United States Included in Annual Christian Persecution Report

For the first time ever, the United States was included in the International Christian Concern’s annual “Hall of Shame Report.” In the 2016 edition, released last week, the U.S. appeared in the “New and Noteworthy” category.

“The persecution in these countries is not anywhere near the same level of persecution as those in the rest of the list,” the report explains, “but events in these countries indicate declining religious freedom and are cause for alarm.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that advocates for, raises awareness of and assists persecuted Christians around the world.

The report’s introduction explains that previous editions simply listed the top ten worst countries for Christians’ religious freedom. The 2016 edition splits featured nations into three categories: “Worst of the Worst,” “Core Countries,” and “New and Noteworthy.”

The “Worst of the Worst” category includes North Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. “Core Countries” include Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, Pakistan and India.

Russia and Mexico were also “New and Noteworthy.”

‘Alarming’ Decline in American Religious Freedom

On page 11 of the 16-page report, ICC details why the U.S. earned a spot in the “New and Noteworthy” category.

“Christians in the US are facing constant attacks in the media, where they are portrayed as bigoted, racist, sexist and close-minded,” the report states. It referenced as an example the fact that “numerous high profile media outlets” blamed last year’s nightclub shooting in Orlando on Christian attitudes toward the LGBT community, even though the shooter, Omar Mateen, declared his allegiance to ISIS.

The report also mentioned people like Eric Walsh, Joe Kennedy and Aaron and Melissa Klein, Christians who have been fired or faced penalties in the workplace because of their religious beliefs.

“Christians and all religious people are being marginalized through the law,” the report says, citing an annual study by First Liberty Institute. That report showed that attacks on religious people in the U.S. doubled between 2012 and 2015.

According to the ICC’s report, “the rise of these cases stems partly from a broad cultural shift towards secularism.” 23 percent of Americans now identify themselves as non-religious — compared with just 7 percent in 2007. “Anti-Christian entities have been able to leverage the growing secularization of society and culture to their advantage, utilizing the courts as a preferred venue to gradually marginalize and silence Christians.”

“Decades of accumulated poor judicial decisions and precedents have twisted the First Amendment,” the report notes,

so that the courts, in defiance of the Founders, are pushing religion out of the public square, and into the small space of private expression. In essence, the courts are deciding that you only have full religious freedom and expression in the church and your home. In the public domain, your religious views and thoughts must be restrained and controlled.

“While there is no comparison between the life of a Christian in the US with persecuted believers overseas,” the report concludes, “ICC sees these worrying trends as an alarming indication of a decline in religious liberty in the United States.”

‘Windows of Opportunity’

Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, previously told The Stream that 2016 saw “an increase in attacks on religious liberty.”

In an interview at the end of December, Shackelford expressed hope in the incoming presidential administration, saying that the future holds “huge windows of opportunity.” “There should be a big change in the hundreds of judges appointed being more favorable to religious freedom and the Constitution,” he said. (For more from the author of “United States Included in Annual Christian Persecution Report” please click HERE)

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Is It a Sin for a Christian to Be Obese?

Is it a sin for a Christian to be seriously overweight? When responding to this question, we should answer it for ourselves and not for others, since there are many potential reasons for people to be overweight and we don’t want to pass judgment on them based on outward appearance alone (see John 7:24).

We know that a small percentage of people have a medical condition that contributes to their obesity, such as a thyroid disorder, while others struggle with emotional traumas, like depression or abuse, and they eat out of pain and despair. And there are women who have had several children in a short period of time and find it very challenging to juggle the challenges of life — often on limited sleep — and lose weight at the same time.

It would be very wrong to pass judgment on any of these people, as if they were sinning by being heavy, and that’s why I said upfront that, however we answer the question about Christians and obesity, we need to do it for ourselves, looking in our own mirrors.

We also need to remember that most Christians (not to mention people in general) who are overweight — especially seriously overweight — hate being fat, and some even feel self-condemned. The last thing we want to do is heap more condemnation on them and make them feel worse. They need some hope and encouragement. My goal in addressing this sensitive issue is to lift you up, not beat you up.

And we live in a culture that prizes youthful, air-brushed, perfect-looking bodies, putting young people in particular (and even women in general) under tremendous pressure to look a certain way. That too is a destructive mentality that we must resist.

That being said, if our body is destroyed by unhealthy eating, that is a serious matter, and if my obesity is due to gluttony or lack of self-control or choosing fleshly indulgences to the detriment of my health, then yes, it is sinful for me to be obese.

It is true, of course, that the Bible never says that the glutton will not enter the kingdom of heaven, but it is also true that the Bible speaks about gluttony in very negative terms: “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Prov. 23:20–21). And, “The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father” (Prov. 28:7). defines glutton as “a person who eats and drinks excessively or voraciously.” Does that describe me or you?

Jesus was falsely accused of being both a drunkard and a glutton. If He was guilty of either, He would not have been the sinless Son of God.

Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Notice carefully what Paul is saying, since we often miss an important point in this passage. Paul is urging us to run with success the race of fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives, and he contrasts our reward, which is imperishable, with the reward of an athlete, which is perishable. But don’t miss what Paul said in the midst of his exhortation: Athletes who compete in the games (similar to the Olympics today) exercise self-control in all things. So do we! As translated in the NIV, “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:25, my emphasis).

Can we say the same thing about ourselves? Are we disciplined in all things? Have we subdued our bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27a in the NET) when it comes to food?

Proverbs gives us a strong warning about being out of control with our appetites when in the presence of rulers: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what [or, who] is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Prov. 23:1-2). As the Pulpit Commentary explains, “‘Stab thy gluttony,’ Wordsworth. Restrain thyself by the strongest measures, convince thyself that thou art in the utmost peril, if thou art a glutton or wine-bibber (Ecclus. 31:12, Ecclus. 34:12).” In the words of Matthew Henry, “The sin we are here warned against is luxury and sensuality, and the indulgence of the appetite in eating and drinking, a sin that most easily besets us.”

I wonder what Matthew Henry would have said if he lived today and saw the portions we are served in our restaurants!

We must ask ourselves if the way we are eating is in harmony with our biblical calling, a calling which includes discipline and self-control. In fact, according to Paul, one of the fruits of the spirit is self-control (Galatians 5:23), with the Greek word meaning, “restraint of one’s emotions, impulses, or desires, self-control” (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon). As one commentator explains, “‘self-control’ … denotes control of more sensual passions than anger” (F. F. Bruce).

When it comes to your eating habits, do you have self-control? When it comes to the passions of the flesh for unhealthy food, are you disciplined? Are you controlling your appetite or is your appetite controlling you?

Some of us say that we’re willing to die for Jesus but we’re not willing to control our appetites for Him (or, at the least, we’re not willing to make a serious effort to control those appetites). This simply doesn’t line up. We sing, “I surrender all,” but we practice, “I surrender some.” Or maybe you want to surrender but find yourself helpless and bound?

Notice what Paul has to say about dangerous false teachers: “For many are walking in such a way that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. I have told you of them often and tell you again, even weeping. Their destination is destruction, their god is their appetite, their glory is in their shame, their minds are set on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19, MEV). Or, as the relevant phrase is rendered in different versions “their god is their stomach” (HCSB); they “make their bellies their gods” (The Message); “whose God is the stomach” (LEB). How interesting that these heretics were also slaves to food!

Does that describe you? Is your stomach your god? Are you a slave to your appetite?

If so, I have good news for you: God is not condemning you! Instead, He is offering you a better way, a way of discipline, self-control, healthy eating and vibrant life. But, if He has convicted you through this article, I encourage you to confess your bad eating habits as sin, asking the Father for mercy and forgiveness, believing that Jesus paid for this sin as well, and trusting God for grace to overcome. With His help and with a good plan, you can do it! (For more from the author of “Is It a Sin for a Christian to Be Obese?” please click HERE)

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Media Shocked That Chip, Joanna Gaines Attend Church Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage

Never fear, America — Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan are working hard to make sure millions of innocent viewers don’t accidentally enjoy watching TV shows where the stars are Christians with traditional Christian beliefs.

After embarking on what Cosmopolitan described as a “deep-dive” (that involved watching easily-accessible internet videos and reading a church’s online statement of faith), one Buzzfeed reporter Kate Aurthur “uncovered” the fact that HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’s pastor, Jimmy Seibert of the mega Antioch Community Church, “takes a hard line against same-sex marriage.”

Aurthur’s Buzzfeed article details what Seibert preached the Sunday after the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage in 2015. (What she doesn’t mention or perhaps doesn’t realize is that thousands of churches across the nation likely preached a similar message.)

After talking about Genesis, and saying that marriage is between “one man and one wife,” Seibert emphasizes the fixedness of this idea. “This is a clear biblical admonition. So if someone were to say, ‘Marriage is defined in a different way,’ let me just say: They are wrong,” he says from the pulpit to applause from the congregation. “God defined marriage, not you and I. God defined masculine and feminine, male and female, not you and I.”

Aurthur also takes issue with Pastor Seibert’s opinion that many people who identify as homosexual were abused as children and his statement that God can change their lives:

We can change, contrary to what you hear. I’ve worked with people for over 30 years — I have seen hundreds of people personally change their direction of same-sex attraction from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle. It doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with feelings, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t hurting, it doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. But they have chosen to change. And there has always been grace there for those who choose that.

According to Aurthur, it is still “unclear” whether the HGTV Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna actually agree with their pastor’s “severe” views — a point Cosmopolitan writer Gina Mei desperately hopes they clarify soon.

