Seriously? Coronavirus is a dress rehearsal for persecution of the American church?

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Ben Sciacca’s Gospel Coalition piece on “Coronavirus as Dress Rehearsal” had me fooled. Aha! I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. The pandemic is a dress rehearsal—a foretaste, a harbinger, a portent—for far more serious things to come. Conservative evangelicalism in America really is moving in the right direction.

Lots of people, Sciacca says, think that the pandemic will blow over quickly and everything will return to business as usual. But we don’t know that for sure.

When Jeremiah complained to God that people were ignoring him, he got the ominous response: “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” (Jer. 12:5).

“What if our present battle with COVID-19 is just the footrace?” Sciacca wonders. “Perhaps our competition with horses is yet to come.”

Yes, exactly right!

How long can we live with social distancing, with no access to schools, gyms, churches, book groups? How are we going to cope with the inevitable economic slump?

We could be in crisis mode for a long time. But, Sciacca suggests, we may “derive great benefits if we endure—even embrace—this current crucible as a dress rehearsal rather than a mere season of suffering”.

So three things to consider, as he sees it.

First, it’s an opportunity to live with scarcity. Yes, I’m thinking, climate change could have a massive impact on global food supply.

Secondly, Jesus warned his followers not to be rich fools who store up wealth for the future (Lk. 12:13-21). Yes, to be sure, the looming environmental crisis will devastate economies, ruin pension schemes.

Thirdly, “Christians are learning how to connect, worship, and commune through new and creative measures”. Well, yes, that’s true, and it’s putting the internet under considerable strain….

But then it suddenly becomes clear that he’s not talking about climate change at all or anything remotely connected with it.

Under coronavirus lockdown the church is having to learn to pursue its mission in the face of adversity and constraint just in case persecution is coming. “The strain of footraces and our willingness to faithfully stay the course will give us the grit and resolve to run with the horses when that day comes.”

Coronavirus is a dress rehearsal for persecution. And to press the point him he quotes Hebrews: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).

Seriously? The American church is more fearful of persecution than climate catastrophe?

What the church should really worry about is indifference, being ignored.

Or is that what he means by persecution? I suppose Jeremiah might have agreed with him on that point at least.

There are probably sociologists or even just smarter people who can deal with this better than I can, but I am an American Christian.

We have enjoyed the privilege of being the default power structure in this country for a long time. American Christianity also has a deep fundamentalist streak that is probably why our secularization is taking longer than other places.

Because we’ve been at the top of the heap for so long and the de facto gate, anything that looks like taking that power away or offering other groups that same power looks like persecution to us.

The -fear- of irrelevance is probably a driver, here, but right now, it’s probably more about loss of power and/or other groups enjoying the voice Christians have enjoyed for so long. So, for instance, Starbuck’s telling people “Happy Holidays” so as not to privilege Christmas among their clientele is persecution. Having to recognize same-sex marriage as legal is persecution. Christian prayer being removed from public schools and the Ten Commandments being removed from court houses - persecution.

Because our social position is changing more rapidly and decisively than at other times in history (or at least it’s clearer that this is happening), there’s an unparalleled level of panic, which is accompanied by an unparalleled level of cozying up to politicians who will save us from this loss of power.

What Ben might have meant by it, I don’t know. The TCG folks aren’t always exactly in step with white American evangelicalism, but close enough. But when you find someone in the media or in the pulpit complaining about “Christian persecution” in America, the example is almost always that some other group now has the level of consideration we’ve enjoyed.

That’s a helpful analysis. I’m not a sociologist of religion. Nor an American Christian.

There’s a difference, isn’t there, between persecution of a minority group by the dominant culture and the slow historical marginalisation of a once dominant culture?

The church in Europe, by most measures, is already a marginalised entity, seen as out-dated and regressive. It is now very much a minority position to hold, but the church is not being persecuted. It is simply being ignored. The world is moving on. If it wasn’t for the buildings, most people wouldn’t know it still existed.

