‘Rejoicing for the Persecution’: Two Government Crackdowns Helped Spread the Gospel
Western Christians facing legal penalties for sharing the Bible say their persecution has opened up new opportunities to share the gospel with wider audiences than ever. Police crackdowns have resulted in their broadcasting scriptural messages on TV, converting atheists, and saving emergency response personnel. The results led one Christian to exclaim he has been “rejoicing for the persecution.”
Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel in San Jose became one of a relative handful of churches to reinstate in-person worship during California’s draconian COVID-19 lockdowns. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who has stoked speculation he may enter the 2024 presidential primaries, banned all in-person worship and singing. Despite two Supreme Court rulings against state and county orders, Santa Clara County officials fined McClure nearly $4 million (later reduced to $2.8 million) for violating their invalid diktats.
Meanwhile, government officials in Finland charged Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen with three counts of “hate speech” for sharing Bible passages. In a 2019 social media post, she asked why her Finnish Lutheran Church would participate in gay pride events, together with a photo of Romans 1:24-27. Authorities also investigated her explication of biblical doctrine in her 2004 book “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.” On March 30, a three-judge panel acquitted her, saying, “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” Yet the government appealed the not guilty verdict, so the MP and grandmother could still face time in prison.
Although separated by oceans — McClure’s church lies not far from the Pacific Ocean, while Räsänen’s native Finland rests on the Baltic Sea — both say their trials and tribulations have only furthered the impact of their ministries.
“This whole process, this litigation, has given so many chances to testify about Jesus,” including “in a live broadcast straight to Finnish homes,” Räsänen told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Thursday. “At the police station, we had the Bible on the table, and the police asked me questions. He asked me to explain, ‘What is the message of the Letter to Romans? What is the message of the first chapter?’ and so on.”
As part of every presentation, she always tells her audience, “We have in the Bible the solution to the problem of sin, because Jesus has died for our sins.”
“That is the message that I have given also in the courtroom and in many TV and radio interviews,” she said. But as long as the legal inquest continues, “it gives more chances to speak about biblical values.” Perkins noted that the legislator’s legal travails have given her “captive audiences” to “share the gospel and the word of God.”
As for McClure, he said his refusal to close his church at the government’s command immediately brought him a larger audience. “The media picked up on that and started advertising for us,” he joked. Suddenly, the church experienced an influx of “nonbelievers … and they’re just starting to tear up and cry. They don’t know why,” he said. “We’ve had hundreds of people who have come to Christ and been baptized.”
The church even saved those tasked with saving others. “We had a guy who actually answered the suicide hotline for the county, and he ended up himself just having a crisis and attempting suicide” before “coming to our church, receiving Christ,” said McClure. “That’s what the church is for.”
“In a lot of ways, I just have been rejoicing for the persecution for COVID,” McClure told Perkins on Thursday’s episode, recorded live at the site of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to share the love of Christ to a lost and dying tech valley.” San Jose borders Sunnyvale, the home of Silicon Valley companies such as Yahoo!
Both also agree they did not set out to provoke the authorities. In each case, governmental authorities saw them carrying out their ministry and set out to quash it. McClure said his decision to continue worshiping each Sunday “wasn’t out of defiance” but obedience to God. Now government agents are “coming into the church doors, and they’re telling you: ‘You cannot sing. You cannot worship.’” Finland has experienced “such a change in our society that it has surprised Christians. … It is so aggressive. The LGBT networks in Finland,” she said, “are very active.” Finnish Christians had not foreseen the day when “you are interrogated, you are investigated for citing the Bible — for teaching in public what churches and Christians have been speaking [about]” since time immemorial.
Since the Word of God and its standard of morality does not change, “the change is the growing intolerance by those who embrace a different view than the Scripture when it comes to life choices,” said Perkins.
None of this should imply that Christians welcome persecution. “When a country embraces religious freedom as a basic, fundamental human right, other rights fall into place, as well as national security, economic development, social stability,” Perkins told former Ambassador and Senator Sam Brownback on Wednesday. “It is really a linchpin for all of the other outcomes we work for.”
Nonetheless, what secularists meant for evil, God worked for good.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.