Twitchy compiled a long list of people who found Aurthur’s “deep-dive” ludicrous, with tweets like:

The ‘Deep-Dive’ That Reveals Nothing New

Aurthur may think she has uncovered something new and shocking by pointing out an evangelical pastor’s commitment to biblical teaching, but she hasn’t. Curbed, an outlet of Vox Media, casually referenced Antioch Community Church’s beliefs regarding homosexuality in an October article entitled “Is Fixer Upper a stealth feminist fantasy?” (Aurthur actually links to this article in her own — perhaps she didn’t realize that the Curbed reporter also had the ability to Google search Antioch’s statement of faith and did so first.)

Chip and Joanna have been discussing their Christianity for a long time. They write about their “devout” faith in their newly-released book, The Magnolia Story. They have been interviewed about their faith numerous times (just Google “Chip and Joanna Gaines Christians”) and have shared their religious testimony in videos for Baylor University — the Baptist college they both attended — the Christian ministry I Am Second, and others.

So why the sudden uproar? Because certain people on the political Left are attempting to ab-normalize basic Christian beliefs, coloring them as extreme, oppressive, and hateful. The hype surrounding Buzzfeed’s groundbreaking exposé is simply the latest example in this growing trend.

What the Left Fails to Understand

Apparently a common tenet of leftist ideology is that to disagree is to hate, particularly when it comes to Christians who value a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage. But this tenet is wrong.

One great example of congeniality and respect shared between two very different people is Dr. Michael Brown’s recent column, “The Gay Rabbi and My Mother’s Funeral.” As Dr. Brown, a Messianic Jew and outspoken critic of the LGBT movement writes,

It really is possible to love your gay neighbor as yourself while at the same time opposing the goals of gay activism, and it really is possible to recognize that every human being is created in the image of God (yet fallen) while at the same time having massive differences on religious, cultural and moral issues.

Many seem to forget that even as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy decided in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, he reaffirmed the very beliefs currently causing the reporters at Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan to freak out. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy writes:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Could this mean that while same-sex couples can now legally decide to get married, people of certain religious faith may legally disagree with the morality of that decision (and perhaps even live their lives accordingly)? Shut the front door!

PSA: It’s Okay to Like Celebrities You Disagree With

As Dr. Brown writes in his piece, it’s perfectly possible to develop relationships with those you disagree with.

So if you are a liberal Fixer Upper addict who could care less where Chip and Joanna attend church but are being made to feel guilty for your lack of care by Buzzfeed or Cosmopolitan, breathe easy. It’s just a TV show, and watching it doesn’t mean you condone the views of its stars.

Christians routinely find ourselves in such situations. I’ll wager that there are plenty of Christians who, like me, love Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings despite the fact that he is outspokenly gay, repeatedly watch Saving Private Ryan despite the fact that Tom Hanks is a recipient of the LGBT Outfest’s Trailblazer Award, and loved Downtown Abbey even though it follows the complex and sometimes heart-wrenching story of a gay supporting character.

But what if you are actually surprised and upset to discover that the Gaineses probably support their pastor’s “unmoving position … on same-sex marriage?” Jumping on the bandwagon, Us Weekly also reported Buzzfeed’s apparent discovery and included tweets from concerned fans.

If this is you, then by all means, ignore the show. Cancel your subscription. Send your money to the Human Rights Campaign and not Antioch Community Church. It’s a free country.

But the millions of Americans who identify with the Texas couple’s faith and agree with Antioch’s pastor shouldn’t be made to feel “hateful” simply because they hold a belief that has been around for millennia. (For more from the author of “Media Shocked That Chip, Joanna Gaines Attend Church Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage” please click HERE)

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Christian Missionaries in Aleppo Crucified and Beheaded

“At several steps on their path to death by beheading and crucifixion last month, 11 indigenous Christian workers near Aleppo, Syria had the option to leave the area and live. The 12-year-old son of a ministry team leader also could have spared his life by denying Christ…” . . .

We’re not hearing much about Aleppo’s Christians: the mainstream media don’t care very much what happens to them:

..The Syrian ministry workers in those villages chose to stay in order to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors.

“I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose,” said the ministry director, his voice tremulous as he recalled their horrific deaths. “As their leader, I should have insisted that they leave.”

They stayed because they believed they were called to share Christ with those caught in the crossfire, he said.

(Read more from “Christian Missionaries in Aleppo Crucified and Beheaded” HERE)

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Trial Begins for Man Who Helped Ex-Lesbian Christian Mother Escape Country With Her Daughter

Trial began last week for Philip Zodhiates, the second man being tried for conspiracy and international parental kidnapping in the case of a former lesbian turned Christian who fled the country to shield her daughter from what she felt was a dangerous homosexual lifestyle at the hands of her former lesbian partner. Zodhiates and others allegedly helped the woman and her daughter leave the country.

The Case

The case of The United States vs. Lisa Miller, et al. began years ago, even before the child, the subject of the lawsuit, was born. In December 2000, Lisa Miller and her lesbian partner Janet Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont, as their home state of Virginia did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time. In 2001, they decided to have Lisa undergo fertility treatments to conceive a child.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins was born on April 16, 2002, and within a few months Lisa, Janet and Isabella moved to Vermont to be in a same-sex union-friendly state. The next year however, the couple decided to part ways. Lisa filed documents to dissolve the union, and she and Isabella moved back to Virginia.

