Wednesday, 20 February 2008

I'm Against it But...

Some time ago a Moscow court ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses activities in the city should be banned. Grounds for the ruling were said to have been “inciting religious discord, breaking up families, violating individual citizen’s rights, inclining people to commit suicide, and luring teenagers and minors”. The Witnesses have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. The Russian Orthodox Church has said it welcomed the decision.

The result of this is that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and other parts of Russia have already experienced problems due to publicity surrounding the ruling in the Russian press. Apparently the Russian press omitted to inform readers that the ruling was not yet law and so not enforceable. As a result Witnesses’ freedoms have been hindered on the basis of what amounts to no more than a legal opinion. Human rights activists are watching developments and have warned that it is a measure of religious freedom in Russia.

A JW spokesman has also said, “It sends a signal through Russia that this is what we need to do”.

This highlights the paradox we face in ministry in that we, like the “official” religious leaders in Russia, are concerned about the activities of those whom we regard as counterfeits of the true Christian faith. On the other hand, the freedom that allows us to express our concerns and bring them to the attention of the public is also afforded to those whose teachings we question. They have a right to knock doors and tell people how they see it. This is democracy and, until Jesus comes again and sets up the true theocracy, this is the best system we have. You see, restrictive regimes that appear to allay our deepest fears by outlawing those elements of society which concern and worry us, may seem to serve our best interests – until someone with influence expresses concern about us and our activities.

Pastor Niemoellor, a political prisoner of the Nazis, expressed it best when he wrote:

First they came for the communists
And I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist.

Next they came for the Catholics
And I did not speak out –
because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Everyone puts their truth claims “out there”, even if it is the indolent claim that truth claims are not worth the paper they are written on. It is a basic human right, we feel, to be wrong, just as it is a basic human right to argue for the right, to try and influence people’s thinking and outlook, to persuade them to your point of view – to tell them the truth. The problem comes when we feel we are so right that we go beyond words and persuasion and inflict and impose our “truth”.

Of course, the ultimate sanction is the one Jesus will bring when He comes again and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. Until then there needs to be a degree of humility in our truth telling as we seek to help people realise before that day that He is, indeed, Lord and it would be better to bow willingly and confess readily to the true Jesus than to the counterfeit. After all, if it is God’s truth we are proclaiming we must believe that it will prevail by God’s power and in God’s time. We are called simply to proclaim it and should be glad for the freedom we currently have to do so.

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