By / Nov 10

“If you continue to be a Christian, I will kill you now.”1“Laotian Front Line Worker Prays He Will Die Serving the Lord,” Voice of the Martyrs, https://www.persecution.com/stories/laotian-front-line-worker-prays-he-will-die-serving-the-lord/

Nineteen-year-old Mee stared at the barrel of the gun pointed at her forehead by a Communist guard in her Laotian village. It had been three months since she’d encountered Christ in a dream and decided to follow Jesus. 

After a five-year battle with thyroid cancer, she’d been given three months to live. Desperate, she went to church with her sister who was a Christian and prayed a prayer as audacious as it was dangerous, “If you are really true, God, you heal me and I will serve you until I die.” 

That night in a dream, she saw two paths stretch out before her. One was darkened with shadows. The other was flooded with light, a man at the end saying, “Come with Me.” She chose the path of light. When she woke up, she told her sister that she wanted to believe in Jesus. A month later, a checkup revealed that her cancer was completely gone. God had answered her prayer and saved her life. Now, she was committed to serving him with every breath she had. But while she’d known persecution was possible, she hadn’t anticipated that three months later, instead of dying from cancer, she’d be faced with a choice—a choice between life and Christ.

“You can kill my body but not my spirit,” Mee replied to the guard. She’d made her choice. She wouldn’t back out now.

8,000 miles away

Several years later, 8,000 miles and an ocean and culture away, 24-year-old Jaelene Hinkle was also faced with a choice.“2This Pro Soccer Player Gave up the US Women’s Team Just so She Could Stand for Her Faith,” CBN News, https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/june/this-pro-soccer-player-gave-up-the-us-womens-team-just-so-she-could-stand-for-her-faith A defender on the North Carolina Courage soccer team, her career was skyrocketing. In June 2017, she was invited to play for America in two international games. It was a dream come true and an incredible opportunity. Yet days before the event, it was announced that players on the American team were required to wear rainbow jerseys designed to honor the LGBTQ+ community for Pride Month. Jaelene’s biblical convictions on marriage and gender now clashed with her career, and she had to make a decision. Would she compromise her beliefs and wear the jersey or pull herself off the team and compromise her career?

A few years earlier, Jaelene had whispered a prayer similar to Mee. During the spring season of her junior year in college, she began having excruciating pain in her left leg from an extensive blood clot. In order to save her life, a stent would have to be put in—but that would mean she’d never be able to play soccer again. The night before the surgery, she desperately told God, “If you allow me to play soccer, this is going to be for you.”

The next day, her doctors discovered the blood clot was miraculously gone. Now, several years after God had answered her prayer and allowed her to play, Jaelene had a choice to make—would she place her commitment to God above her soccer career as she’d promised? 

After three days of seeking the Lord, Jaelene pulled herself off the team. She’d made her choice. She wouldn’t back out now.

She was slammed on social media and booed during games. She was called names by sports writers. When she tried out for the Women’s World Cup, she was cut from the team. Yet she remained faithful.

A call to courageous obedience

After Mee boldly proclaimed, “You can kill my body but not my spirit,” the Communist guard lowered his gun and walked away. Once again, God had brought her life back from the brink of death. She still lives in constant danger of persecution, but as her husband Vang says, “When you try to avoid what God says, you try to build your own kingdom. Either you listen to God’s Word, or you listen to the world. We must follow God and obey what God says we must do.”

Jaelene and Mee’s cultures and circumstances are worlds apart. The consequences for their actions are also vastly different. Yet even though their backgrounds and the dangers of their choices vary widely, their commonalities are a stronger tie than their dissimilarities—both young women based their actions off of a desire to be obedient to God, regardless of consequences. 

It’s tempting for us who live in the comfort and relative safety of 21st-century America to read a story like Mee’s and think it’s irrelevant to our lives. After all, we don’t usually have guns pointed at our heads because of our faith in Christ. Our decision to follow Jesus affects our lives but usually doesn’t endanger them. 

Yet in the midst of this mindset is the subtle idea that standing for truth doesn’t matter as much in the circumstances we face today. Like Jaelene, we are often daily presented with choices. Will we stand by God’s Word when it’s unpopular? Will we hold fast to what we believe when our convictions are challenged by a coworker, family member, or neighbor? Will we allow our biblical views of marriage, sexuality, identity, justice, or gender to be altered by the pressures of society?

Or will we look at these relatively small decisions and let compromise and subtle complicity into our lives with the words, “It’s not that big of a deal”?