It was at this time that Lisa became a Christian and renounced homosexuality as a sin. “It wasn’t a struggle,” Lisa told The Washington Post in 2007, “I felt peace.” She began attending a local Baptist church with Isabella and eventually enrolled Isabella in a Christian school where she taught.

Vermont Court

Initially, the court awarded custody to Lisa and visitation rights to Janet; however, in subsequent court proceedings, Lisa testified that Janet had been physically and emotionally abusive as a partner and sexually abusive with Isabella.

According to Lisa, Isabella began wetting the bed, having nightmares, touching herself inappropriately and threatening suicide following her visitations with Janet. Lisa also claimed that Janet had behaved improperly with Isabella by taking baths with the child during the visitations.

The court still ordered Lisa to produce the child for visitation and when she refused, the judge slapped her with a steep fine of $25 per day, retroactively, until she allowed Isabella to see Janet. The custody case went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that Janet was Isabella’s legal parent and entitled to her visitation.

Virginia Court

Lisa then appealed to Virginia for help, filing for exclusive custody of her daughter. “I don’t see Janet as a parent, first and foremost,” Lisa said. “I don’t want to expose Isabella to Janet’s lifestyle. It goes against all my beliefs. I am raising Isabella to pattern herself after Christ. That’s my job as a Christian mom. Homosexuality is a sin.”

The lower court sided with her, awarding her sole custody. The Virginia Court of Appeals, however, ruled that Vermont had jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, leaving the court of appeals’ ruling standing.

On November 20, 2009, Lisa was found to be in contempt of court and custody was awarded to Janet, who was scheduled to take custody on January 1, 2010.

The Escape

By the end of September, Lisa and Isabella were gone.

Lisa, with the help of several Mennonite Christians, fled the country with her daughter to Nicaragua, crossing the Rainbow Bridge from Niagara Falls, New York, to Canada, according to court documents, around September 22, 2009.

The Defendants

Timothy David “Timo” Miller (no relation to Lisa) was arrested in April 2011 for aiding and abetting the “kidnapping” of Isabella. Timothy Miller was a Mennonite missionary to Nicaragua who, authorities believed, helped Lisa travel to a “safe house” in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua.

In December of that year, the prosecution dropped the charges against him in exchange for his testimony and cooperation in their investigation against Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller. The latest reports, however, claim that Timothy was once again arrested in Nicaragua.

Kenneth Miller (also no relation to Lisa or Timothy) was convicted for “aiding international parental kidnapping” in December 2011 and sentenced 27 months in prison, reported The Charley Project. The pastor of an Amish-Mennonite community, he helped Lisa and Isabelle by getting fellow Amish-Mennonites to purchase plane tickets for a flight from Canada to Nicaragua through Mexico and El Salvador. He also purchased the typical Mennonite dresses, which Lisa and Isabelle wore to conceal their identities.

Before he reported to prison in March of this year, Kenneth wrote on his blog about why he did what he did. “I’m going to prison today because a woman’s faith and modern society collided,” he said. “About 12 years ago Lisa Miller discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was powerful enough to take away her sins. He transformed her life and her lifestyle. In the long, winding journey since then, Lisa has sought to remain true to her Savior and her conscience.”

“I am greatly privileged to stand with Lisa in her quest for truth and freedom,” he added. “Some things can never be locked up inside prison walls. Truth. Conscience. Moral righteousness. And the saving Gospel of Jesus.”

Philip Zodhiates, the man on trial for his part in helping Lisa and Isabelle flee to Nicaragua, was indicted in October 2014. Authorities believe he drove Lisa and Isabelle to Buffalo, New York and crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. For that act, he faces five years behind bars if convicted.

RICO Lawsuit

On August 14, 2012, Janet filed a RICO suit (Violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act) against not only the individuals who helped Lisa and Isabelle escape, but also multiple churches, ministries and even Lisa’s lawyers’ place of employment, Liberty University School of Law.

In the suit, Janet alleges that these organizations and individuals had a “pattern of racketeering” and “are liable for conspiring with Lisa Miller and with each other to kidnap Isabella Miller-Jenkins … [d]efendants are also liable for conspiring to violate Janet Jenkins’ and Isabella Miller-Jenkins’ rights to a parent-child relationship.”

Life on the Run

In Nicaragua, Lisa homeschooled Isabelle on an Amish-Mennonite farm in the “coffee-growing hills” of Jinotega, where they lived for two months until Lisa found an apartment in Managua, reported the New York Times. Isabelle learned Spanish and people called her “Lydia.” Lisa and Isabelle spent time with Timothy Miller and his family, reading the American Girl books and Little House on the Prairie.

