Pastor's Corner

August 2021

Our Response to Persecution

We are blessed to live in a country whose founding principles include strong opposition to religious persecution by governing authorities. This is a natural consequence of the circumstances surrounding our founding. While many colonists settled these shores for economic reasons, many others made their way to the New World specifically to escape religious persecution in Europe. Their experience with persecution by governing authorities in the countries they left behind led them to establish a nation that explicitly protected religious liberty for all its citizens. This effort culminated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Though the word “persecution” does not appear in this amendment, the idea is clearly present. Persecution can take the form of “prohibiting the free exercise” of one’s religion; of “abridging the freedom of speech,” e.g., speech promoting the teachings of one’s faith; “or of the press,” e.g., churchley publications; “or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” e.g., for public worship according to the dictates of their conscience. The First Amendment certainly protects political speech, publication, and assembly, but it just as surely and intentionally protects religious speech, publication, and assembly. In short, the First Amendment is the crystallization of our founding generation’s opposition to religious persecution of every description.

This founding commitment had implications that are still felt today. Our country’s opposition to religious persecution meant that those who sailed across the Atlantic to establish the Missouri Synod could find here a safe haven from the religious persecution they experienced at the hands of the secular authorities in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Our dedication to religious liberty put pressure on other advanced countries to enshrine the same principles in their own constitutions. The religious liberty and safety from religious persecution enjoyed by so much of the world today is directly attributable to the founding of the United States, under the gracious providence of Almighty God.

But persecution still exists in our world. Islamic countries continue to relegate Christians to the status of second-class citizens, and if Muslims in such countries convert to Christianity, they are threatened with death. Totalitarian communist regimes such as those in Red China and Cuba threaten Christian dissenters (and those of other religions) with torment and death. Many less developed countries lack the ability or the will to protect their religious minorities, including Christians, from mob persecution.

Alarming as that may be, even in more advanced nations the specter of religious persecution is arising anew. One especially egregious example is Finland, where two prominent citizens, the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish member of Parliament, are facing criminal charges for aligning themselves with the teaching of Holy Scripture that homosexuality is a sinful deviation from God’s intention for marriage between man and wife. In fact, this situation has grown so serious that the leaders of the Lutheran church bodies making up the International Lutheran Council (ILC), including our own Missouri Synod, recently released a signed statement protesting this action and warning against the global consequences if such religious persecution by governing authorities is allowed to continue.

Nor are we immune in the United States. Our First Amendment only protects us as far as it is respected by those in authority, and as the experience of Barronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips proves, even our Supreme Court is no longer willing to protect the religious liberty of American citizens who do not wish to participate in speech that promotes homosexuality. The Equality Act, which still has the potential to become law, would further expose Christians to religious persecution by our governing authorities.

How do we respond to this? First, pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing persecution throughout the world. Pray that they would be delivered, and that as long as it pleases God for them to endure persecution, they would remain firm and steadfast to the end. Second, pray for ourselves, who have not yet experienced persecution, that it would not descend upon us and that we would be in solidarity with those who are persecuted. Finally, if persecution does come to us, let us follow the example of the Apostles, who underwent persecution “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).


God's Blessings to All,

Pastor Neuendorf

 
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