The church in America, however, is still in the painful throes of marginalisation—perhaps where the church in Europe was at the end of the nineteenth century. That’s not persecution, that’s war, that’s regime change, progress. I guess there could come a point where it becomes socially and legally very difficult to live with integrity as a believer in Jesus, but I can’t really see the world being that bothered.

I think I could take Sciacca’s concerns more seriously if we could hear a note of hope for our world as the crisis deepens—a genuine gospel.

I doubt that being persecuted for a narrow set of moral commitments would achieve very much in the absence of a compelling message about the relevance of the living God for us now.

Yes, there is a very big difference between being persecuted and not being listened to, anymore.

One of the features that I think is particularly interesting in all of this in America is this notion of equalization actually being persecution. In other words, another group receiving the same rights that you do is seen as persecution.

I’m not saying this is unique to America, exactly, but it’s an interesting dynamic given that the First Amendment our Constitution prohibits the government from the “establishment” of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. No particular religion is specified in these clauses.

But when it comes to allowing other religions into the public square in a manner Christianity has traditionally enjoyed, or more to the point, removing Christianity’s special privileges in the public square that other religions do not enjoy, that is viewed as government persecution. So, high schools not being allowed to lead the audience of a football game in prayer is persecution, but suggest that Muslims should be allowed to have everyone in the stands face Mecca and be led in a rakat Salat and see how well that goes over.

Interestingly, a similar phenomenon is also happening with the (gradual) increase of gender and racial equality. White males (I belong to this group) often see measures to remove their privileged position or improve the position of other groups as persecution against whites or males. Cf. the reaction to Black Lives Matter, or heck, Black History Month.

Yes. I think privileged Americans in general are very out of step with what actual persecution looks and feels like. A certain segment of Americans is currently fond of comparing the government regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to Nazi Germany.

The thought has occurred to me that the pandemic is likely to be a kind of “beginning of sorrows”, though not the beginning of which Jesus spoke, that having taken place in the lifetime of his hearers. Of course, for people in many lands, and for many of the less affluent even in the more “fortunate” lands, the sorrows that may be beginning for us began long ago.

In the (US evangelical and fundamentalist) contexts I have seen, a significant element of the reaction to marginalization has (it seems to me) been rooted in fear that a changing culture would seduce the children of believing parents away from proper behavior and earn for them post-mortem punishments. Of course, rescuing people from post-mortem punishments has been a big piece of the raison d’etre of the US evangelical movement, and this retreat into reactive and self-protective fear strikes me as a fundamental shift.

As for future persecution, I have been expecting that US, and within US, the conservative church movements, would at some point come to be regarded to be a “menace to public health”, and be treated accordingly, because of their obstructionism on climate science. I didn’t anticipate that a faster acting public health emergency would make the point sooner.

WIthout stepping into the furball below, I will note (drily) that the reputational damage that will be suffered by groups that insist on their right to infect one other (there’s a “one another” that Paul did not anticipate, and would never have advocated) may far exceed the consequences of actual policies of persecution. And if that happens, it will be well-deserved. God is not mocked, which I think is an accurate summary of Andrews suggestions for how we should interpret the pandemic in the context of human rule and misrule over the world.

There is an inherent risk for all things in life. The vast majority of “infections” do not lead to death.

Step into the furball!

I agree with you, although much like the furball, I don’t think that appeal will affect many of the people who are convinced of their present martyrdom. Most American fundamentalists a long time ago made their peace with looking like fools or rebels and take such criticism as a sign that they’re being obedient, much like the apostles as they see it.

What’s kind of interesting is that these same people usually have an interesting relationship with Romans 13. If you defy Trump, then you are disobeying apostolic instruction. But if you defy your city’s COVID-19 regulations, then you’re a patriot and Jesus approves of your stand.

Another Pauline admonition that comes to mind is the concept of voluntarily restricting one’s liberty in order to protect others — in Paul’s specific instance, to protect the consciences of weaker beliecers, but the principle surely has wider applicability.

I believe it was Jonathan Edwards who asserted (perhaps in his “The Nature of True Virtue”) that Christians should be the most public-spirited of all humanity.