Although Isabelle thrived in Managua, Lisa suffered from depression and isolation. She eventually moved Isabelle back to Jinotega. Life was full of friends, birthday parties and sleepovers for a little girl with bouncing blond hair who drew the attention of the locals.

It was around this time that Timothy was arrested at Dulles Airport as he returned for a vacation in the U.S. with his family, and was charged with aiding an international parental kidnapping in Lisa Miller’s case. Lisa and Isabella left the town of Jinotega and haven’t been seen since. According to the Times, federal agents believe the two are still in Nicaragua. Isabella is now 14 years old.

Liberty Counsel’s Rena M. Lindevaldsen, co-counsel with Mathew Staver on Lisa’s case, said that she knew Lisa could go to prison if caught and that would hurt Isabella, but she doesn’t blame Lisa. “It’s sad that in America a woman was faced with this choice,” she said. “The court overstepped its bounds, calling someone a parent who is not a parent and turning a child over to a person who lives contrary to biblical truths.” (For more from the author of “Trial Begins for Man Who Helped Ex-Lesbian Christian Mother Escape Country With Her Daughter” please click HERE)

Follow Joe Miller on Twitter HERE and Facebook HERE.


When Christians Turn Against Freedom

Here’s a quick smell test that I use when someone presents me with what he considers a brave and “radical” interpretation of the Gospel: Are this theory’s implications so appalling — not just for me, but the whole human race — that they would make me hope from the depths of my very soul that Christianity isn’t true? Does this reading of the Christian message

So outrage our natural instincts that it makes God seem like a sadistic monster or a bumbling incompetent, who made men fundamentally wrong — and now expects us to torture ourselves to correct his initial mistake?

Suggest that the Fall obliterated from the human heart any inkling of the Good, effectively re-creating the race of man according to Satan’s specifications?

Cut Christianity off completely from Judaism by making nonsense of the Old Testament — suggesting that the Jews of Jesus’ time were justified in rejecting him?

Such theories stink of brimstone. Gnostic attempts to remake Christianity as a hatred of life on earth are not so much real intellectual options as temptations from the devil aimed at the virtue of Faith. And countless saints have warned us to “flee the occasion” of sin. Any version of Christianity that would send a reasonable person on a quest for the nearest synagogue is false.

Using the Brimstone Smell Test

Employing the Smell Test has saved me going down countless blind alleys over the years. It helped me to shrug off the fringe arguments of those who claim that all non-Catholics are doomed to hell, and that for this grim reason we Catholics should seek to reinstate the Inquisition — using totalitarian means if need be to save as many souls as possible from plummeting into the Fire.

The Test helped me quickly reject the idea — which bedeviled some in the early Church — that really every Christian ought to live as a monk or nun, leaving marriage as a quasi-pagan halfway house which the truly devout should reject. (As Lezscek Kolakowski reports, the great Pascal imbibed this idea — and used it to bully his sister into shunning the man whom she loved.)

The same Test helps me know right off the bat what to think of Christians who call for pacifism or open borders.

Today’s Anti-Freedom Christians

I used the Brimstone test again when I read a famous essay by Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, where Dawson (who was born into money and later handed an endowed chair at Harvard) argued that any kind of financial planning, any effort to turn a profit or provide for your children’s future, is profoundly unchristian.

All Christians, even fathers of families, should live as St. Francis did, existing from day to day on whatever tithes come over the transom. Hence business, the free market, banking, insurance, savings, inheritance, and even children’s college funds are all fundamentally evil. Soldiers, noblemen, artists, clergy, kings and even conquistadors make better Christians than businessmen, said Dawson. Since students of mine were using this essay’s argument to justify making irresponsible decisions about their lives, I felt compelled to analyze it and point-by-point refute it. I left not a single stone piled on another.

Dawson’s argument is false but it isn’t dead. In fact, his ideas have found new apostles, in a broad and influential movement among some Christians who reject business, the free market, and indeed freedom itself — as forbidden fruit that fell from the Enlightenment’s poison tree. In such Christian circles you will find sneering references to “Liberalism,” by which the authors don’t mean the ideology of the Democrats. Instead, what they’re rejecting is the worldwide movement for freedom — religious, political and economic — that might be better called “Classical Liberalism.”

It’s a movement America’s Founders imported from England, and its roots reach back through the Magna Carta to the Saxons. This Liberalism is the heritage of the Anglosphere, and its benevolent effects can be seen from India to Australia, from Texas to the Falkland Islands. Pope John Paul II, who had endured the only feasible modern alternative to Classical Liberalism — ideological tyranny — wrote in Memory and Identity that such Liberalism reflects in politics the Christian vision of the person, as a free, responsible being answerable finally only to God.

