The many issues culminating in the ignition of the 2020 riots and the various interpretations of modern culture make the question of domestic terrorism a cloudy one, especially while events are still playing out. With such unclear parameters outlining the objectives, leadership, and strategy of groups that propagated extremist activities during the riots, officials’ hands are tied where labeling groups as terrorist is concerned. After all, illegal acts carried out during these demonstrations can be pinned on individuals, allowing organizations to distance themselves from responsibility for such tactics.
Along that vein, it’s difficult for authorities to lay the responsibility for one person’s actions on an entire agency. For example, if three men associated with Antifa burn down a church building during a demonstration, everyone associated with Antifa can’t be arrested for planning to burn down their local churches. Nor can we even confirm who is or is not acting on behalf of the agency. Thus, the three men in question can be arrested for committing arson, but Antifa can’t be charged without the government risking being guilty of severe authoritative overreach. Antifa maintains no official roster of members and gives its supporters no specific orders. In this way, it stays in the background, where it’s able to fuel the fire while evading culpability.
Groups like this—when they protest legally—are able to bring their malleable and sweeping ideologies into nearly any promotable or trending cause, and thrive beneath the surface of the initial objectives: gaining followers and repute, but lingering in the background seemingly supporting a “host cause” or target goal. Likely, the primary cause would be operating under the legal rights to conduct peaceful protest and free speech. Then, as troublemakers arrive and escalate the violence of the demonstrations, the organization can remain completely detached from individuals’ actions.
This is where threats of classifying a group as “domestic terrorist” becomes easier said than done. When an organization’s mission statement is ambiguous or even nonexistent, it’s nearly impossible for officials to call the entire body of members “terrorists” just because some who claim affiliation with that organization have acted illegally. To attempt to classify all members in a certain way based on the actions of a few may instigate legislation that could backfire. For example, to say that a certain group, because of any one stated belief, should be viewed as a national threat could lead to responsive legislation. But the cost would be huge, and would likely result in reducing our freedom of speech.
If this were to begin to happen, Christians will be among the first to have their freedom of speech limited. In fact, one might wonder if some of the agenda that is currently dividing the populace might be provocative at its core. Perhaps a bigger enemy is at work, one whose entire objective is to foster such a string of events via distraction. For example, take Antifa’s stance against “far-right ideologies.” Because the group’s name has been associated with so much of the rioting this year, some people would have no problem whatsoever seeing it classified as a domestic terrorist group—but that could cause their statements to be branded as “hate speech,” and their stance, including their “anti-far-right-ideologies agenda,” would likewise fall into a category of potential threat. Then, others who make similar statements could be arrested as potential terrorists for expressing similar values. (This is the cleverness of Antifa’s stance; it isn’t officially “for” anything as much as being “against” certain other things. This ambiguity will perpetually allow it to dodge having its statements labeled as “hate speech.” But follow the scenario with us for a bit.) At this point, some may say they have no issue with this; the destruction our country has undergone demands that people take a stand and call terrorism what it is. But, this has the potential to backfire grotesquely.
If our government were to begin assigning terms like “domestic terrorism” in this way, all it would take would be a few strategically placed “radicals” or a manipulated “trigger event” to begin to illegalize Christianity. Think it’s not possible? Many organizations that embrace traditional values are already being labeled as “hate groups,” and many biblical statements have already been pointed to as “hate speech.” Further, terrible things have been done by people who proclaim to be Christian. If we allow the government extensive freedom to interchange groups, statements, and actions, the Church could find itself in the bull’s eye. Even more concerning is the ambiguity we’ve discussed in the definition of domestic terrorism. Once activated against an organization, anti-terrorist laws provide a heightened allowance for surveillance, censorship, and prohibition of assembly.[i] These are dangerous lines for the government to be tampering with.
Are these authors saying we should ignore terrorism because there’s no clear legal way to define it? Not at all. Demonstrations that result in the destruction of property and personal death or injury should be dispersed—or even better, prevented; protests should be required to be carried out peacefully and legally. Those who break the law should be arrested, and when organizations that promote destruction or violence can be identified, sanctions should be applied.
However, if citizens frustrated with organizations such as Antifa want—in order to obtain immediate relief from the consequences of the group’s actions—to slap a “terrorist” label on any who may be associated with it, they run the risk of their own affiliations being illegalized next.
