On August twenty-first of this year I wrote an article titled “Church and State in a Pandemic.” I wrote, “There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised tensions in America between church and state. In an especially egregious ruling the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Nevada mandate that allowed casinos and other businesses to reopen while applying greater restrictions on houses of worship.
“There is no constitutional right to gamble while the right to free exercise of religion is enshrined in the first words of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’”
I commented further, “I find it a curious fact that when it comes to the church influencing government many are quick to cry ‘separation of church and state,’ but when it comes to the state interfering with the church that wall of separation disappears.”
While I still stand squarely behind those statements believing the U. S. Supreme Court issued a remarkably bad ruling, and in doing so discriminated against churches by compromising their constitutional right to the “free exercise” of their faith; discrimination does not rise to the level of persecution.
Writing for Christianity Today Knox Thames in an article titled “Coronavirus Church Closures Are Not Persecution,” asserts church closures during the pandemic do not equate to persecution. He draws his argument from a 20-year career spent in fighting for international religious freedom. He goes on to give three reasons why the church closures we have witnessed should not be considered persecution.
“First, a significant difference is motive. Most public servants are trying their level best to balance civil rights against concerns about public health, all with imperfect information while under a microscope in an unprecedented situation.” The motive is for health reasons, not anti-religion reasons.
“A second difference is duration. When churches are closed for health reasons, the move is temporary until conditions improve.” In those countries where churches are persecuted they are shuttered indefinitely, burned, or bulldozered.
“Third, and most importantly, the biggest difference is that persecution is brutal and violent.” In many places around the world believers are imprisoned, beaten or tortured for what they believe. That has not happened here in America, yet.
The writer of Hebrews reminded Jewish Christians, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin,” Hebrews 12:4. The sinful attacks on their faith had not yet resulted in the loss of blood by being beaten or martyred. Sometimes American Christians are too quick to whine at the slightest perceived threat.
Thames continued, “In short, what is happening in the U.S. is not persecution. It’s disruptive. It’s painful. It’s inconvenient. It’s possibly illegal in some cases. But it’s not persecution.”
Besides, Peter enjoined us “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name,” 1 Peter 4:16.