Liberties are NEVER Pro Bono

We have incredible rights and freedoms in this country, unlike any other throughout history, and each of these individual rights granted through our constitution has a “cost” associated with it because each of them is handled irresponsibly by certain citizens at any given time. The right to bear arms by all citizens means that some irresponsible citizens use these arms to maim or kill other innocent citizens. The right to free speech means we have to tolerate other citizens’ racist hate speech. The right to peaceful assembly means that we have to absorb the risk of peaceful assemblies becoming violent, destructive events. The fifth amendment right of a defendant to refuse to testify in a court of law means we often never know the facts of a crime and therefore we can never hold the guilty party responsible.

Each and every freedom granted to us requires us as a nation, and as individuals, to absorb very real risks (I could be shot by a stranger, I could be targeted for violence because of hate speech against my race, I could be injured as a police officer or bystander during a riot, I could have a crime committed against me in private and the perpetrator never has to say a word to investigators or be cross examined and may get away with it). All of these examples are very real possibilities for each of us and they all happen regularly because evil is a real thing in our world and it invades the hearts of men and women and brings needless pain and destruction.

We could, however, mitigate against any or all of these risks in the interest of personal and corporate safety by nullifying all of these freedoms. Then we would all be safe, right? Well, in that scenario we would certainly be safe from fellow citizens, but we would not be safe from those fellow citizens who were given significant power and authority in our governmental structures, as they could then determine exactly what can and can’t be said publicly, who can and can’t have a weapon, who can and can’t assemble to demonstrate, and who can and can’t be excused from testifying in a court of law.

So in reality, we will suffer either from the nullification of these extraordinary freedoms by the government OR we will suffer from the irresponsible exercise of these freedoms by a small minority of citizens. Neither of these options is a perfectly safe solution, as that solution does not exist. But freedoms, when preserved, provide liberty to millions upon millions for centuries. Once nullified, however, they place those same millions under the unilateral authority of a very small number of government officials and they are never resurrected without a revolution. So these freedoms always have a cost associated with them and that brings real pain to many. Thus, the question becomes which is the higher cost, to suffer at the hands of a few irresponsible citizens, or to suffer at the hands of an authoritarian government. Having lived in both America and the former Soviet Union, I know which one I prefer. Governments have absolute power when they seize it whereas irresponsible citizens always have limited power.

For example, right now the state of California has sent an actual cease and desist letter to a specific church, Grace Community Church, telling members they cannot choose to meet in their own house of worship and live out their religious convictions. This is a real erosion of constitutional freedoms in the name of safety. I would much rather take the small risk of viral spread over the acquiescence of religious liberty and conscience to governmental officials. Both are calculated risks, but one is a threat for multiple months or a year, the other is a threat for centuries to come.

WORSHIP AND LIBERTY – A CRITICAL JUNCTURE

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court upheld that the Governor of Nevada could block churches from meeting, even at a reduced 50% capacity, due to the current COVID-19 crisis. I have never seen a Supreme Court decision more troubling than this one. How could they misconstrue the clear reading of the First Amendment, “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, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” How dare they tell perfectly healthy people they are not allowed to worship their God in the ways in which they have worshiped for centuries? How dare they tell people who have built their own houses of worship that they are not allowed to enter and worship by the edict of a simple “governor?”

If the state desires to quarantine sick people for the common good, certainly the burden of proof is upon the government to prove that each of those individuals is actually sick and contagious before quarantining them. To do otherwise is the equivalent of relinquishing the presumption of innocence for the assumption of guilt in a criminal proceeding. Per the latest data, most people are neither sick nor contagious, yet their rights of worship have been unconstitutionally and unconscionably stolen the state. If they, themselves, choose to forgo public worship out of an abundance of caution, as many have, that is certainly their prerogative. But that choice is theirs and theirs alone.

Therefore, if a man or woman, boy or girl wants to go to their place of worship and worship their God(s) according to their custom and beliefs, and they choose to do this at great personal risk to their own health due to COVID-19, no earthly governmental authority, including the Supreme Court, has the authority to limit them in the “free exercise of their religion.” This right is inviolable and absolute for a society that wants to maintain true liberty. Throughout all of history, individuals and groups have freely chosen to risk great personal harm and even death in order to worship their God in the way(s) in which their God has ordained. Remember how Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites take a three-day journey out into the desert to worship their God? Remember how God responded to Pharaoh’s illegitimate constraint on their right to worship according to their God’s prescriptions?

I have a good friend who just lost a friend to COVID-19 this past week, a man of my age, so I am not here to minimize the seriousness of the disease. I am here to maximize the existential danger we face by allowing ANY governmental authority to regulate the free exercise of religion. If I were in Nevada, I would set about organizing the largest protest to date with so much at stake. Otherwise, the tragic effects of simply relinquishing this precious freedom to a governmental authority will continue to plague all of us long after COVID-19 has become a footnote in our history books, much like the flu pandemic of 1918.

Many will surely say I am overreacting. I hope they are right, I fear they are mistaken.

Hey Church, We Can Choose Sides!

The history of man is a history of violent division and oppression. It started in the very first generation when the unrighteous Cain killed his brother, Abel, simply because Abel’s righteousness angered him. From that point forward, division, violence and oppression have been the norm for the human race.