Then no one should drive their car to church because there are thousands of people each year that die in car accidents.

I think that you consistently miss the disproportion of scale of risk between on-off events and infectious disease transmission.

Thinking like this does the churches no credit, and perhaps is part of the reason for the decline in influence that so grieves them. Good luck with that.

Good luck with bowing to the edicts of a government who said the lockdown will contnue until the flattening of the curve…when this already took place weeks ago.

Yes, that’s another big hurdle for certain segments of American Christianity. Our American Constitutional government has become so conflated with our expression of Christianity coupled with American virtues like “individualism” and “independence” have basically made the assertions of an individual’s rights and freedoms into a divine mandate.

This is, of course, at odds with Paul’s advice, where we should be thinking more of how we can benefit others, and if limiting our rights and liberties accomplishes that, then we absolutely should limit them.

Marc Taylor | Sat, 05/23/2020 - 15:14 | Permalink

I believe this virus is a dress rehearsal for the persecution of the American church. Chuches are forced to remain closed which prohibits us the free exercise of our religion. (See the 1st Amendment)

So you think that some time in the future churches in America will be prevented from the free exercise of their religion? How would you see that happening?

They are being prevented from exercising their religion right now. They can’t attend church. Now this not as extreme as it could be, but it is a start.

This isn’t Christian persecution. NO public gatherings are allowed. Muslims can’t go to mosque. Jews can’t go to synagogue. Atheists can’t meet with their freethinker book club. Model train clubs can’t have their meetings.

My church has been worshipping together online for the past several weeks, and while it isn’t the same as in person worship, we’re taking care of our congregation members and their families by distancing right now. The government has not stopped us or banned Christianity or branded us with the mark of the beast or any of the things I’m sure you’re thinking is coming.

It is persecution because if anyone attempts to physically attend church they will be arrested. I agree that others have their rights trampled on as well. It is not either/or but both/and.

If something applies equally to everyone, it’s not Christian persecution. The church isn’t being persecuted if Christians are affected by something that affects all other people and groups the exact same way.

It is true that people of any religion and no religion at all can be arrested for violating public health and safety directives issued by the government. That’s hardly persecution of the church. If I release a cage of poisonous snakes into a public area because Jesus said, “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions,” and I get arrested and thrown in jail, that’s not persecution of the church.

Now, if there weren’t a public health and safety crisis with directives that affected every group in the exact same way, and the government arrested people for going to Christian churches for the simple fact that they were going to Christian churches, and they left everyone else alone, THAT would be persecution of the church.

It is Christian persecution and it is religious persecution. Abortion offices remain opened. That is an essential, but going to church (even one conducted outside) is not essential.

Abortion offices are not a voluntary public assembly, nor is having an abortion a religious observance. There is literally no equivalence between going to church and having an abortion.

The issue is that the government does not want people gathering in large numbers. A church service falls into that category, as does literally every other large public assembly. People are not being arrested for going to church; they’re being arrested for conducting a large public assembly.

For instance, right now in Kansas, you can have a gathering of 30 people. A few weeks ago it was 10. If you got together with nine other Christians and had a worship service, you would have been totally, 100% unbothered by anyone. This week, if you get together with 29 other Christians for a worship service, that is 100% totally ok.

There is absolutely nothing about this issue that is religious in nature or singles Christianity out in any way, shape, or form. There is no way at all to make this out to be Christian persecution other than petulance at the fact that Christians don’t get to do something they want to do even though nobody else can, either.

Andrew, this is what I’m talking about.

Yes, there’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether churches need to be closed at this time, but to call the enforced closure of churches persecution seems delusional. But I can understand why the church would rather be persecuted than ignored.

It is totally delusional to think this isn’t persecution. Saying to a church you can’t have more than 30 people is a violation of the 1st Amendment. You are preventing these people from freely exercising their religion.

