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Lose Religious Freedom, Lose Life

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I combined two articles for this post: one from Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, the other from the One Year Book of Christian History.

On February 23, 303, the day before the Roman feast Terminalia, an edict was posted that ordered all copies of Scripture to be burned, all churches destroyed, their property confiscated, and Christian worship forbidden. Additional measures were decreed the next day: Christians who resisted no longer had legal recourse. Christians were deprived of any honors and public office, and Christians in the royal household would be enslaved if they did not recant. Thus the Great Persecution began, although it was not uniformly enforced. Many Christians first learned of the edicts as they watched their churches go up in smoke.

A third edict, ordering Christian clergy arrested, resulted in a state crisis when the prisons filled, crowding out real criminals. To deal with this problem, the next edict stated that Christian prisoners would be released if they sacrificed to Roman gods. The prison guards could compel them by any means possible to make these sacrifices. But the proclamations didn’t stop there. In early 304 another edict insisted that everyone in the Roman empire—clergy and laity alike— sacrifice to Roman gods. Every Christian was now in jeopardy.

Flash forward several hundred years…

Youcef Nadarkhani is an Iranian Christian pastor. He was arrested back in 2009 for protesting compulsory Islamic religious instruction in the public school system. Although initially charged with protesting, an illegal act, the charges were amended to apostasy and evangelizing Muslims.

When asked by a judge to “repent” of his behavior, Pastor Nadarkhani’s response was blunt:

“Repent means to return. What should I return to?” he asked. “To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?”

The judge replied, “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.”

To which the imprisoned Christian replied, “I cannot.”

What courage! What boldness!

To most Americans, this story seems to be half a world away, and not only geographically speaking. And although we’re saddened and startled by it, we’re not necessarily shocked. After all, it’s Iran. Religious freedom is a foreign concept in a nation where government oppression is the standing order of the day.

But I wonder if the news of Pastor Nadarkhani’s arrest isn’t closer to home than you think? All throughout America secularists are committed to controlling Christian speech and even criminalizing behavior.

How is the state of religious freedom faring in America today?

You might recall that on two separate occasions, in Arizona and California, individuals were fined and threatened for hosting Bible studies in their respective homes. In both of the situations officials cited them for violating local zoning regulations. In Virginia, five men were ordered to stop sharing their faith on a Richmond sidewalk. Several public officials in North Carolina have been told they’re prohibited from praying before meetings. New York City officials have just announced that 68 churches who rent public school space over the weekends will no longer be allowed to do so.

I’m not suggesting the oppression that some believers are experiencing in the United States is on par with what’s happening in Iran. But the common denominator is the loss of religious freedom. And when it comes to our religious liberties, to lose even a little is to lose a lot.

Rarely do free societies and cultures collapse overnight in some single stroke. Freedom is often dismantled one right at a time. Here at Focus on the Family, we’re watching and working to help ensure that the basic rights of religious freedom for individuals and families are preserved and protected. They are among our first principles. Of our pursuit and mission we are confident regardless of what the evolving culture may bring. We can and must act with confidence and boldness.

It is in times of trial and testing when our faith is strengthened most. As believers we have solid confidence that even though things are difficult, God is in full control of all time and space.

We don’t know what will come of Pastor Nadarkhani’s short-term fate. We need to pray for him. I hope you’ll join me in doing so. Thankfully, we do know of his ultimate fate because his eternal future is safe and secure in Jesus.

UPDATE:  Media outlets are now reporting that a trial court in Iran has ordered the death of Pastor Nadarkhani. At this hour it’s unclear if he is entitled to an appeal.

I posted an urgent report on this Pastor over a year ago with two subsequent posts (here and here) updating his lack of progress in Iranian courts. The situation is now critical. Read this report from Focus on the Family and see the similarities between what’s happening in Iran to what’s happening in America in regard to loss of religious freedom. Addition material is also from The Year Book of Christian History.

30 Comments

  1. Religious freedom includes not having religion forced down your throat

    • I have to pay a lot of money for my kids to attend a school where your religion of evolution isn’t forced down their throats. What about their rights? You owe me at least 12 grand.

      • “religion of evolution”

        That ranks right up there with “if we came from monkeys why are there still monkeys”.

      • Fortunately, the rules aren’t based around your ignorance.

      • Religious freedom means secular public schools, Glen. This is a simple, indisputable fact. The only reason you consider the theory of evolution to be religious is your bitterness at having science reject your silly dogma.

      • You use the term “religion”. I don’t think you know what it means…

      • Hi Glenn,

        Do your kids go to a public or a private school?

        Please look up the word “religion”. Then, please explain how the scientific theory of evolution is, in any way, a “religion”.

        Do you get upset when the religion of gravity is forced down their throats? How about the religion of microbes? Or the religion of volleyball? What about the religion of algebra and geometry?! So many religions!

        If your kids go to a high school or lower, my bet is that they’re barely learning anything about the theory of evolution, much less it being “forced down their throats”. Kinda reminds me of a roommate I once had who claimed that the existence of TV shows with gay characters were forcing homosexuality “down his throat”. Not like he couldn’t… oh, I don’t know… change the channel?

