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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,[i] 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.[ii]

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.”[iii] One observer noted that the burning of the Bible and the US flag “relates to racial injustice wasn’t immediately clear.”[iv] Yet, the same person stated that one thing did seem clear: “Their [the protestors’] intentions are not to increase personal freedom.”[v] 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.)

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.[vi]

California saw some of the most heated friction between churches and government after stay-home orders were issued on March 19, 2020.[vii] 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.[viii] 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.[ix]  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.[x] (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.”)[xi] 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.’”[xii]

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.”[xiii] 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.”[xiv]

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.[xv] 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.[xvi] 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.”[xvii] 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.[xviii] 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.[xix]

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.”[xx] 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.”[xxi]

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?

UP NEXT: Will America Embrace Socialism?

If you would like more information on the topics covered in this article series, see the book Dark Covenant by Donna Howell and Allie Anderson, available below:

[i] 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.

[ii] Holton, Chuck. “As Antifa Agitators Burn Bibles in Portland, What Role Should Christians Play?” CBN News. August 8, 2020.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] 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.

[vii] Hutchinson, Bill. “Federal Court Backs California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Orders Keeping Churches Closed.” ABC News. May 24, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[viii] Frank, Stephen. “REVOLT: 1,200 Calif. Clergy Tell Newsom They’re Meeting in Person, With or Without Permission.”

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Hutchinson, Bill. “Federal Court Backs California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Orders Keeping Churches Closed.” ABC News. May 24, 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] 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.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

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