Last April, four Wheaton College students were distributing evangelistic literature in Chicago’s Millennium Park. They were doing so in an area of the park that does not allow “the making of speeches and passing out of written communications.” When a security guard told them to stop passing-out the literature, one of them began “open-air” preaching. The students are now suing the city of Chicago because they believe that the city violated their freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. Among other things, they want to be awarded “damages for violation” of their “constitutional and statutory rights and for the injuries and unlawful burdens it has incurred.”
Mauck & Baker, a Chicago law firm specializing in religious freedom, is defending the students. Partner Richard Baker is a 1977 Wheaton College graduate.
Here is a Chicago Tribune story on the case.
I don’t know who is legally correct in this case. I actually appreciate designated parts of public parks that are free of political speeches, literature distribution, and proselytizing of all kinds. On the other hand, as an evangelical Christian I am glad to see these young men sharing their faith. I hope they continue to do so and continue to trust God to open up opportunities for them.
This case has started me thinking about the relationship between Christian persecution and American “rights.” How should Christians balance their rights as citizens with Bible verses that encourage them to rejoice in suffering and persecution? It seems that the Bible speaks about persecution and suffering as a spiritual virtue, rather than something that should be opposed in a court of law. Doesn’t suffering lead us toward hope and a deeper understanding of our faith and reliance upon God? When we are persecuted for Christ should we expect the government to provide us with damages for our emotional distress?
Matthew 5:10 says that we are “blessed” when we are persecuted for doing what is right. The kingdom of heaven awaits those of us who are persecuted.
Or 1 Peter 4:12-14: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
What is the theological relationship between sharing in Christ’s sufferings and bringing a legal suit on the city of Chicago?”
How about 1 Peter 3:14-17: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Persecuted Christians should not be “troubled.”
Of course no one wants to suffer or face persecution. When we see such persecution around the world we must speak against it. To do so is an act of justice. But when I heard that these Wheaton students were suing the city, something did not seem right.
I am sure that theologians, biblical commentators, and political philosophers have wrestled with the relationship between the Bible’s teaching on persecution and the defense American rights. Can anyone recommend some good reading on this topic? (I know the comments are closed, so feel free to hit me up on Facebook or Twitter).