        Thanks! 😀

      • Sorry to break it to you folks, but the Supreme Court has ruled (probably many years before most of you intellectual giants were born) that a school of thought doesn’t have to maintain any belief in a supreme being in order to be considered a religion.

      • If you want to discuss court cases Glen, should we discuss how court cases go on the subject of teaching creationism in schools?

      • Glenn wrote:

        Sorry to break it to you folks, but the Supreme Court has ruled (probably many years before most of you intellectual giants were born)

        Ouch, Glenn! I hope that wasn’t a passive-aggressive insult!

        that a school of thought doesn’t have to maintain any belief in a supreme being in order to be considered a religion.

        I didn’t say it had to. Let’s go back and look again at what I said:

        please explain how the scientific theory of evolution is, in any way, a “religion”.

        So, explain how the theory of evolution is “a school of thought” that the supreme court would consider it a religion.

        Again, I ask this basic question: how is the theory of evolution, in a way, a religion?

        Lastly, do your children go to a public school, or a private school, Glenn? Are your children *actually* taught evolution, much less it being forced down their throats?

  2. See, Steve, here’s the thing.

    If you’re going to combine two articles, maybe you shouldn’t choose two that are diametrically opposed. Because here’s a summary of what you ended up with.

    “Here’s a bad thing that happens when you let a religion take over a country. So let’s try to make the church stronger!”

    • I see them as directly related, Nameless.

      You wrote this summary: “Here’s a bad thing that happens when you let a religion take over a country. So let’s try to make the church stronger!”

      I write this: “Here’s a bad thing that happens when you let a false religion take over a country. So let’s try to make the church stronger!”

      This is why Christians need to stand guard and vote their consciences. This is why we need to preach the Word more faithfully. This is why we need to be patient with all those who are lost and w/o hope in this world.

      • So you really don’t want religious freedom. You want exceptions and preference for your religion.

        You’re hedging dangerously close to the Iranian mentality, Steve.

      • Unfortunately, we have no empirical way of determining a ‘true’ religion. Most religious people passionately and sincerely believe that their’s are the ‘true’ beliefs and all other beliefs are ‘false’.

        Really, a secular society is the way to go. Each person should have the freedom of their beliefs (provided their practices don’t violate any secular laws).

  3. Where is freedom of religion mentioned in the Bible?

  4. Ah, but you seem so sure that yours is the correct religion. Let me suggest some people who might not agree: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, the Dalai Lama, Tom Cruise, and Carl Levin.

    You know, just off the top of my head.

    Can you name me a theocracy that has ever turned out well?

  5. Is some Christian going to tell me where I can find freedom of religion in the Bible?

    • Sorry, Les. Bible doesn’t support anything except straight-up “Do as I say” Jesus-hugging. (2 John 1:9-11, John 14:6)

      See, they only want “Freedom of MY Religion”

      • Yeah, it seems that in the Bible anyone who tried to practice a different religion paid for it with their life. Kinda like in Iran.

  6. Christians have major cases of Fatwa, Jihad, and Theocracy envy.

  7. Jim:
    To answer your quotes, God, the God of the bible, the only true God, does not work through political atavism in His church! Never has – never will!
    Incidentally, Gary Potter & North need to have their heads examined!

    “the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.”

    The absence of sin will only be realized when those who have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice experience heaven as their final destination.

    • God, the God of the bible, the only true God, does not work through political atavism in His church! Never has – never will!

      How do you know this? I don’t believe I’ve come across scripture that suggests it…

  8. Steve L:

    And there’s the problem. You can say “Gary Potter & North need to have their heads examined” all you want. But there are still people out there like Potter and North, and D. James Kennedy, who coined (or perhaps “gave us”) the term Dominionism, in his 1987 book “The Changing of the Guard.”

    Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ-to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

    But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice.

    It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.

    It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.

    It is dominion we are after.

    World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.

    • Nameless Cynic quotes:
      “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ-to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.”

      No such mandate anywhere in scripture pertaining to Fascism! Our dear Lord Jesus came as a servant, not a dictator! Our Lord’s disciples often argued over which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom but Jesus had to remind them that their model for ministry was not a Roman official who who ruled with an iron fist, but the Savior Himself who came as a humble servant.

      (Phil) 2:7 “but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

      I like the words of C.S. Lewis, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

    • Yet if one of us were to point out that Jesus apparently said “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” our comment would get deleted because we aren’t allowed to use the bible.

    • Steve L.,

      No such mandate anywhere in scripture pertaining to Fascism!

      Yes, but I didn’t write it, I just quoted it. You can say no such bible verse exists, but that point is entirely moot, isn’t it?

      That’s what we mean when we talk about the threat of Theocracy.

  9. Steve, christians shouldn’t talk about religious freedom. Especially ones that seek to convert anything that stands on two legs and can count to two.

  10. Really?:
    I’ve never read such a profound statement! Where did you acquire such wisdom? I’m gasping for breath!

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