This broad-based movement of Liberalism was the force behind demands for religious, economic, and political freedom first in England, then in America, and then around the world. This freedom movement was what caught fire in Poland, which brought down the Soviet empire. Such freedom is what persecuted Christians seek in the Middle East, and dissidents call for in China. Our Constitution’s guarantees of this freedom serve in America as the last, fragile bulwark against government repression of Christianity, as we saw the Obama administration attempt against Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And now there are Christians who reject such freedom as incompatible with the Gospel. Elsewhere I have laid out in depressing detail the claims of Catholics who crave a return of the old paternalistic order, which saw priests collude with governments to maintain a religious monopoly, suppressing non-Catholic speech, outlawing Protestant churches and censoring the press. The Church renounced this power, all too belatedly, at Vatican II — but there are Catholics out there who reject the Council’s teaching, or try to get around it by looking for loopholes in the text.

The Free Market Is the Enemy. So Poverty Is Our Friend

More common by far are Christians — and we are seeing them in various denominations now — who skip lightly over the question of whether the state should impose their religious ideas by force. Instead their attention turns, almost obsessively, to the economy. Classical Liberalism includes as its natural by-product a basically free economy, where citizens strive to maximize their economic benefit by adapting what they produce to what others wish to consume — letting the price system coordinate the vast and incomprehensibly complex neural net of human cooperation, instead of handing that power to bureaucrats and “scientific” managers, as the Soviets tried to do.

Most Christians (as I do) favor a safety net designed to protect those who cannot take care of themselves, one constructed with respect for subsidiarity — the principle of protecting the free institutions of civil society, favoring voluntary over coerced charity, and keeping power as decentralized as possible. But there other Christians out there who seem to oppose freedom in principle.

The Latest Attack on Freedom: David Bentley Hart

Most recently, Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has used the pages of First Things — which was founded to further the alliance of faithful Christians and Classical Liberals — to preach the gospel of what we might call the “Illiberal Christians.”

Illiberal Christians resent the dynamism, unpredictability, and spontaneity of an economy driven by the free choices of billions of people, without the guidance of wiser souls with advanced humanities or theology degrees. But these thinkers are running out of cudgels with which to beat the free economy.

In past decades, it was perhaps plausible to blame the market economy for failing to serve the interests of the global poor. Cold hard statistics now show that in the past 20 years, economic globalization has lifted more than a billion human beings from the grinding misery of absolute poverty. India, China, South Korea and parts of Africa have moved or are quickly moving out of the grinding cycle of subsistence agriculture and periodic famines.

Of course, it was only the market economy that lifted the population of Western Europe and America from the perennial want and anxiety that characterized most of human existence, between the early 19th and mid-20th centuries — a fact that Deirdre McCloskey celebrates in her eloquent trilogy, written in defense of freedom and the class that historically demanded it: the constantly libeled bourgeoisie. (I have just discovered that trilogy, and am working my way through it — expect more on McCloskey’s fine work in months to come.)

Illiberal Christians know by now that the economic effect of Classical Liberalism and the free economy on the poor is overwhelmingly beneficial. They just don’t care. Since they cannot blame freedom for failures that permitted global poverty, now Illiberals damn it for its success at creating global wealth, which engenders “consumerism.” The market feeds people’s bodies, and thereby endangers their souls. As Hart writes in First Things, the market system cannot

coexist indefinitely with a culture informed by genuine Christian conviction. Even the fact of the system’s necessary reliance on immense private wealth makes it a moral problem from the vantage of the Gospel, for the simple reason that the New Testament treats such wealth not merely as a spiritual danger, and not merely as a blessing that should not be misused, but as an intrinsic evil.

Hart goes on to claim:

In the Sermon on the Plain’s list of beatitudes and woes, he not only tells the poor that the kingdom belongs to them, but explicitly tells the rich that, having had their pleasures in this world, they shall have none in the world to come. He condemns those who buy up properties and create large estates for themselves. You cannot serve both God and mammon.

Is the Old Testament Just … Evil?

The entirety of the Old Testament is predicated upon God promising blessedness, prosperity, happiness and freedom on earth to the Jewish people if they obeyed Him. Christianity teaches us that there is another and higher happiness to found in the next life. But God could never have promised worldly blessings to His people in the first place if they were “intrinsically evil,” as Hart pretends. His rejection of all the this-worldly good things — such as a better life for one’s children — which Jews craved from Abraham onward strikes me as frankly Marcionite, partaking of the heresy which starkly opposes the “wicked” and “unspiritual” Old Testament to the New. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was the first to note the deeply Marcionite, and often frankly anti-Semitic, biases of modern radicals who also — not by accident — rejected the market economy as evil.

We learn from the Gospels and the church’s traditions that we must imitate Christ, Who healed the sick and sought to alleviate worldly suffering. Indeed, the extraordinary and Christ-like work of Christian doctors and nurses, teachers and abolitionists, are all devoted to alleviating suffering. If suffering is in fact spiritually preferable to decent comfort and freedom, then Christians have no business trying our best to stamp it out. We ought to be spreading it. Imagining the highly “spiritual” austerity which Hart prefers to modern prosperity, I cannot help thinking of the program favored by Ingsoc in Orwell’s 1984, which was organized around suppressing pleasure of any kind. If that really were Christianity, then (as Flannery O’Connor said of another heresy) “to hell with it.”