Consequences vary, but the call to obedience remains. It would have been extremely easy for Jaelene to brush aside her conscience and wear the jersey. In instances where it’s not our lives, but rather our reputations, position, jobs, or friendships that are on the line, sometimes the lesser consequence requires the greater act of obedience. Those seemingly “small acts of obedience” prepare and strengthen us for bigger choices in the future. As I say in my book Stand Up, Stand Strong, “Perhaps one day we’ll face the same consequences our brothers and sisters in Christ have faced for centuries. Will we be ready? One thing is clear: we won’t be ready to face death or imprisonment for our faith one day if we’re not willing to be mocked, fired from our jobs, or called intolerant for the sake of God’s truth today. Standing strong starts now.”

The measure of our obedience isn’t found in the greatness of the act, but in how we stick to the Word of God for the sake of Christ. Every person has a different set of circumstances, but every person has the same choice to make: to be faithful to God—regardless of the consequences.

Jaelene viewed her decision to pull herself off the team as an opportunity to encourage believers to not waver on their convictions, but stand strong. “Maybe this was why [I was] meant to play soccer,” she said. “Just to show other believers to be obedient.”

Both Jaelene and Mee chose obedience. May God give you and I the grace to do the same.

  • 1
    “Laotian Front Line Worker Prays He Will Die Serving the Lord,” Voice of the Martyrs, https://www.persecution.com/stories/laotian-front-line-worker-prays-he-will-die-serving-the-lord/
  • 2
    This Pro Soccer Player Gave up the US Women’s Team Just so She Could Stand for Her Faith,” CBN News, https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2018/june/this-pro-soccer-player-gave-up-the-us-womens-team-just-so-she-could-stand-for-her-faith
By / Jan 22

Over the last few days, a media firestorm has broken out over the fact that Karen Pence, wife of the vice president of the United States, will return to teach art on a part-time basis at a private Christian school. Immanuel Christian School, like many other private institutions, requires its staff members to sign a code of conduct and statement of beliefs. Within Immanuel Christian School’s statement of beliefs, one will find the ancient and biblical understanding of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture.”

In terms of the code of conduct, Immanuel Christian expects its staff members and students to “live a personal life of moral purity.” The governing document goes on to define certain aspects of “moral misconduct” as “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”

Most media outlets that have covered this news, even those who disagree strongly with the positions of the school, have been fairly understanding of a private school’s prerogative to maintain standards for its staff and students. The heartache for these journalists can be found in the “Second Lady of the United States” choosing to work at a school with such convictions, and thus, according to some, “sending a deeply hurtful message to LGBTQ youth and those who support them by acquiescing to, and upholding, deeply and directly discriminatory policies as a member of the school’s faculty.”

Christian convictions and the public square

This controversy provokes the question: Is a Christian allowed to maintain and live according to their convictions in the public square? Here are a few thoughts that we must consider:

First, Karen Pence is the wife of an elected official, but not the elected official herself. Even if Karen Pence was an elected official, though, the argument that someone with such a public role in the U.S. should not associate with institutions that hold potentially controversial beliefs principally violates the no religious test clause of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever role she plays or doesn’t play as the “Second Lady of the United States” is up to her and her husband. Yet, Mrs. Pence’s association with Immanuel Christian School should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Karen Pence previously taught art at Immanuel Christian School for 12 years before her current role. It is not as if she deceived someone about her beliefs and convictions. The Pence family has held these Christian convictions publicly for decades, which brings us to the second point worth noting in this controversy.

A second observation worth noting concerns how scandalized and outraged many media outlets seemed to be by Mrs. Pence’s commitment to historic, Christian sexual ethics. As other conservative thinkers have mentioned elsewhere, the media is surprised that the Second Lady, a Christian, is teaching at an institution that holds to orthodox Christian beliefs. Immanuel Christian School has the audacity to be Christian.

Sadly, the scandal surrounding such convictions is not limited to Mrs. Pence. In recent days, Sens. Mazie Hirono and Kamala Harris have all but applied a religious test to the nomination of Brian Buescher to the federal judiciary. They have raised questions and objections to his service on account of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a historically Catholic organization that also happens, to the surprise of some, to be Catholic. And last year, Russ Vought, a nominee for The Office of Management and Budget, was criticized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for holding beliefs that are consistent with Christian doctrine.

One cannot help but wonder if those who oppose public leaders with Christian convictions do so in part because they cannot imagine a religious person in the U.S. being anything other than nominal. It now appears that decades of nominal, convictionless, western Christianity has paved the way for progressives to argue that there is no place for convictional religion in the public square. For decades, many professing Christians have argued publicly for the need to downplay or even abandon doctrinal convictions, thinking that such an approach would earn favor in the public square. But many progressives are not merely content with expanding rights for the LGBT community; they want Christian communities to abandon sexual ethics entirely or be shamed out of public life.