But maybe that is precisely what is happening. Perhaps that’s where some entities are currently going with all of the chaos of 2020. It seems possible that much of these turbulent circumstances could have been deliberate—with tragedies such as the death of Floyd seized to incite calculated chaos—to inspire a moment of desperation on the part of citizens. This, perhaps, to pave the way for an America that will allow entire organizations to be labeled as hate groups or terrorists without extremely careful filtering the wording of the legislation. Could this be the entire subplot of the pivotal year’s drama? If that’s the case, and if such maneuvers were to begin occurring, we are very concerned about the future of the Church’s ability to operate legally in America. Soon, Christian beliefs about marriage, family, the unborn, the Second-Amendment rights, and oh so much more could be enough to brand believers as terrorists.
As mentioned, many Christian-affiliated organizations that assert patriotic and traditional values are already listed on certain “hate group” rosters. A simple Google search of the term produces surprising and dismaying truth of this reality.
War on Churches
Branding Christian Views as Hate Speech/Burning Bibles
When headlines announced the burning of Bibles and American flags on our own cities’ streets during the riots, many Christians saw these events as a sign of the times. A day they thought they would never see in their lifetimes had arrived. Reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s mandated burning of the Hebrew Bible,[ii] passages of prophetic Scripture came to believers’ minds, and a whole new level of apocalyptic reality hit home. For many, figuring out how to respond was the focal question.[iii]
As Antifa burned Bibles in the same streets where their demonstrations wreaked havoc over much of the summer of 2020, their anti-fascist proclamations became increasingly anti-Christian. We may wonder how the torching copies of Scripture relates to the professed issue behind the riots, and it’s vital to follow this trail of thought lest our freedom of speech becomes jeopardized. Here’s the sequence: Antifa and similar organizations claim an anti-fascist stance. As mentioned, they aren’t as much “for” anything as they are “against” other things. Working “against” specific things is a limited effort, in that their cause focuses only on that issue. When they operate “against” a list of things instead, they can to add “similar” matters to the list, so they become anti- whatever that is as well. Whether the issues these groups oppose are really related is subjective, and to disagree with them is to merely disassociate from the organization. To be sure, many cases of racial injustice fueled the anger that was simmering before the death of George Floyd. But the trigger event that touched off the movement leading to the riots of 2020 was the death. As Antifa and similar organizations joined the movement against racism, they began to fold all forms of perceived hate together into one metaphorical envelope of issues protested during these demonstrations. It’s no secret that modern culture has the desire to interpret truth subjectively. Throughout the Bible, however, the Lord sets some boundaries that are concrete—thus they’re interpreted by some to be hate speech. The Scripture passages stating those hard-and-fast truths are then bundled with protests against racism. Soon, the content of entire Bible is labeled as hate speech, even at a rally fostering racial equality—a principle that God clearly deems as worthy (see Galatians 3:28–29). Yet, because of this chain of thinking, radicals burn copies of the Bible in the streets, calling it a source of hate. And, in the minds of some who witness this destruction, the Word even becomes implicated as guilty by association with the police brutality that sparked the series of events in the first place. Worse, since not many people understand what the Bible says on matters such as racial equality, few who see it burned in conjunction with the issue know how to objectively defend it—not that many would, even if they could, because it might deem them “racist.” So the flames consume the holy pages while those nearby don’t intervene—because they don’t understand what the Bible says about racial equality, they’re afraid of being perceived as racist, or, they can’t articulate why the blazing copies aren’t related to the reason for the riots.
Do you see how quickly the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, with circumstances escalating until an angry crowd tosses Bibles on to the fire—when the Holy Scripture isn’t even related to the reason for the protests? And, as hatred becomes more outlawed (which is happening rapidly), Scripture could, again, be heaped onto the pile of things that must be—mandatorily, next time—disposed of.
For those watching the flames, the book-burning certainly included elements of rebellion against all the protestors perceived to be hateful. However, it is readily observed as more an act of extremism than one that followed logic. Some witnesses described the Bible-burning as an effort to petition that “the police…be defunded or abolished,” while others said it was the way the demonstrators strove “for racial justice.”[iv] One observer noted that the burning of the Bible and the US flag “relates to racial injustice wasn’t immediately clear.”[v] Yet, the same person stated that one thing did seem clear: “Their [the protestors’] intentions are not to increase personal freedom.”[vi] This is the order of destruction and lack of logic that occurs when radical extremism manifests in destructive hype that gets out of control. Soon, people lose sight of the initial issue and protest anything that comes to mind that they can loosely—even if not rationally—clump together. The damage can be great, as we see in this example. What starts as a plea for racial equality can result in groups of impressionable individuals associating God’s Word with a racially motivated murder, thus it all burns together in the demonstration. Meanwhile, skeptics of the Word—who aren’t personally familiar with its contents in proper context—arrive on the scene of the demonstrations and misinterpret Scripture to “prove” that God endorses slavery. (The “slavery” referred to in the Bible is actually not “slavery” as we understand the term today; more accurately, it is an early form of indentured servitude involving a voluntary term of service and a guaranteed release from it on the Jubilee year. Nothing in Scripture indicates that the Lord endorses the vicious kind of racial inequality and murder we’ve seen in recent American history.)