Today, we have significant division, violence and oppression in our country and the media is asking everyone to choose sides. They report the events in our country in a narrative that makes them all appear very “black and white”. In reality, this is not the case at all, but the divisive narrative is simple and it sells. Lies are always short and simple so they fit neatly into headlines and slogans. The truth, on the other hand, is very involved and complex so that it rarely fits neatly into a headline.

As The Church of Jesus in this environment, we are constantly being asked to align with one side or the other, to make a stand for “what is right”. I think we should be perfectly fine with this challenge to use our voice and never back away from it. After all, if The Church can’t voice what is right, who can? But as we prepare to exercise our voice, let’s not let politicians, pundits or activists define for us the lines of division. Rather, let’s define our own lines of division.

The divisions most often stoked by the folks listed above are predictable and constant.

  • Democrats vs Republicans
  • Blacks vs Whites
  • Rich vs Poor
  • Powerful vs Powerless
  • Socialists vs Capitalists

As THE CHURCH, we can NEVER allow society to lure us into choosing sides based on these kinds of societal and racial divisions. The Church is designed to be a raceless, classless society and as such, has room for people from all of the above groups within its walls. We do, however, have our own lines of division, lines based on much different criteria.These lines of division are based on at least two things:

  • Righteousness vs Unrighteousness
  • Victims vs Oppressors

Those divisions are a part of our DNA and we hold to them tenaciously. Let others choose sides based on merely human convention and the novel biases of the day. We, on the other hand, must always align ourselves with righteousness and the oppressed.

So by all means, let’s not cower from the moment. Let’s stand up and exert our voice for all the victims of this last week and beyond:

Let’s stand with the victim, George Floyd, who lost his life when not a single officer came to his aid while an officer had his knee on his neck for seven minutes while he was in handcuffs with two others on his back!

Let’s stand with the thousands of victims in downtown Minneapolis whose average household income is $33,000. Now they are left in tears as they find themselves without transportation while their neighborhood grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores are torched and looted by others, probably never to return.Let’s stand with all minorities who have been victims of oppression in our country simply for the color of their skin.

Let’s stand with four Columbia Police Officers injured (one seriously) during the protests yesterday, along with two other officers murdered in Oakland.

Let’s stand with all the small business owners, black, white, latino and asian, many of whom lost family businesses to theft and vandalism and now wonder how they are going to feed their families.

Now is not the time to be quiet! It is the time to use our voice very confidently. The lies that want to divide are very short and simple, the truth that brings peace and unites is much more complex. Be on your guard and use your mind in the days to come. Don’t let others control the narrative and falsely divide us based on temporary, earthly things like race, power, political party or socioeconomic class. Also, let’s not stand aside passively and close our mouths as though we don’t a very pertinent and necessary message to share. Rather, let’s share that message in both word and deed while we stand with all victims against their oppressors in every corner of society.

Sometimes those oppressors are civil authorities like police officers, sometimes they are the rich of Wall Street, sometimes they are manipulative political authorities, sometimes they are rioters in the streets. Regardless of who they are, what race they are or what position they hold in society, the Church must never run away from this struggle for righteousness. We must always run towards these struggles, and upon arrival we must peacefully, yet confidently, align ourselves with the victims as both a verbal and physical rebuke to those who oppress them.

Rise Up Church and Shine in these Dark Days!

Faye Swetlik

Our entire community is heartbroken and sickened by what happened to little Faye Swetlik. Many of us wept as we watched the motorcade enter Lexington from Charleston today . . . I know I did. So as we all ask ourselves how did this happen and what can we do now, remember this: EVIL IS BORN IN VERY SMALL AND UNASSUMING WAYS AND ONLY GROWS LARGE OVER TIME IF LEFT UNTREATED! Evil is like mold, starting very small in a hidden crevice and slowly multiplying over time. So if we are serious about fighting back against these types of tragedies, we have to battle against evil at its source in order to prevent it from growing into the deranged killers that murder our children. This means we have to rally together as a community against the very nascent forms of evil that produce murderers among us . . . we have to come together with one voice and with absolute resolve to eliminate all forms of bullying in our schools and workplaces, all the dehumanizing pornography on our phones and computers, all illicit and mind-altering drugs from our community and all forms of hate in our society.

We must understand that the barbarians who kill our children aren’t simply born. They are nurtured in hate, dehumanized in abuse and family brokenness, perverted through internet pornography and numbed by illicit drugs. These things, along with other known evils, synergize in a fallen human heart and create the people who purchase prostitutes, as though sacred human bodies are for sale. It creates people who traffic vulnerable young girls for personal gain, people who incite addiction to feed their own greed and people who demean, dehumanize and often kill the weak and vulnerable among us for their own wicked pleasures.

So let’s not simply mourn and do nothing else . . . let’s resolve to confront and overcome evil in all of its nascent forms everywhere we find it in our circles of influence – at work, at home, at school, on our sports fields and in our community at large. If we are to overcome evil, we must battle it early and often and ultimately overcome it with GOOD and with GOD! May God have mercy on our community and provide us with the collective courage and wisdom necessary to accomplish all these things and more.

#RIP #FayeSwetlik #NeverAgain

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