The free exercise of religious liberty

Surrender and capitulation, however, are not necessary. The First Amendment of the United States grants all religious people the right to live out their faith. They have not simply been granted the right of conscience. They have been granted the right of free exercise. Furthermore, this right, while enshrined in the First Amendment, does not originate from mankind. Religious liberty is not fundamentally an artifact of the Enlightenment. Religious liberty is deeply rooted in humanity’s relationship with God. God has made man and woman in his image, and they are supremely accountable to him as his creatures. When the government or others attempt to direct or guide the religious practices of God’s creatures, they are attempting to subvert the Lordship of Christ.

At times, people will use fear, slander, lies, shame, and intimidation to drive the Christian’s convictions back into the shadows. The temptation is to respond with fear, slander, lies, and shame of our own, but that is not the way of Christ. Instead, Christians must remember who they are ultimately accountable to and why they are here on this earth. Christ left his disciples on the earth to point others to “the kindness and severity of God “(Rom. 11:22). And at times, these faithful disciples will be “reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:11) because, like the prophets of old, they dared to remind people that they were sinners in need of God’s mercy. No amount of hedging or nuance will ever take away the offense of the cross of Christ.

The Christian faith was never intended to be “normal” in this world. It was intended to disrupt “normal.” The gospel, with its clear call to repent and believe in Christ, was and is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). So, we do not lose heart when people disagree vehemently with our religious convictions and tell us to leave our Christianity at home. Instead, we remember that we are strangers in this world. We are sojourners who are looking forward to “a better and abiding possession” (Heb. 10:34) that is soon to be revealed when our Savior appears (Col. 3:1-4). May we be faithful witnesses to Christ until the very end, no matter what it costs us.

By / Apr 4

This week a well known company whose products I have used for years made national headlines. Why? They made a controversial decision based on their closely held corporate convictions in response to a national outcry. They were criticized by those on the other side who claimed that their expression of their organizational beliefs would violate the freedom of their employees and cause them harm.

No, I am not talking about Hobby Lobby. I am talking about Mozilla.

Yesterday, newly appointed Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich resigned amidst an online furor that erupted because he donated $1,000 to support California's Proposition 8 opposing the legalization of same sex marriage. Though Eich had worked for the company for years, made significant achievements in the tech field, and committed to keep his personal convictions isolated from his corporate leadership, criticisms (and even boycotts by some groups, like dating site OK Cupid) resulted in his resignation.

Isn't it interesting that many who don't think Hobby Lobby can have corporate convictions now think that Mozilla can?

The parallels between the two situations are striking. Of course, there are some distinctives between the two that keep them from being identical. But think about the similarities between them on the basis of the following assertion about convictional decision making by organizations (divided into four aspects): (1) Organizations can hold (2) closely held corporate convictions (3) that are used to make significant decisions (4) that reflect the beliefs of its leadership.

Let's think through the parallels between these two corporate situations in light of all four of aspects of the assertion above.

1. Organizations can hold: This is an issue of ability. Can an organization, as an organization, have corporate convictions that drive decisions. It is not a question of should they hold any particular conviction(s). It is Hobby Lobby's conviction that it will not provide abortion-inducing contraceptives. It is Mozilla's conviction that they will not be led by someone who opposes same sex marriage. It is inconsistent to suggest that one organization can have a core conviction and not the other.

2. Closely held corporate convictions: This is an issue of Identity. Notice the term is corporate conviction, not religious belief because Mozilla would likely deny that a particular religion is driving their decision. Regardless of whether an organization's convictions are explicitly based on religion, all companies have some form of corporate values. Both Hobby Lobby and Mozilla have explicitly stated core convictions. It is inconsistent to suggest that one organization can have corporate convictions and not another.

3. That are used to make significant decisions: This is an issue of strategy. It should be expected that corporations make strategic decisions on the basis of their core values. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the decision was to oppose coverage of abortion inducing contraceptives. In the case of Mozilla, the decision was to remove a leader whose personal beliefs did not match their corporate values. It is inconsistent to suggest that it is right for one organization to make strategic decisions based on core convictions and not the other.

4. That reflect the beliefs of its leadership: This is a question of ideology. The personal preferences of a company's leadership can, and often do, shape the corporate convictions of an organization. One of the main critiques of Hobby Lobby is that its leadership has forced its convictions onto the employees of the organization. But isn't this precisely what Mozilla has done too? How would reactions have been different if Mozilla ran off their CEO for supporting same sex marriage rather than opposing it? Mozilla chairwoman Mitchell Baker said the company failed to stay “true to ourselves” and reflect its organizational culture of “diversity and inclusiveness.” In both cases, the convictions of the leadership caused the organization to make controversial decisions. It is inconsistent to suggest that it is right for one organization to make decisions that reflect the ideologies of its leaders and not the other.

Mozilla's decision has raised major concerns for those who care about freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Whether you are Hobby Lobby or your hobby is to lobby for what you believe, you must count the costs of your convictions.