Monday, October 8, 2012

Defending our Rights and our Gospel: They Go Together

Many Christians believe that it is somehow illegitimate to take our grievances to court. They often claim that our calling is a matter of spreading the Gospel and not standing up for our rights. However, I don’t think that we can make such a facile distinction. Sometimes these activities are inseparable. Take the example of the case that the Jews for Jesus just won:

  • Almost a decade ago, attorney Silver, who is also a rabbi, set out to persecute and bankrupt the Jews for Jesus ministry, because he disagreed with its theology. Silver claimed that Jews for Jesus defamed his client, Edith Rapp, because it published a praise report about her. He filed complaint after complaint, filled with hateful and vitriolic rants against the ministry. Silver was previously sanctioned for those rants, and he was ordered to pay more than $50,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. He appealed those sanctions.
  • Circuit Judge Lucy Brown sanctioned attorney Barry Silver with another attorney fee award, this time for over $41,000. When added to prior court sanctions, the latest award pushes the sanctions over $100,000.
Had Silver won, it would have represented a stunning defeat for our free practice of religion and speech as defended by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It would also have impacted our ability to promote the Gospel. If you have any question about how essential these rights are, just look at Muslim nations where Christians are legally forbidden from presenting the Gospel to Muslims. Also observe how the church has declined in these nations over the centuries.

I therefore applaud the Liberty Counsel and JFJ for their defense of our common rights to preach the Gospel. Okay, this in itself, doesn’t guarantee the welfare of the church, but we also shouldn’t disdain its importance.

Although Paul warned against going to court to settle “to settle a dispute with another” brother (1 Cor. 6:1-6), there exists no injunction against going to court. In fact, God Himself established a legal system for His people! Besides, we find that even Paul and Jesus stood up for their rights.

Paul often demanded his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 26:32), even though these rights had been denied to many others. Jesus also pointed to the illegality of what His persecutors were doing (Matthew 26:55; Luke 22:52-53; John 18:20-23). Of course, Jesus didn’t go as far as to make a legal defense, because this worked against His purpose. Besides, not being a Roman citizen, He had no real rights.

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