It’s “Consumerist” When Vulgar People Crave Tacky Things

I will yield the field of refuting Hart’s exegesis to the learned Samuel Gregg, who did so comprehensively last week, drawing on Gregg’s fascinating new history of Christian attitudes toward economics and banking, For God and For Profit, which I was privileged to edit for its publisher, Crossroad. There is not much left of Hart’s thesis when Gregg is finished, but don’t count on that to change any minds. Those who find freedom repulsive do so for very deep reasons, which won’t go away when you prove to them that they are misreading the Gospel, any more than the market’s success at uplifting the poor cured them of their resenting it.

What seems to motivate Illiberal thinkers is a visceral aesthetic, pseudo-spiritual disgust at the outcome of freedom, at the fact that given their druthers, ordinary people make vulgar choices — picking Nash-trash music over string quartets, pre-fab suburbs over quirky historic neighborhoods, and shallow spirituality over the Desert Fathers. Such choices distress me, too — as it bothers me when people adopt religious beliefs which I think are false and spiritually harmful.

Don’t Play God. Lucifer Tried It, and See How It Worked Out for Him

But respect for the dignity and autonomy of others, and the realization that God is at work in their consciences every bit as powerfully as in mine, teach me to reject the use of force to train other human beings like recalcitrant pets “for their own good.” As long as ago as 1850, the great Catholic Classical Liberal Frederic Bastiat diagnosed the Olympian pride involved in presuming to engineer human souls (a phrase I borrowed from that famous Illiberal, Stalin). As Bastiat wrote of socialists, so we must now say of Illiberal Christians:

Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to experiment upon….

In the same manner, an inventor makes a model before he constructs the full-sized machine; the chemist wastes some chemicals — the farmer wastes some seeds and land — to try out an idea.

But what a difference there is between the gardener and his trees, between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and his elements, between the farmer and his seeds! And in all sincerity, the socialist thinks that there is the same difference between him and mankind! … To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.

One of the greatest works of 19th-century literature, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, foresaw the eventual merging of socialist and religious Illiberals, into a single movement that used coercion to suppress the unruly desires of the vulgar, grasping masses, and herd them into orderly, predictable ghettos, walled in by coercion, poverty, superstition and ignorance. That is the “heavenly city” which would result if the Illiberals have their way. The gospel they are preaching belongs not to Jesus Christ, but the Grand Inquisitor. (For more from the author of “When Christians Turn Against Freedom” please click HERE)

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Ted Cruz’s Father Just Sent out a Major Warning to Christians

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and Americans throughout history have interpreted this as a guarantee of freedom of religion.

However, as WND has documented, the Obama administration has stealthily replaced the term “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” in official pronouncements.

Pastor Rafael Cruz, the father of GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz and author of the new book, “A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America,” warns that this subtle shift in language would be devastating for America if the policy and practice come to follow the words.

“Most Christians don’t realize the danger of freedom of worship,” Cruz said during a recent appearance on “Hagee Hotline” with pastor Matthew Hagee. “Freedom of worship is not the same as freedom of religion. Every Communist country around the world has freedom of worship. What freedom of worship means is you can worship inside a house of worship.”

Cruz explained even in his native Cuba a person can share the gospel inside a church. There may be spies present to ensure no one speaks out against the government, but congregants nevertheless have the freedom to go to church and worship their God. (Read more from “Ted Cruz’s Father Just Sent out a Major Warning to Christians” HERE)

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2015 Saw ‘Most Violent’ Persecution of Christians in Modern History

The brutal, worldwide persecution of Christians during the past year makes 2015 “the most violent and sustained attack on Christian faith in modern history,” according to a watchdog organization that has been monitoring Christian persecution for decades.

Open Doors, an organization founded in 1955 to assist persecuted Christians, publishes an annual “World Watch List,” documenting attacks on Christians and ranking the most hostile national environments for believers.

“The 2016 World Watch List documents an unprecedented escalation of violence against Christians, making this past year the most violent and sustained attack on Christian faith in modern history,” Open Doors CEO David Curry said at the rollout of the list.

Persecution in “continuing to increase, intensify and spread across the globe,” he said.

At the top of the Watch List, for the 14th consecutive year, stands North Korea, where an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps. Carrying on as one of the last holdouts of Communist totalitarianism, North Korea bears a particular hatred for Christians, who are a constant reminder of accountability to a higher power than the state. (Read more from “2015 Saw ‘Most Violent’ Persecution of Christians in Modern History” HERE)

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It’s Time for a ‘Persecuted Christians First’ Foreign Policy

A debate is raging right now among Republicans about the appropriate foreign policy for that party. Should we continue the movement to promote majority rule across the world that George W. Bush announced in his Second Inaugural Address, and tried to implement in Iraq? His successor, Barack Obama, may have cut and run from Iraq, but he carried Bush’s democracy torch during the crucial Arab Spring, supporting rebel Islamist movements in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. To do less, advocates of this policy argue, would be to insult the peoples of other countries, suggesting that they somehow don’t deserve the blessings of American liberal democracy. That is roughly the position of Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush. It is broadly referred to as “neoconservatism.”

