Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Persecution in America?

On March 5, Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor were arrested by Iranian security forces and labeled "anti-government activists," according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).

Marzieh and Maryam's apartment was searched and their belongings were confiscated. "Their only crime is that they are committed Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus," FCNN added. " They are being unfairly labeled as 'anti government activists' because of the hostility of the government towards practicing Christians."

The above report from Voice of the Martyrs went on to say that the two ladies are allowed only a one minute phone call per day to family. On their last call (March 28), Mazieh said, “I am dying.”

Such is the reality faced by followers of Jesus Christ in Iran and other parts of the world. This shouldn’t really surprise us, because Jesus said in John 15:20 “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” In fact, scripture indicates that persecution will likely increase in during the last days (Matthew 24:9-13). Studies indicate that Christian persecution has dramatically increased over the past century when compared to the previous centuries. Not surprisingly, God's word confirms this trend. We read in 2 Timothy 3:1 and 12, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come… Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

(The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jn 15:25)

As Christian believers in America, we have, for the most part, been free of persecution. Of course there have been instances of ridicule and mocking, but as far as physical persecution it has been minimal in our country. We should thank God every day for the freedom we have had to share our faith and live our Christian lives without fear of imprisonment. However, a recent report reveals that we may start being labeled as “anti government activists” even as the Iranian government labeled Marzieh and Maryam.

An unclassified report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assessed the dangerous rise in right wing extremism amidst the current economic and political climate. This report was not intended to receive media coverage, but still found its way into the public eye. The report clarifies at the outset,

The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing* terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues.”

So, even though there is no evidence of any threats of violence by ‘right wing extremists,’ the DHS has sent this report to local law enforcement agencies to start monitoring these ‘right wing extremists.’ Now you may be asking, “What groups are they referring to?” This is where it gets quite interesting. Usually, this type of report mentions specific groups to watch, but this report mentions no specific groups. Instead, it generalizes rightwing extremism with the following definition:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

The broad strokes used to paint rightwing extremism should be concerning for everyone, because it covers such a wide spectrum of our population. Ironically, it would even seem to include America’s founding fathers if they were alive today. Our founding fathers desired to minimize federal authority and added to the 10th amendment to ensure the rights of the states. The founding fathers also inscribed their belief in the “inalienable right to life” upon the Declaration of Independence. Yet, when we look at the DHS's definition above, those two issues are construed as rightwing extremism.

Now I recognize that there are individuals who hold those positions and take extremist actions. There are those who have blown up abortion clinics, shot abortion doctors, and exchanged gunfire with law enforcement while holed up in some militia compound. But the DHS report uses a broad enough definition to implicate every believer who holds dear the sanctity of life as a potential ‘rightwing extremist.’

This report also raises suspicions about those who embrace “end times prophecies.” Under the heading “Economic Hardship and Extremism” on page 4 the report declares, “Antigovernment conspiracy theories and ‘end times’ prophecies could motivate extremist individuals and groups to stockpile food, ammunition, and weapons.”

Now I can understand the DHS’s concern about groups stockpiling weapons (though under the fourth amendment that is legal), but why mention stockpiling food? As I understand prophecy, difficulties will intesify and stockpiling food might not be a bad idea. Yet, now that is considered a ‘rightwing extremist’ attitude.

We have been blessed as American believers to enjoy freedom from persecution, but scripture never promises that we’ll always enjoy such freedom. I think we will begin to see more persecution directed at believers from a variety of sources including the government. Wisdom instructs us to prepare for such a reality. Prepare yourself mentally and prepare yourself spiritually. Pray for the grace and strength to persevere. Hide God’s word in your heart. We take for granted the accessibility of scripture, but there may be someday when it isn’t available. Scripture memory has value even apart from persecution. One verse you might begin with is John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

No matter the conflicts and trials ahead, Jesus Christ is our peace and victory! Amen.

(Warning: reading this blog may designate you as a ‘rightwing extremist’ by the Department of Homeland Security)

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