district attorney of San Francisco. When she took office, San Francisco County had the highest murder rate (11.1 per 100,000 population) in California. Harris made it a high priority to eliminate a backlog of 73 homicide cases, and by 2006 many of the murderers had been convicted or had reached a plea bargain. The average sentence on the resolved backlogged homicide cases was 24.5 years. In her first two years in office, Harris had an 87 percent conviction rate for homicides and a 90 percent conviction rate for felony gun violations. 

4. As district attorney, Harris faced a scandal when a technician mishandled evidence and stole cocaine from the DA’s crime lab. Harris failed to notify defense attorneys, resulting in about a thousand drug-related cases having to be thrown out. She was also criticized for not proactively assisting in civil cases against Catholic clergy sex abuse. Although she specialized in prosecuting sex crimes and child exploitation, investigations by The Intercept and the Associated Press found Harris was “consistently silent on the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal—first as San Francisco district attorney and later as California’s attorney general.” According to Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service, “Survivors of sex abuse at the hands of priests say she resisted informal requests to help them with their cases and refused to release church records on abusive priests that had been gathered by her predecessor, Terence Hallinan.”

5. Harris was elected as attorney general of California in 2010 and served until 2017. During her tenure her office searched the apartment of pro-life activist David Daleiden and seized the hidden-camera videos that showed Planned Parenthood doctors selling fetal tissue. (In May 2020, Daleiden sued Harris, alleging that she conspired to violate his civil rights through a purportedly bogus prosecution.) She also arrested Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. As a result of the prosecution, Ferrer pled guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, acknowledging that “the great majority” of the adult advertisements on Backpage were actually advertisements for prostitution. As part of his plea agreement Ferrer agreed to shut down the site and give its data to law enforcement

6. Harris was elected as a U.S. senator from California in 2016. Harris served as a member of the Committee on the Budget, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary. As a senator, Harris co-sponsored a congressional bill to weaken the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

7. During her time in the Senate, Harris co-sponsored two abortion bills, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would would establish “federal statutory rights for providers to provide and patients to receive abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions and bans,” and the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which would bar states from introducing private abortion-coverage bans. While running for the presidential nomination in 2019, Harris proposed a plan, modeled on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that would require states that tend to restrict abortion to obtain preclearance by the Department of Justice before enforcing laws affecting access to the procedure. She’s also said she wants to codify access to abortion in federal law in case Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

8. On homosexual and transgender issues, Harris will be the most radical vice president in American history. While serving as attorney general she declined to defend Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. As a senator, she was also a staunch supporter of LGBTQ legislation. During her Democratic primary campaign, she promised to appoint a White House chief advocate for LGBTQ affairs “to ensure that LGBTQ+ Americans are represented in hiring and policy priorities across the government.” She also supports ending the transgender military ban and eliminating religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

9. As a child, Harris went to both a Baptist church and a Hindu temple. She now considers herself a Black Baptist and is a member of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, a congregation of the mainline denomination American Baptist Churches USA. (Her husband is Jewish, making him the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.) Harris says her favorite Bible verse is, “‘We walk by faith and not by sight,’ from the Second Letter to the Corinthians.”

What’s the Future of Religious Freedom in the U.S.?

In this episode of TGC Q&A, Russell Moore and Kristen Waggoner address the question, “What’s the future of religious freedom in the U.S.?” They discuss:

  • Hope for the future of religious freedom (0:29)
  • Why religious freedom is important (1:43)
  • Preparing a church to strengthen the conscience of its people (2:43)
  • Wisdom to differentiate violations of conscience from things that are not (3:58)
  • Religious freedom outside of churches (5:36)
  • Dying to self vs. building precedent for others (7:00)
  • Being faithful and wise and seeing God move in ways we don’t expect (9:36)

Explore more from TGC on the topic of religious freedom.

