Thousands of Christians abroad will be tortured today at the hands of ruthless oppressors. Their offense — faith.
Thousands of babies in the U.S will be murdered today at the hands of mercenary abortionists. Their offense — inconvenience.
In spite of the magnitude of these cruelties, and despite the emotional pleas of those who defend the innocent, those who call themselves Christians in the U.S. have remained, for the most part, strangely silent.
Some non-Christians have shown more passion than the majority of Christians. A.M. Rosenthal, syndicated columnist for the New York Times, has raised his voice on the issue of persecuted Christians. Michael Horrowitz, a Jew, has lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill regarding persecuted Christians, and has sounded the same alarm in the public square. But, as James Dobson observed concerning the church's response to partial birth abortion and the persecution of Christians, "The silence from the majority of God's people was deafening!"1
This silence is puzzling. It is confusing. It is frustrating, for God has commanded His people to stand in defense of the helpless. His concern for the defenseless is clear in Psalm 82:3,4, where He commands, "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (NIV). There can be no doubt as to God's expectation!
Yet the silence continues.
The massive silence cannot be attributed to ignorance, for the information has been given freely and repeatedly. Nor can it be blamed on restrictions to response, for U.S. citizens have ready access to their elected representatives. No one can legitimately claim that calling representatives is a waste of time, for abortion-rights advocate, senator Tom Daschle (Dem., S.D.), "gave in" to pressure from his Roman Catholic constituency and voted in support of the senate version of the partial birth abortion ban.2
No, our collective silence can't be blamed on these. Apathy is the likely culprit. However, for many the apathy probably stems from not understanding the ramifications of silence. This is tragic indeed, for when we remain silent as the helpless are oppressed, the results are dramatic and far reaching. Silence affects U.S. Christians in at least three ways, impacting not only our role in society, but our relationship with God as well.
A Poor Reflection
God has always expected His people to embrace and reflect His priorities. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as holy and called His people to holiness (Lev. 11:44). He detested idolatry, and He expected His followers to do the same (Deut. 7:25,26; 13:12-18; 18:9-13). When He delivered the Israelites from bondage to Egyptian slavery, He expected them to follow Him to the Promised Land, but also to adopt following Him as their way of life.
As a result of their obedience, the watching world could see a measure of God's nature and concern fleshed out through His people (Deut. 4;5-8; 28:9,10). In a sense, Israel was to be an object lesson of God's glory for the world to see.
The New Testament also teaches that His people are to embrace His priorities. He calls us to be holy because He is holy (I Pet. 1:16), and to love because He first loved us (I John 4:7,8). He has delivered us from sin's bondage, and expects us to follow Him and seek first His Kingdom.
In addition, God expects us to reflect His nature and priorities to a watching world. As they see a biblical marriage, they learn lessons of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). When our actions serve as "salt and light," the world gets a glimpse of God (Matt. 5:13-16). When they see us love each other, they see Christ's love embodied in us (John 13:34,35).
Therefore, consider this: The Bible reveals God as One Who is particularly concerned for the helpless and defenseless. In the Semitic culture of the Old Testament world, widows, orphans, and aliens had no civil rights as we know them. They were especially susceptible to abuse by the ruthless, with no civil provision for protection.3
Against that backdrop, God pictured Himself as a Father to the fatherless, a Defender of widows, and One Who upheld the cause of the oppressed (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 68:5; 146:7). For that reason, He commanded Israel to protect and defend the helpless (Deut. 10:18,19). Throughout the Old Testament, He repeatedly emphasized the need to protect the defenseless and relieve the oppressed (Deut. 24:17; Prov. 24:11,12; Isaiah 1:17; 58:6).
In the New Testament, He underscored this concern, saying that the only religion which He accepts as pure and faultless entails care for the helpless (James 1:27).
The loving God we serve seems to have a special concern for the oppressed and helpless. Unlike the Semitic lands of the Old Testament, orphans, widows, and aliens are legally protected in the U.S. against cruelty and abuse. Unborn children, however, are not. God's concern for the helpless applies to the child who cannot defend against the abortionist.
Christians who face torture and execution abroad also fit the category of helpless and defenseless. They've been stripped of all civil rights and are powerless in the face of cruel oppression. God cares for them and calls for their deliverance.
Because we are His people, God expects us to embrace His concern and reflect it to the watching world. If we are willing to take a firm stand in defense of the unborn child and those tortured for their Christian faith, the world has an opportunity to see the compassionate heart of God in action.
However, when we remain silent as the helpless are slaughtered, not only do we fail to reflect God's love and compassion to the watching world, we project a false image of God — that of an apathetic, if not a cruel God.
Not only does He expect us to embrace and reflect His concern for the helpless, God specifically commands us to stand in their defense. As we saw above, He calls us to action in Psalm 82: 3-4, but also in Proverbs 24:11; Isaiah 1:17; and Isaiah 58:6.
The commands are clear and specific, and as we saw earlier, in today's society, the passages apply to the unborn child as well as to the tortured Christian. We are able to speak in their defense merely by contacting our elected representatives in government.
The Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion could be reversed, if those who claim to follow Christ would contact their representatives and senators in Washington and push for pro-life legislation. Millions of lives could be saved.
Christians in communist and Muslim nations could be delivered from beatings, rape, slavery, and murder, if our legislators would enact measures that put economic and diplomatic pressure on the offending governments. The atrocities could be dramatically affected. The key to such legislation may be nothing more than our phone call or letter.
We have the means to speak out against these cruelties — and at this point, we have good reason to expect positive results. But regardless of the results, our responsibility to obey God remains. We must speak out, for when we remain silent, not only do we cast a grossly inaccurate reflection of God, we sin against Him.
