A San Diego pastor has been ordered to pay the county government for a "major use permit" costing tens of thousands of dollars, or cease holding Bible studies in his home.
Notice who came after these followers of Jesus. It wasn't anyone from the Usual Suspects lineup of the Christian Right: Arab "terrists", UN occupation troops, or the pointy-headed, New Age, Antichrist thugs lurking in a Jack Chick tract. It was an ordinary bureaucrat, enforcing one of the many tyrannical edicts that Christians typically ignore or exhort one another to obey on the pretext of observing Romans 13:1-7.
Rightly, the pastor has hired a lawyer to fight this injustice. But it's plain that he and his wife were caught flatfooted, completely unprepared for the onset of modern persecution, American-style:
The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.
"Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say 'amen'?" the official reportedly asked. "Do you say, 'Praise the Lord'?"
The pastor's wife answered yes.
Perhaps she should have asked the official politely to show her a warrant. When he failed to produce it, she should have requested that he come back with a police officer AND a warrant signed by a judge, by which time she and her husband would already have contacted a lawyer. But evidently this woman assumed that she lived in a free country, under a government that viewed her as a citizen to be protected rather than a subject to be exploited. That's still the operating assumption in almost every church I've attended, and it's not only mistaken, it's pernicious. Today wicked men reign over this land, and to cooperate with them unthinkingly is to strengthen their misrule.
In his book Preparing for the Underground Church (read some excerpts here), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand imparts useful lessons for dealing righteously, yet discreetly, with the agents of tyranny. Here is one example of a permissible stratagem:
You cannot do underground work without using stratagems. I know of one case which happened in Russia. The Communists suspected that the Christians were gathering somewhere and they surveyed a street. They knew that the meeting must be there somewhere. They saw a young boy going toward the house where they supposed the meeting would be. They stopped the boy and the police asked him, "Where are you going?" With a sad face, he said, "My oldest brother died, and now we gather the whole family to read his testament." The police officer was so impressed that he patted the boy and said, "Just go." The boy had not told a lie.
We are not obliged to tell an atheist tyrant the truth. We are not obliged to tell him what we are doing. It is indecent for his side to put questions to me, an impertinence.
You have to wonder why the county official turned up in the first place. Is he a personal or ideological enemy of the pastor, or of someone else in this Bible study group? Did a resentful neighbor, irritated at the sound of hymns or the sight of many cars parked on the street, make a phone call to the authorities? Or is this just a revenue hunt by a cash-starved local government, aimed at targets of opportunity?
There is yet another possibility: A lust for sheer, malicious bullying of the "little people", the spirit of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib spreading throughout the government and its enforcement organs. After all, if torture be permitted, what possible moral objection can be offered to lesser forms of abuse? Logically, none.