America is a shattered nation. We have experienced a reprisal of the deep seated prejudices against symbols that decry our personal beliefs. In a recent event where two opposing parties met to protest either the existence of an offending memorial or the plans to remove said memorial, a 32-year-old woman was killed by a car plowing through a crowd. In a land where free speech is a valued trade mark, it is becoming clear that sometimes free speech is only afforded a certain group of individuals.
The issue at stake in our modern day America is not about the Confederate memorials. To some it is a remembrance of history that cannot be changed as tragic as it was. Others are repelled by the suggestion of what the memorials may represent. Still some use the symbols of a grizzly war costing over 750,000 American lives to further their agendas of hate. What is happening that has larger implications is the pattern of intolerance that is being used to remove offensive symbols by those who are impacted by what those symbols mean to them. Many cities are quietly removing any references to Confederate memorials during the night with workman dressed in bullet proof vests. Fear seems to press against the hearts of Americans who are afraid to take a stand for anything that might offend another person.
There is a troubling truth that is quietly coursing through the back roads of this new movement in America. It is the sense of intolerance for those things that offend. This is not a matter of whether monuments to a war that ended 152 years ago are pertinent to the conscience of our nation. What is slowly being established in the philosophy of the moral compass in America is the refusal to accept those forms or representations of symbols that strike against the ideas of what is acceptable.
In our lifetime prayer in school has been banned, references to religious beliefs are challenged, monuments inscribed with the Ten Commandments have been removed, crosses on public land have been torn down and the non-acceptance of the homosexual agenda from transgender and bisexual perversion is ridiculed from government and religious institutions alike. This age has become the marshmallow, mindless, spoiled and enabled generation of self-rights that will not tolerate any agenda that is not their own. Now we see a purge in the offending representations of a war that nearly destroyed our country. History is repeating itself.
The New Testament writer Luke furnishes a clear history of the early church from its beginnings to the prophetic utterances of coming persecution. When the church began in Acts 2 there was little fanfare and the world did not take notice. Shortly after Pentecost, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the rulers, elders, scribes and high priest because they taught that Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 4). This offended the Jewish leaders and they commanded Peter and John not to teach in the name of Jesus. The only thing the apostles were doing was teaching – and they were told to stop.
When the apostles were released they glorified the Lord for delivering them and giving them boldness to continue preaching the saving message of Christ. As the church grew so did the anger of the Jewish leaders. They “were filled with indignation and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:17-18) because the High Priest and Sadducees were offended at the teaching about Jesus. The apostles had been warned not to teach in the name of Jesus and to spread the doctrine of the risen Christ and yet they continued. This time before releasing the apostles they were beaten and warned not to teach in the name of Jesus. First they were just warned; now they are beaten and warned.
A disciple named Stephen is brought before the Jewish council accused of speaking blasphemous words against the Temple and the Jewish nation (Acts 6). Stephen’s defense in Acts 7 is a clear demonstration of the powerful word of God and condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership. The leaders were so offended “they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58). First they just warned the men; then they beat them and warned them; now they are killing the disciples.
Saul of Tarsus took the movement to a higher level. He persecuted the church and “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Later, Paul would say he “persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished … Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 22:4-5; 26:9-11). After Saul’s conversion the persecution lessened but would be picked in a furious manner by the Romans.
The persecution against the people of God was never a sudden event. It was a process of small things leading up to greater things. So innocuous were the signs of what was coming few knew it was happening until it was too late. Here is the point of the events of our day: today we remove memorials that offend people and by the year 2035 there will be a lot more things taken down that offend people. The sign outside the building on West Fort Dade Avenue says, “Brooksville Church of Christ.” In the year 2035 that will no longer be tolerated. The name of Christ will offend a certain group of people and they will have demanded removal of all references to Jesus Christ for public consumption. Preachers will be pressured against preaching the hate crime of condemnation of homosexuality. Sermons will be monitored more closely for offending doctrines that do not suit the norm of society. Religion will be viewed as an archaic remnant of a world long forgotten and considered useless. A godless world will dictate what is acceptable and what must be torn down.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. The wise man will look at yesterday to see how tomorrow will be – for the failures of our fathers will the failures of our children’s children who do not learn the lessons of their fathers. The church has enjoyed a peace that has given it opportunity to grow and prosper. These days will end. Intolerance for the doctrine of Christ will grow and many saints will find the world changing against the worship of the one true God. It is not a possibility – it is a reality.
What is truly sad about the furor over the Confederate memorials is why these same energies are not used to stop abortion, starvation, child abuse and neglect. Millions of children are murdered every year in the name of pride, lust and self-worth and it is legal. Many families have nothing to eat and are abused physically, mentally and spiritually in a world of plenty. Where are the protests against abortion, poverty, and care for the elderly and issues that really matter? The priorities of man are strangely misaligned.
A final word. Children of God must shine as lights in a crooked and perverse world. Christians should show their faith in not becoming embroiled in the anger, hatred and poison of a world gone mad with self-righteous piety and rights. We serve the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).