Facing the Consequences
The prospect of misrepresenting and disobeying God through our silence is sobering indeed. However, perhaps even more sobering are the consequences of our silence.
Hindered Prayer and Worship
Whenever God's people disobey Him, they should not be surprised at the consequences which follow, including a negative affect on prayer and worship.
The Psalmist declared, "I cried out to Him with my mouth: His praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened," (Psalm 66:17,18 NIV, emphasis by the author). Notice that God rejects both prayers of petition and praise when one refuses to acknowledge and deal with sin.
Peter warned, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect … so that nothing will hinder your prayers" (I Peter 3:7 NIV, emphasis by the author).
Whenever we choose to disobey God, we have no reason to expect Him to receive and act upon our worship and prayer (see also Matt. 5:23,24; I John 1:6-9; 3: 21,22).
Perhaps even more alarming, God specifically linked worthless worship to ignoring the plight of the defenseless. Through Isaiah, God revealed His passion for justice and the protection of the helpless (1:17). Yet with the same measure of passion, He also declared that He rejected the people's worship when they rejected His priorities of civil justice and protection for the helpless (1:10-16; see also 58:6 and Zech. 7:9-13).
God continued this connection in the New Testament. As we saw earlier, the only religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is that which includes protection for the helpless (James 1:27).
Christians in the U.S. should not be surprised if God doesn't seem to be answering prayer or blessing denominational efforts. For, when we fail to at least contact our representatives on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters, and when we remain silent as helpless babies are abandoned to the cruelties of ruthless abortionists, our prayers and worship are certainly hindered, if not rendered worthless.
Discipline from God
God has demonstrated conclusively that He loves His children. One evidence of this love is His discipline when we disobey (Prov. 3:11,12; Hebrews 12: 8-11). In some cases, His discipline may be severe (I Cor. 11:30).
Again, the Lord asserted His concern for the helpless in Proverbs 24:11,12, when He commanded, "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" (NIV, emphasis by the author).
God is obviously concerned for the persecuted, and that those who can stand in their defense do so. When they don't, He promises discipline.
The Bible may not clearly detail the nature of God's discipline when we remain silent, but it clearly teaches that those who shirk their duty will be disciplined.
Darkness and Decay
When Jesus commanded His disciples to be "salt and light," (Matt. 5:13-16), they understood the point of the word pictures. They knew that light dispersed darkness and salt was used to help preserve meat. Without light and salt, darkness and decay would dominate. They could see that their behavior and "good deeds" (verse 16) were to help arrest spiritual darkness and decay in the world.
The same is true today. As God's children embrace and act upon God's concerns and priorities, they function as salt and light. Their behavior helps combat the domination of spiritual darkness and decay.
However, when we fail to act upon God's concerns, we should not be surprised when darkness and decay permeate our society.
When we fail to defend unborn children, we should not be surprised at societal disdain for life. We should not be surprised when the mother of a newborn smothers the baby and tosses him into the dumpster. A few hours earlier, she could have had a legal abortion, so what's the difference? When we fail to act as salt and light, decay and darkness will consume our culture.
When we fail to even contact our representatives in defense for our persecuted brothers and sisters abroad, we should not be surprised when our own society gradually becomes increasingly anti-Christian. If we do not take action consistent with being salt and light, this is the natural result.
Our continued corporate silence may indeed result in a culture that so disdains life, and so disdains Christian conviction, that we ourselves become the targets of sanctioned annihilation. At that point, the "freedom of religion" for which our ancestors struggled will be relegated, for all practical purposes, to the archives of American history.
Not that this is a call to self-preservation. It is not. Even when we serve as salt and light, the promise remains that we will be persecuted to some extent.
However, at this point we live in a democratic republic where our voices can (and should) be heard. If we fail to obey God by calling for relief for persecuted Christians abroad and protection for innocent life at home, we should not be surprised when our own religious freedom is eventually denied and our lives are viewed as expendable for a greater cause. When that takes place, we will have become victims of our own silence.
A Proper Response
How, then, should God's people respond? If we are to defend the helpless by contacting our elected representatives, what guidelines must we follow?
First, we must remember that, while these battles are being waged in civil and political arenas, the true nature of the war is spiritual. Therefore, prayer is essential. Our first prayer should be of humble repentance. The corporate Body of Christ has clearly failed God in these matters and must confess its sin. Thankfully, He offers forgiveness and "… delights to show mercy" ( Micah 7:18).
Next, we must ask God to deliver these victims. He alone has the power to work in governments to bring about such changes.
Then, we should ask the Lord to touch our own elected representatives so that they are receptive to our message.
After praying, we must act by contacting our representatives and calling them to take action and to support legislation that will protect these helpless ones.
However, when we speak on behalf of the Lord, He would have us speak only in love and with grace (Matt. 5:43-45; Col. 4:5,6; I Pet. 3:15). There is no room in God's Kingdom for threats, cruelty, or violence. Such activities characterize the enemy, not the Lord.
It is possible to speak the truth in love — but we must speak.
Christians are guilty of apathy regarding the helpless. We cannot afford to continue our silence. We have the means, we have the opportunity, we have the example of God, and we have the command from God Himself. If we don't end our silence, we project a false image of God, we disobey Him, and we position ourselves to reap the consequences of our silence.
On the other hand, as we end our silence, not only do we embrace God's priorities, we reflect His love and act in loving obedience. As a result, we will impact darkness and decay, innocent lives will be saved, and the world has the opportunity to observe a small measure of His immeasurable love.
In light of these options, we dare not remain silent.
1 Family News From Dr. James Dobson, April 1997, page 6.
2 Associated Press, May 21, 1997.
3 See Pridmore, Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, page 737.