It’s interesting that you keep referring to the first amendment. In the UK I don’t hear Christians claiming that they are being persecuted by the state because churches are closed. It sounds as though what you are really concerned about is infringement of the constitutional rights of Christians.

I am not aware of the laws of the UK concerning such rights. I do know here in the US we have the first amendment.

My rights under the first amendment is beng infringed upon. When this continually happens I would say it is persecution.

If I called up al my friends and told them to bring other friends and we exceed a ceratin umber allowed by the govt. to meet we would be arrested if we refused to disassemble. Now, this would be true even if we held services otuside, we all agreed to be 6 feet apart at all times, etc etc.

It’s at most an infringement of your civil rights under the constitution. If you gathered fifty friends together for a BBQ on your driveway, I imagine you would be asked to disperse and might be arrested if you refused.

How long would it take for it to be considered persecution if such a scenario exists concerning not being able to meet at church? — 3 weeks? 3 years? 30 years? etc.?

Abortion offices are voluntary public assemblies. People assemble there voluntarily.

People will be arrested for going to church. Nowhere in the 1st Amendment is there a clause about it not being applicable in cases as we are in now. They certainly had pandemics previous to this.

You asserted about not having a service of 30 people. This is persecution. What gives the government this right to affirm something like this in viloation if the 1st Amendment?

No, abortion clinics are not assemblies. When you go to get an abortion, you are not voluntarily amassing a large gathering of people. I don’t know what you think happens during an abortion procedure, but you don’t invite a hundred people to watch. Going to the dentist is also not a public assembly, nor is having my yearly physical. And, incidentally, abortion clinics also have to comply with these regulations. You can’t round up fifty of your friends and meet in an abortion clinic.

But again, there is no comparison between going to church and having an abortion. Those are completely different sorts of activities with a completely different number of people involved. If the government allowed another religion to hold large public gatherings but not yours, that could arguably be persecution.

All Constitutional rights are limited by public health and safety. Our entire legal system depends on this. My rights are limited by harms and limitations my expressions would place on others. This is why you can’t yell, “FIRE!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Although this is a limitation of my free speech, it is not persecution.

Yes, America has had pandemics before and, in those pandemics, similar limitations were used. In cities that did not abide by these limitations, more people died.

You may disagree that the government should be doing this -to anybody-, but there is no way this is Christian persecution. You might be able to claim that the government is persecuting all American citizens. You’d be an idiot, but that would be a cogent claim.

These regulations:

- Do not single out religious observance

- Do not single out Christians or Christianity

So I ask you, how can something be Christian persecution if it doesn’t single Christians out for exceptional treatment or have anything to do with treating people a certain way based on their religious belief?

You didn’t answer my question.

Every state is handling this differently. I live right on the border between Kansas and Missouri. Missouri is in a phase where they are not limiting public gathering sizes, but a 6’ distance between everyone is mandated. ( In fact, you’ll see there’s even a clause specifically about individuals being allowed to come and go from their places of worship providing they maintain distance. Persecution!

Kansas has more specifications and, therefore, changes more regularly. It looks like they recently changed the limit from 30 to 15 due to health data ( and this is the current state of the phased approach (

So, there you go! In Missouri, you can go to church all day long just so long as you keep six feet between you, and in Kansas, you can worship in groups of 15 or less with that limit being gradually extended over the next few weeks.

Whether or not they have the right to place limitations on the First Amendment is an American government issue. It’s not a Christian-specific issue. And of course, they do have that right. Every law that exists limits our freedoms, including ones specifically mentioned in the Constitution, to protect the health and welfare of everyone else. This is why your neighbor can’t own a nuclear warhead despite the right to bear arms.

Sikhs cannot carry their ceremonial daggers on airplanes, which is a limitation both of religious practice and the right to bear arms, but the government did not make regulations about Sikhs and their daggers; they made regulations about weapons of all kinds on airplanes. Sikhs are affected by this, but those regulations are not Sikh persecution.

Here was my question:

So I ask you, how can something be Christian persecution if it doesn’t single Christians out for exceptional treatment or have anything to do with treating people a certain way based on their religious belief?