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Mandated Church Closures
The Christian faith suffered an additional attack during the shutdowns of COVID-19 during 2020; the circumstances reveal a certain measure of where our rights to gather as the Body of Christ may be headed. Across the nation, the only exceptions to mandated closures were businesses and facilities deemed “essential.” The list of exemptions did not include churches, but it did include grocery and convenience stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, gas stations, and restaurants (for delivery, takeout, and curbside service only, at least for a certain length of time). A variety of other types of businesses, such as medical facilities, construction companies, pharmaceutical corporations, and manufacturing plants were allowed to remain in operation, and public charities such as homeless shelters and food pantries were also listed as permissible.[vii]
California saw some of the most heated friction between churches and government after stay-home orders were issued on March 19, 2020.[viii] In May, twelve hundred members of clergy came together and presented a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom stating that they intended to allow their congregations to meet on May 31, whether or not they had permission to do so. That day, the Day of Pentecost, was considered approximately the 1990th “birthday of the Christian Church,” and the council of clergy would no longer be restrained from their right to lead worship.[ix] Their stance wasn’t an act of rebellion, but was a plea for the state’s government to recognize the Church as an “essential” ingredient in humanity’s well-being. Furthermore, they stated that by singling out religious institutions as nonessential, they were being limited in a way that violated the rights protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment.[x] While the government does have the authority to limit certain activities of American life during a crisis, it does not have the right to adversely target religious institutions. Since many other, secular, aspects of lifestyle in our country were allowed to operate uninterrupted, the clergy believed they belonged to the segment being treated unfavorably.
The group of men and women in the coalition asking for places of worship to be deemed “essential” understood that the pandemic was a time of crisis, and they knew that during such times, anxiety and depression spike, making faith more necessary than ever.[xi] (The letter noted that during one week, one county in Tennessee had seen more deaths related to suicide than to COVID, leading to statements such as the following: “Coronavirus anxiety threatens more health damage than the lockdowns can possibly hope to save.”)[xii] As we’ve discussed, suicide rates, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol use, and other personal struggles have increased during the pandemic. The alliance of clergy believed that if such coping mechanisms as drinking alcohol were made available to the public at this time, then certainly their access to faith facilities should be allowed. The group requested that Governor Newsom give permission to gather; otherwise, they would not comply with his mandate, stating however that “all services…[would] be held in compliance with CDC and state guidelines for social distancing as is required of ‘essential businesses.’”[xiii]
The letter launched a series of attacks and legal battles that are still, as of this writing, being played out. While Newsom discussed a plan for reopening churches, much of his statement was mere lip service. Federal courts reinforced Newsom’s stay-home orders pertaining to churches, despite President Trump’s nationwide order that officials allow religious gatherings, stating that without “[tempering US Supreme Court legislation] with a little practical wisdom, it…[would] convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”[xiv] However, Judge Daniel Collins, Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals, disagreed with the enforced closures, stating that the limitation “illogically assumes that the very same people who cannot be trusted to follow the rules at their place of worship can be trusted to do so at their workplace.”[xv]
This assumption, however, seems to have caught on, since clergy have been taken to court, issued fines, and even spied on in their services since the dispute erupted.[xvi] Rumors even circulate that one county nailed a document of protest to the front door of a church—Martin-Luther style—although in actuality the document was taped to the building’s entrance.[xvii] Temporary legislation has placed limitations on corporate meetings for Bible study, prayer, communion, and other sacraments, and has additionally prohibited “singing and chanting, even in…private homes.”[xviii] Pastor Rob McCoy in Ventura County, California, was fined three thousand dollars for holding services at his church, Godspeak Calvary Chapel, in August after receiving orders to halt gatherings.[xix] Religious espionage emerged as a unique tactic against Christianity when Santa Clara, California, plainclothes officers attended North Valley Baptist Church there and subsequently filed court documents that resulted in a cease-and-desist order, along with ten thousand dollars’ worth of fines (five thousand per service) for singing during the two sessions.[xx]
Churches continue to fight this legal battle, citing that it is inconsistent to allow an organization to feed people or house them overnight while prohibiting that same entity from allowing folks to pray or take communion while standing six feet apart. Additionally, these organizations are permitted to provide “counseling to find work but cannot…[counsel people] on finding eternal life.”[xxi] With such backward logic limiting only the activities that would directly involve worship, praise, Bible study, faith coaching, and communal prayer within the same institutions, it’s easy to perceive intentional discrimination against Christianity itself. Liberty Counsel, acting as legal representation for some of the attacked clergy, urged in a statement that “this unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end.”[xxii]
Battles like this are taking place across the entire nation at this very moment. While the “pandemic,” “emergency” labels allow the government to enact legislation limiting activities, we must look to the future and wonder what restrictions will remain when the urgency subsides. Additionally, as much of the population increasingly begins to view religion as archaic, outdated, and even hateful, will there be a place for the Christian lifestyle to reemerge in society once—if—it becomes legal again to do so?