Transcript

The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Russell Moore: Kristen, you and I worked together a lot on religious freedom issues, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that most people aren’t attorneys. And even if they are, they don’t maybe have the bird’s eye view of everything that’s going on legally. You’re somebody who’s argued religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court and everywhere else, what are some things that Christians need to know about sort of where religious freedom is headed? Are you hopeful? Are you discouraged? What do you think legally?

Kristen Waggoner: Well, I’m hopeful. I mean, first of all as a Christian, I think we’re called to be people of hope. But second, just in terms of the legal realm, we are seeing the Supreme Court decide cases that are affirming the right of all people, any faith, to be able to live consistent and peacefully with their convictions. And so we’re very optimistic. I mean, especially even just this last term where the court issued two strong religious freedom decisions, Masterpiece Cakeshop as well as the Niffler decision, that set the stage even for these cultural flashpoints for the court to again affirm that people of all faiths and people of no faith should not be forced to speak messages or to live in a way that’s inconsistent with their core convictions.

Russell Moore: Yeah. One of the things that I’m concerned about within the church is that sometimes I see people who are either naively hopeful, everything’s just going to work out. Or they’re apocalyptic, everything is just going to crush us underneath their feet, when in reality it’s a kind of best of times, worst of times situation. So one of the major things that I’m concerned about is making sure that we have Christians who know why they believe in religious freedom, not just for themselves, but for everybody so that we can live out our convictions and seek to persuade one another of the truth claims that we have. And that means spending a lot of time working through what does conscience mean? What does it mean for people to be creating the image of God? Why does it do harm to people if their consciences are being impinged upon? And so a lot of that, in my view, starts in children’s Sunday school and working its way forward from [crosstalk 00:02:44]

Kristen Waggoner: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think if I think about the future, the one area that concerns me the most, isn’t what happens legally. It’s what’s happening in our own churches. You know, understanding of biblical sexual ethic. W Genesis 1:27 means, why God created man and woman. Why following those principles are so important, not just for believers, but for human flourishing in general. And there’s so many things that ERLC is doing, I think, to contribute to the churches, to help them be prepared, to talk about these issues. You know, we both have teenagers and the struggles that my own kids come home with, the conversations that are happening, even in their Christian schools, you know, how do we approach this with compassion and love, but also wisdom and a conviction about our beliefs?

You know, at ADF we talk about our role is to defend the right to be able to speak and live consistent with our beliefs. But how hollow is that right if the church doesn’t speak up and actually have the courage to say, “This is what we believe.” So would you mind just sharing a little bit about some of the things that you’re doing to, again, I know you’ve got the book, The Storm-Tossed Family, which has been so helpful in that front.

Russell Moore: Well, a lot of it is, sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made. I mean, think of, in one case, Jesus says, “We’ll pay the temple tax. We don’t need to, but we’re going to pay it so that we don’t offend them.” And then in other cases, the church has called too to say, “We can’t obey this, we have to obey God rather than men.” And so sometimes it takes the wisdom to work through and say what actually is a violation of conscience and what is something that we can say we’re going to be all things to all people. And some of that really comes down to, I find with Christians, sometimes people assume, well, because my conscience isn’t burdened or bothered by that, then I shouldn’t worry about whether or not yours is, which Bible teaches us otherwise to act according to conscience of sin, Paul says in Romans 12 through 14. So learning to be able to respect consciences even when we disagree and say the government shouldn’t have the power to pave over that, that’s really an important piece of it as well.

Kristen Waggoner: I agree. And one of the things it reminds me of is so many times in the cases involving creative professionals, and someone will say, “Well, just bake the cake”, or, “Just design the flowers”, or “just create the film.” And I think what so many forget is we sink or swim together. So shifting back to the legal arena, if the government has the power to crush someone because of their convictions, it’s very naive to think that it won’t also crush you. We all have our convictions and our alliance and if the government has unlimited power in that way, eventually we all will be forced to violate our convictions.