It is an American government issue that effects Christians in America. A nuclear warhead is not an “arm” in the sense the Framers used the term.

I have already answered your question. It is Christian persecution and religious persecution. A picture of the cross which generally represents Christianity is found at the very beginning of this thread.

If a Muslim said they were being persecuted us in that they can’t attend a mosque, I wouldn’t disagree. The same for a Jewish person wanting to attend a synagogue.

No modern weapon is an “arm” in the sense that the Framers used the term. By your logic, the government is free to make everything short of single-shot muskets illegal. Which I’m actually fine with, but I’m surprised you are.

Regardless, you’re grasping at straws. You know that an individual’s rights are not legally allowed to permit injury to someone else. I am not allowed to peaceably assemble if I am conspiring to commit murder. Companies are not legally allowed to tell lies about their products in their advertisements. I am not allowed to rob a bank in my pursuit of happiness.

I have already answered your question. It is Christian persecution and religious persecution.

No, that is a restatement of your position. My question wasn’t, “Do you think this is Christian persecution?” My question was how it can be Christian persecution if it doesn’t single out Christians or discriminate on the basis of religious belief. You need to answer that. Just saying that it is isn’t an answer. -How- is it Christian persecution?

Is it simply that Christians — just like literally every other American — is affected adversely by these regulations? Is requiring church buildings to comply with fire codes Christian persecution? If not, why not?

Then we should ban the use of cars because car accidents kill thousands of people every year. Ghe same with smoking.

It singles out religiosu belief. And Christian fall under having religious belief.

Fire codes do not restrict freedom of assembly. Saying to everyone you can’t assemble no matter what does restrict freedom of assembly.

Ok, but your car example is about whether the regulation is good or not. That has nothing to do with whether or not Christians are persecuted. There are plenty of laws that I don’t think are very good, but they don’t persecute Christians.

Also, to use your example, smoking in most public places is illegal. Why? Because other people are forced to breathe their exhalations and may suffer bad health effects as a result. Is this persecution?

Please supply me with a COVID-19 restriction that specifically singles out religious belief. Show me some regulation that says it only applies to religious people but secular people are free to do the opposite. If you can find one, then you may have proven that religious people are being targeted. Still not Christian persecution. There are many religions besides being Christian.

Fire codes absolutely DO restrict freedom of assembly. If you choose to violate fire codes, the government will shut your building down. Fire codes are a way to regulate the freedom of assembly in a way that protects health — you can’t assemble in a building that might endanger people.

But fire codes are not Christian persecution. Fire codes apply to virtually all buildings regardless of purpose. You might think fire codes are stupid or unwarranted or bad codes, but they aren’t Christian persecution, and if a church building gets shut down because they won’t bring their building up to code, that congregation is not being persecuted. Just like if a restaurant won’t bring their building up to code. The government isn’t persecuting restaraunts with fire codes.

Saying to everyone you can’t assemble no matter what does restrict freedom of assembly.

That would pretty much define restricting freedom of assembly, yes. Can you show me any regulations that say nobody can assemble no matter what? And if such a regulation does exist, how it is an example of the government persecuting Christians?

You wrote: Please supply me with a COVID-19 restriction that specifically singles out religious belief. Show me some regulation that says it only applies to religious people but secular people are free to do the opposite. If you can find one, then you may have proven that religious people are being targeted. Still not Christian persecution. There are many religions besides being Christian.

Relgious entities cannot meet in houses of worship. That is religious persecution. Atheists do not have relgious houses of worship. Christians are commanded to not forsake the assembling of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25).

There is no regulation that says religious entities cannot meet in houses of worship. There are regulations that are temporarily limiting the size of assemblies, whether your assembly is religious in nature or not.

For instance, if you look at the Kansas PDF I linked to, you will find that it explicitly says at every phase that “All activities and venues not prohibited to the right MAY OPEN IF:” and proceeds to list whatever the stipulations are for that phase. All activities and venues.