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Will America Embrace Socialism?
As governmental crackdowns on freedoms of all types escalate, an alarming trend is occurring amidst the general population. This is the increasing interest of many in seeing America embrace the notion of socialism. In fact, nearly “40 percent of millennials and others are prepared to surrender their liberties to the absolute authority of the state.”[xxiii] This is likely because many people see the government as a potentially limitless entity that could, given enough power, solve the problems that its citizens face. For many, surrendering personal freedoms is a small price to pay for what might ultimately yield such dividends as better healthcare, improved education, increased protection, and material provision for all. The folks who see things this way view capitalism as the vehicle by which a select few have been made elaborately wealthy; they see that as keeping others from obtaining a share in that success. They believe that there are a few select billionaires who, once defunded, would see their wealth redistributed throughout the working class and used to improve society as a whole. It’s easy, at first glance, to recognize the allure of these notions. What if, just by changing the overindulgent lives of a few people, the condition of all of humanity could improve? This is the rhetoric currently being propagated among our impressionable populace. Since it seems to be promoting the betterment of humanity, more and more are jumping aboard this worldview.
However, certain flaws in this ideology surface once the rubber meets the road. Economists warn that socialism has always failed the citizens it’s supposed to serve. There are many reasons for this; we’ll explain a few here.
Socialism operates on the premise that communities will work together and share responsibility, accountability, and accrued wealth. Thus, it promises equality and joint prosperity for all. This benefit is rewarded in trade for surrendering personal liberties to the governing powers, which run things much like a business. However, “any accomplishments quickly fade as the fundamental deficiencies of central planning emerge.”[xxiv] In contrast, capitalism’s strengths are found in the fact that incentives exist: those that come from service, competitive pricing, the benefits of entrepreneurship and property ownership, opportunities for promotion, and other motivations for people to be the best that they can be.[xxv] This lends to a society of people who find work that fulfills them, who understand why they do what they do, and who challenge one another to perform competitively. When roles are dictated, property is owned by the governing powers, and people are without motivation to perform well, economic output fails as a result of lack of ambition and capped potential.[xxvi]
One of the biggest pitfalls of a socialist society is that, when people feel as though they’re part of a large machine that doesn’t see them as unique individuals, they become unhappy. In America, we have a highly individualized culture, one in which folks want to feel that they’re seen and heard. We see a great example of this in social media, which allows people to independently have and proclaim their opinions; their personal styles, which vary greatly; and the freedom to identify with a certain religion, gender, orientation, or other classification. In America, people are free to be anything or anyone they want to be! At this time, many are desperate to see socioeconomic divides narrowed, to see relief for the impoverished. These are wonderful goals. But socialism isn’t the answer, because it contradicts human nature—especially how that nature has evolved in today’s America.[xxvii]
Essentially, socialism—even if it works perfectly, which it likely won’t—offers to provide for physical and material needs, but reduces people to automatons in order to do so. We may not realize it, but similar ideologies fail or are rejected every day in society. For example, someone gives us a budget that’s supposed to help us save money, but we don’t follow it because it either doesn’t work or we don’t want to follow the spending constraints. As another example, foundations or clubs are started with a group of people stating that the cause is worthy, but members get tired and their support wanes. And nutritionists write rigid diet plans that dieters don’t follow because they want to eat what they want.
Consider this: A group of people decide they want to make a better life. They purchase land together, designate communal areas for growing their own food, coordinate home-schooling their children, and manufacture as many of their goods and meet as many of their own needs as possible. Along the way, they discover that, in the best interest of the community, many policies must be enacted.
