A previous article reviewed the comments of pastor Andrew Brunson concerning the dramatic increase in hostility to Christianity he observed between the time he left the United States for ministry in Turkey in 1993 and the time of his return to the country in 2018. This period also involved a dramatic decline in religious freedom. He concluded his discussion with comments about the worldview assumptions behind the hostility, and how Christians should respond to the new, negative world.
The Basis of Persecution in Worldview
Brunson observed that “the worldview of most millennials… is called moralistic therapeutic deism.” It holds that “God exists, God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other … and the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself,” God is held to help people out in crises but is otherwise uninvolved in one’s life. Finally, “good people go to heaven when they die.” The view that the point of life is to be nice and be happy is predominant in society and “widespread in the church,” Brunson said. It is quite common for people in the church who are under 40 years old. Thus, a very large part of the public is holding a morality contrary to the Bible. In this regard, Brunson said that about 21% of people under the age of 30 identify as LGBT, whether or not they are sexually active. The identification is for many more of an identification with LGBT ideology. Out of 115 universities, a quarter of the student body identified as LGBT. It is from these schools that future leaders will come. Brunson said that 41% of Generation Z “support censorship for hate speech,” while 23% support the use of violence to silence “hate speech.” While we can be happy that the Supreme Court is currently supporting religious freedom, it may not do so in the future since “elite law schools are functionally atheistic.” But this is “where most future judges are trained.”
In this environment, “religious freedom is increasingly seen as an issue of the political right.” As has often been noted, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was passed almost unanimously by Congress, but today could not possibly be passed. He quoted Associate Justice Samuel Alito to say that “it is hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth saving, if they don’t think that religion is a good thing.”
Brunson assured his listeners that “God is always at work … His kingdom is advancing, and it will continue to advance.” However, in this country, “we are seeing a great exodus from the church.” The number of people with no religion (“nones”) “has increased by tens of millions.” Thus, many people “who attended church regularly as children” now profess no religion. He also pointed out that many “nones” have come from Evangelical churches, and many underscore their disagreement with Christian sexual morality as the reason, or an important reason, for their departure.
Another important factor affecting worldview is that under the coronavirus lockdown, government was much more “intrusive.” The levels of control and surveillance dramatically increased in Western democracies. This level of control had never been experienced in the past, but most people accepted it at the time of the shutdown, “and it can be activated again.” Another sign of an increasingly controlled society is “the weaponization of the financial system against Russia” in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Russians travelling abroad were stranded when their credit cards did not work. It can be expected that the same thing may “happen to faithful followers of Jesus,” now defined as “evil, hateful people.”
Brunson also observed that BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street own 20% of the S&P 500 companies. With this degree of control, they can pressure corporate executives in the companies in which they are invested “to do what they say.” He pointed out that Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, has made “very explicit” his desire to force social change through the financial power of these investment giants. He has said that “behaviors are going to have to change, you have to force behaviors, and at BlackRock, we’re forcing behaviors.” Another threat to personal freedom in the financial system is the prospect of digital currencies. These currencies would give government “unprecedented surveillance and control over all [financial] transactions.”
Artificial intelligence is another factor in the surveillance society. It makes the systems of control “work much more efficiently and faster.” It was noted that one expert has said that “AI is highly likely to controller for everything in the world,” and “these are just some of the challenges coming,” it was added.
Responding to the New Negative Environment
Brunson observed that in 2018, while he was still in prison, a Religious Freedom Ministerial was held in Washington, since the Trump Administration placed a high value on religious freedom. Officials (ambassadors and foreign ministers) from many nations attended. He spoke at the ministerial the next year, since he had been released at that point. Over 100 counties were present at that ministerial. But the Biden Administration cancelled the ministerial. He predicted that there would be no ministerials in the future “because we are no longer going to be defending religious freedom to the same degree.”
He also pointed to people prosecuted for their opposition to homosexuality. Paivi Rasanen is a Finnish member of Parliament being prosecuted for sending a tweet quoting a Bible verse condemning homosexuality. The legal process against her is still ongoing, but the penalty being sought has been changed from two years in prison to “heavy, heavy fines.” A hate speech law in Ireland says that any material held electronically that is determined to be “hate speech” is a crime. Similarly an international soccer star in Greece was convicted for criticizing the sexual mutilation of sex-confused minors, and “received a prison sentence.” In Malta, a man is being prosecuted for giving his testimony of freedom from homosexuality on television. In Mexico, a former congressman was convicted of “gender-based political violence” for saying that a man is not a woman. Hungary is being punished by the European Union for passing a law saying that children under the age of 18 cannot be targeted with sexual materials. The U.S. and other Western countries are pressing the same coercive policies on non-Western countries. This in turn leads to a loss of moral credibility of the U.S. in non-Western countries. Brunson quoted one foreign commentator as saying “why should I listen to you when you talk about religious freedom?” He and other non-Westerners can easily see that we are not protecting religious freedom at home, and gender ideology is quite irrational. Brunson believes that Christians “are going to be persecuted more than they are now.”
Brunson said that “I’m not a defeatist … God wants us to be filled with hope and confidence, but not a false optimism.” He referred the Pascal’s wager, that in view of eternity, it is better to risk being a believer than an unbeliever. In terms of impending persecution, it is better to be prepared for a persecution that does not happen, than to be unprepared for a persecution that does happen. We must “have a realistic view of what we’re facing, and to prepare our hearts for it.”
Important in preparation, Brunson said, will be building a small and committed body of believers. He said that during his imprisonment, he was isolated from other believers, and “felt so weak.” A single believer with whom he could pray would have been very helpful. He went on to say that many securities that Christians trusted in in the past (presumably including America and its historic freedoms) are being shaken. God is moving to get our attention. He seeks “obedience, not understanding,” Brunson said. Immediate relief may not be what God will give us. It might be better to direct our prayer life from “praying ourselves out of it, to praying ourselves through it.”
A questioner asked how in the current condition of America, we should “pray, vote, and stand.” Brunson responded that while some Christians expect a great revival, “a refining fire” will come first. There will be a continued exodus from Christianity, “especially if pressure increases.” But “what will be left is a faithful church, a pure church, a powerful church, a beautiful church, that will be full of light.” It is to that church that people will come. Research shows that fewer people “want Christianity,” but those who do want a faith which is “more rigorous and demanding.” In particular, anyone in Generation Z who wants to follow Christ will have “to go against very powerful currents of our culture.” This will mean a smaller church, but “a more committed, more zealous” church. The “sequence,” he said, is “the refining fire,” then “the revival fire.”
In sharing his personal story of imprisonment, he said that in the first year, he questioned God, and in the second year, he rebuilt his faith. He ended with a stronger and deeper faith. His objective is now to encourage other believers who may face persecution to remain steadfast in faith and obedience. His video series, Prepare to Stand, aims at exactly this. He referred in support of his work to Dan. 11;32, “the people who know their God shall stand.” (ESV) “Love fuels faithfulness” Brunson said. “Even with doubts and questions, uncertainty and fear,” our love for God will enable us to remain faithful to him.