Or should we admit that democracy apparently isn’t for everyone, or at least for everyone everywhere all the time right at the moment, and instead support regimes that repress political Islam, protect religious minorities (especially Christians), and are willing to cut deals that favor U.S. interests? That’s the position favored by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. The common name for such a policy is “realism.”

The stakes are high. We are currently faced with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which is using military power to prop up the minority regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. Several Republican candidates, including Christie and Rubio, want to use the U.S. Air Force to confront the Russian air force with a “no-fly zone,” including the threat to shoot down Russian planes that attack Syria’s “moderate” Islamist rebels. Rand Paul was moved during the last GOP debate to call this proposal an occasion for “World War III.”

It is customary at this point to insert a long, ritual denunciation of Bashar Assad, as a brutal dictator fully as wicked as Idi Amin or Pol Pot, which is meant to settle the question. The man is EVIL. We Americans strive to be GOOD. So of course we must help to remove that awful man from power, regardless of what it costs, what it risks, or what result it actually produces for the people who have to live in the real, existing country of Syria.

And it’s true that Assad’s regime has used brutal means to stay in power. It’s also true that it currently stands as the protector of millions of religious minorities, Christians and Alawites, who rightly fear genocide and ethnic cleansing at the hands of any Islamist regime that would come to power. The Christian leaders of Syria are terrified by every rebel faction fighting Assad, however “moderate” Senator John McCain believes them to be. Likewise the Alawite minority, the core constituency for Assad’s regime. Based on the ethnic cleansing of more than a million Christians from Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion that toppled another secular dictator, each group believes that they face imminent death, or expulsion to miserable refugee camps — controlled, as such camps are, by intolerant Sunni Muslims.

So the Alawites and Christians are fighting for their lives, and their leader, Assad, is using whatever means come to hand to stop the Islamist takeover — including, some say, chemical weapons. Does this make him “genocidal,” as some assert? Or is he using desperate means to prevent a genocide, means not nearly as harsh as President Harry Truman used against the Japanese Empire? As citizens of a country that answered Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust by nuking two Japanese cities, after fire-bombing most of the others, and leveling massively populated cities in Europe, perhaps we ought not to be throwing stones at Assad, as he fights to save his Alawite people and Christian allies from ending up like the desperate Christians of Iraq.

Jewish Americans are rightly concerned about the safety of Jews in Israel, and all around the world. Thank God, given the callousness or outright hatred of Jews that pervades so many countries. In Iran and throughout the Arab world it’s official government policy (except in Egypt and Jordan — not democracies), to favor Hamas’s goal of “driving the Jews into the sea,” which means exactly what it sounds like: mass genocide. To guarantee its survival, Israel stockpiles nuclear weapons, which it would use as a last means of self-defense, and the results would be even uglier than what Assad is up to in Syria, faced with the very same threat. (In a bitter irony, Assad is allied with Iran, which hopes to develop nuclear weapons to threaten Israel — which we should absolutely stop Iran from obtaining. However, Assad’s regime in Syria contributes nothing to Iran’s nuclear program.)

Because of the gravity and urgency of the ongoing threat to Jews, many patriotic American Jews also act as a potent special interest group, advocating the U.S. alliance with Israel in support of the safety of Jews, and good for them. No one else is looking out for the safety of Jews, and as Rabbi Hillel once said, “If I am not for me, who is for me?”

We Christian Americans should do the same, for our persecuted brethren around the world. We must love our enemies, but not at the cost of letting them murder our friends. Within the legitimate bounds of American patriotism, we should act as a potent special interest group. We should adopt the slogan “Persecuted Christians First.” We must serve as the defense attorneys of the most abandoned, neglected people on earth (apart from the unborn): our brothers in Christ, the persecuted Christians around the world — especially those threatened by political Islam, which also endangers America and Israel. It’s the Christian thing to do. (For more from the author of “It’s Time for a ‘Persecuted Christians First’ Foreign Policy” please click HERE)

Watch a recent interview with the author below:

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Welby: Christians Face Middle East Elimination

Christianity is facing “elimination” in the Middle East at the hands of an Islamic State “apocalypse”, the Archbishop of Cantebury has warned.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby used his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral to say IS is “igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression”.

He branded the Islamist extremists as “a Herod of today” – a reference to the Biblical despotic king of Judea at the time of Jesus’s birth.

“Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, they (IS) seem to welcome all opposition, certain that the warfare unleashed confirms that these are indeed the end times,” he said.

“They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began. (Read more from “Welby: Christians Face Middle East Elimination” HERE)

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