Eventually, others join this community, making the shared load become heavier. Ideally, the newcomers would give as much dedicated effort and financial investment to the conglomerate as the original visionaries, but, as we all know, it is likely that they won’t. Before long, the original dreamers will likely be those working the hardest and carrying the heaviest financial burden, while others do the minimum to keep from being asked to leave. In addition, the more recent joiners may complain about all the rules that were put into place before they arrived, when they didn’t have a say in the decision-making. Why will the scenario play out like this? Because the founders will have sacrificed much personal freedom in trade for a way of life that fostered security for themselves, but it was their ambition—their dreams—that will carry them through the effort and discipline. On the other hand, most newcomers won’t have been personally invested in the success of the community, and likely will have joined in hopes that their needs would be met. In light of this, they will want to hang onto as much personal freedom as possible—while making minimal personal sacrifice. If they were somehow forced to contribute more effort or financial support, they would consider the trade unfair or demand more freedoms; anything less than the meeting of such demands would result in accusations of overreach on the part of the community’s ruling body.
Yet, this is precisely the frustration that results from a switch to socialism, which requires that people trade 100 percent effort and personal freedoms for security. Those living in an extremely individualistic society such as America may be drawn to this notion for a while—as many Americans currently are—but they won’t be for very long. Unfortunately, by the time the citizens recognize socialism’s shortcomings, it could be too late to get their power back. Worst of all, when it’s discovered that the governing powers do not have—nor can they get—enough wealth to keep all the promises they’ve made, a disillusioned populace will realize that they face the same level of poverty and other socioeconomic issues they did previously. But once all ways of building wealth have been placed under governmental control, individuals will no longer have the power to try to restore the situation without attempting to overthrow the ruling body. At the end of the day, the type of life socialism promises would be difficult for anyone living in a collectivist society, but Americans will face a terrible and adverse culture shock if they actually get this trade, despite the fact that many currently believe it’s the answer to their problems. And, once America becomes a socialist nation, it’s very unlikely that the situation will be reversed.
Some readers may take this look at socialism to mean that we authors have no sympathy for those who are in need of resources that it attempts to provide, such as healthcare, education, equality, and necessities. That’s not the case. In fact, we would love to see the Church come up with more answers to these problems, and we would celebrate interpersonal networking that would foster settings wherein people could help each other. By pointing out the flaws in socialism, we merely hope to call attention to the fact that it will not solve the problems it represents itself as being able to, and that ultimately the selling points are circulated to con citizens into undervaluing their liberties in trade for provision.
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[i] Williams, Heather. “The Dangers of Designating Antifa as a Terrorist Organization Now.” RAND. June 22, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/06/the-dangers-of-designating-antifa-as-a-terrorist-organization.html.
[ii] Confino, Alon. (2012). “Why Did the Nazis Burn the Hebrew Bible? Nazi Germany, Representations of the Past, and the Holocaust,” Journal of Modern History – J MOD HIST. 56. 369–400. 10.1086/664662.
[iii] Holton, Chuck. “As Antifa Agitators Burn Bibles in Portland, What Role Should Christians Play?” CBN News. August 8, 2020. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2020/august/as-antifa-agitators-burn-bibles-in-portland-what-role-should-christians-play.
[vii] Frank, Stephen. “REVOLT: 1,200 Calif. Clergy Tell Newsom They’re Meeting in Person, With or Without Permission.” California Political Review. May 21, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. http://www.capoliticalreview.com/capoliticalnewsandviews/revolt-1200-calif-clergy-tell-newsom-theyre-meeting-in-person-with-or-without-permission/.
[viii] Hutchinson, Bill. “Federal Court Backs California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Orders Keeping Churches Closed.” ABC News. May 24, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/federal-court-backs-california-gov-gavin-newsoms-orders/story?id=70856597.
[ix] Frank, Stephen. “REVOLT: 1,200 Calif. Clergy Tell Newsom They’re Meeting in Person, With or Without Permission.”
[xiv] Hutchinson, Bill. “Federal Court Backs California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Orders Keeping Churches Closed.” ABC News. May 24, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/federal-court-backs-california-gov-gavin-newsoms-orders/story?id=70856597.
[xvi] Taft, Victoria. “California’s All-Out War on Church Worship Intensifies with Bans, Fines, and Sending in Spies.” PJ Media. August 24, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/victoria-taft/2020/08/24/californias-all-out-war-on-church-worship-intensifies-with-bans-fines-and-sending-in-spies-n834623.
[xxiii] Dobson, James. “Critical Issue #6: Capitalism v. Socialism.” FaithVotes Critical Issues: James Dobson. 2020 Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.drjamesdobson.org/critical-issue-6-capitalism-v-socialism.
[xxiv] Eldeas, A. “Why Socialism always Fails.” AEI News. March 22, 2016. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/why-socialism-always-fails/#:~:text=Socialism%20does%20not%20work%20because,are%20of%20the%20utmost%20importance.
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