Russell Moore: One of the things that comes up often, I was just having a conversation a few minutes ago about Christian schools and universities and nonprofits and homeless shelters and pregnancy resource centers and other, once you get outside of the church, where do you see the future of religious freedom as related to them?

Kristen Waggoner: Well, I think it’s a time to have clarity to our convictions. You know, a time of sifting in my mind. I think it’s essential in particular that Christian religious institutions are thinking about what are our convictions in these flashpoint areas, whether it be the right to a whole life, an ethic of life, whether it be sexual orientation and gender identity. What are our convictions and how do we live those out on our campuses? And, as you know, there’s right now today, there’s a hearing on the Equality Act in Congress, and that’s a federal law that is designed to force everyone to affirm gender identity ideology. And that’s going to wreak all kinds of consequences on our communities, on our schools, and it has no religious exemptions, which is, it’s scary. So I think it’s a time for religious institutions to think about what are our convictions, how do we educate our constituencies on what those are and adopt policies to live by them? What are you seeing?

Russell Moore: Well, one of the things that concerns me is that sometimes you have people that think, “Well, Jesus calls us to [inaudible] we’re not to clamor for our own rights, and so that means we’ll simply surrender them.” And what I think people don’t realize is the biblical pattern of, for instance, Paul appealing all the way up to Agrippa because it’s not just about his personal situation. What’s happening in these cases is they’re building precedents, either cultural precedents or legal precedents, that are actually going to be affecting future generations and future people.

So sometimes the question is not just am I willing to be persecuted, but in my actions, am I actually empowering the persecution of other people? And that’s a real question I think sometimes is confusing. So for some non-profits and educational institutions, standing and saying, “We’re going to stand up for our rights in this case”, isn’t about self, it’s actually about protecting freedom of conscience for other people, people that you may not even know in your lifetime.

Kristen Waggoner: Right. Well, one of the things that’s been so concerning to me in the Christian education context are schools that are willing to compromise and essentially impose laws on those in the marketplace or those in other spheres in order to protect themselves. And I think what is so disheartening about that is the whole purpose of Christian education is to train people to go into the world, to live out their faith in a dynamic way. And so the idea that we would protect for ourselves and the religious institutions, our own rights, but not also seek to protect the common good and those that we’re serving, is frightening.

I mean, we have a case right now involving a mission where essentially the government is saying you either will admit men to your women’s shelter, and they’re serving women who have been sex trafficked, experienced domestic violence. I mean, they’re in real jeopardy. And for the sake of ideology, they are having to face closing the shelter. And in one sense it’s a bit frightening, but in another courage begets courage. And when that mission stands and they win that, it helps others to stand. And I think it will affirm the principle in law as well.

Russell Moore: And when you think about what Christians and other religious people are doing in terms of orphan care, in terms of human trafficking and other things, it actually, having people with religious convictions, living out those convictions, actually benefits even people who are very hostile to that in the long-term. So we’re not just fighting for ourselves, we’re also fighting for our mission field too.

Kristen Waggoner: Oh, absolutely. And I think, you know, as Christians, one of the things I hear as well, “Well, we need to have our eyes wide open as to what the future is.” Well, absolutely we do. But we also know that the scripture tells us that God is working at all times. And our role is to be faithful, to be wise and to stand. And His role is to determine the outcome of it. And so many times, I mean, even in our own cases I’ve seen, people take difficult stands and in the process the gospel is lived out and people are coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus, which is the whole goal of our faith in the first place.

Russell Moore: Yeah, that gets back to where we started this. Sometimes people have this dark apocalyptic view of the future in a way that paralyzes them. We have to remind ourselves we’re the church, we’ve lived through the Roman Empire and it’s collapsed. We lived through all sorts of things and Jesus is still building His church.


Editors’ note: 

This episode of TGC Q&A is brought to you by Operation Christmas Child. National Collection Week is November 16 through 23. Visit SamaritansPurse.org/OCC to learn how gift-filled shoeboxes will result in evangelism and discipleship for millions of children this year.