Now, there is a list of activities and venues that are prohibited. Here it is:

The following activities and venues DO NOT OPEN in this phase: Community centers Outdoor and indoor large entertainment venues with capacity of 2,000 or more Fairs, festivals, carnivals, and parades Swimming pools (other than backyard pools) Organized sports facilities, tournaments, and practices Summer camps

So, the Kansas government might be persecuting swimming pools, but you’ll notice that churches and places of worship are not on the list.

Please show me any regulations that state that religious entities cannot meet in houses of worship.

There were regulations……this is my point. In terms of right now rules vary state by state. This is why Trump said a few days ago he wants these places of worship to open up. As of 1 month ago there were more than just a few states which prohibited meeting at all.

The article you cited neither says nor offers any regulations that specifically target religious entities. It says that ten states had stay-at-home regulations that would have prohibited people from attending worship (or anything else) outside of their home.

They linked specifically to California. Here is that stay at home order:

You will notice nothing in that order says anything about religious entities EXCEPT to offer them advice that they can meet online or in backyards or in homes. The stay at home order affected everyone and all institutions religious or secular.

You know, I think Polycarp will get a kick out of you when you guys have a conversation, someday. He was burned at the stake and then stabbed to death when the burning didn’t kill him because he refused to perform an act of worship to Ceasar. I’m trying to imagine you explaining to him that our government temporarily limited the sizes of all public assemblies in response to a national health crisis, and this is basically the same thing.

The ones in orange were the ones “prohibited” from meeting. Meeting online is not an option for many people — like those who can’t afford it.

Your Polycarp fantasy doesn’t apply. This order to lock up the country was only supposed to be until the curve was flattened. It has — quite a while ago, but those in authority are using this virus as a power grab.

They were only prohibited from meeting in the same sense that everyone was prohibited from meeting, though. It’s not like California said, “Christians, you can’t meet at church buildings, anymore. But Muslims, Wiccans, Buddhists… everyone else, go right ahead. Also, non-religious people, feel free to keep meeting for whatever you want. Christians have to stay home, though.” Religious entities, much less Christians in specific, were not prohibited in some way not shared by everyone else.

This is a point you seem to be struggling with. You aren’t persecuted by the government unless the government targets you — treats you badly in a way specific to your group.

If the government makes a bad law that effects everyone badly, that is not persecution. It might be bad government, or unconstitutional, or just dumb. Lots of people think that and there are certainly workable points you could use to establish that, but it’s not persecution of the Church.

Look, you like quoting from lexicons, right? Here’s Webster’s definition of persecution:

the act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook

So, what’s persecuting? Also from Webster:

to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief

There is no stay at home regulation that does any of this to Christians in specific. The definition of persecution is not “whenever someone does something that affects you negatively.”

When cops arrest churches violating local health regulations, it’s not because they’re Christian. It’s because they’re violating health regulations. Plenty of churches are managing to worship without violating those regulations. My church has been doing it for months. Lots of churches are. None of us have been arrested. So, surprisingly, it turns out the government will allow you to worship just fine! I’ve even gotten together with my Christian friends in person! We were oddly persecution-free. Maybe that’s because we live in the liberal utopia that is the American Midwest.

You cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion and the right to peaceably assemble (Amendment 1).

Persecution: a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group

If I and others try to show up at church right now in the state I am living we will be “driven away.”

That is persecution.

If your religion teaches that children should be sacrificed to your dark god, and the government arrests you if you try to kill a child, is that persecution?

Why isn’t it persecution?

Also, what state are you in? I’ll find their current orders for you and see if you’ll be driven away if you show up to the church building.

But the Constitution says that the government can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. So it has to be persecution if they do, right?

Also, what state? You claimed that if you showed up at your church building on Sunday that the government of your state would drive you away. I would like to see if that claim is true.

Well, right now, the definition of “persecution” is looking a lot like “any government regulation Marc Taylor doesn’t agree with.”

Marc Taylor | Wed, 08/19/2020 - 12:09 | Permalink

I am glad to see that John MacArthur and his church are still meeting. I hope others do the same.