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Support Dissent: A Call to Church Leaders
A distressing video was published to YouTube this weekend. It featured a seasoned professor of ethics voicing her policy concerns. If you have 5 minutes, please watch the video from Dr. Ponesse below; it is moving and inspiring. This video demonstrates that we are on the precipice of something vile. As we reflect on Dr. Ponesse’s words, we as Christians should ask ourselves: how will we respond to tyranny and despots? I have no idea if Julie Ponesse is a Christian, but she is taking up her “cross”, denying herself, and acting as model for living according to truth.
Dr. Julie Ponesse was an ethics professor at the University of Western Ontario for over 20 years; she does not merely know ethics; her action demonstrates how the pursuit of truth binds your conscience. On paper, she demonstrated that she is an authority on philosophy and ethics; now, she has become a standard for the cost incurred when society exchanges freedom for comfort. Christians must stop preaching as if we are in Babylon; we are not there yet. Our country has not fallen to Babylon. We are more like Gomer, the prostitute, offering our bodies to the clients who give us the niceties of life. The church needs to preach out against this self-preservation and decry President Biden’s order and the vilification of those who have conscientiously chosen not to get the vaccine.
For those who believe we should only listen to the experts, Dr. Ponesse has considerably more training than Joe Biden, your pastor, or your priest in ethical analysis. But these days, the Christian world hears words like “philosophy and ethics” and it’s translated in their minds as “beep bop boop”. Make an argument for the eternal principle that man is to be free and have autonomy in his day-to-day life, and Christians will respond, “I can see that” or “Maybe so” or my personal favorite, “Yep…” followed by silence. Where is the Christian resolve to stand for truth and demonstrate a peaceful resistance to the tyranny of lies encroaching on our fellow citizens? Christians today will provide whatever response allows them a cowardly agnosticism while simultaneously claiming they love God and their fellow man. But ask them if they would stand up for someone like Dr. Ponesse at the expense of their job, and you will get a resounding “Absolutely not.” There are Christians out there who will watch Dr. Ponesse’s video and say, “I can see her point, but is it really worth losing your job over?” I would put forward a question to all Christians reading this: what do you think is worth losing your job over? If you don’t have an answer, you may want to revisit what the Christian faith teaches.
A History of Standing Against the Tide
Christian history is composed of individuals who exerted their conscience against authoritarian regimes for truths that we would be mocked for resisting today. Consider Athanasias. He stood against the Arian heresy that Christ was the greatest of created beings. This heretical belief destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Now ask yourself, would you die today or be rejected by your church or family and friends for the doctrine of the Trinity? With a powerful resolve, Athanasia’s stood firm and did not comply, despite extreme pressure. His tombstone was reported to have stated:
Latin: Athanasius Contra Mundum
English: Athanasius Against the World
What about the reformer, Martin Luther, who famously stood against the dominant and powerful Catholic Church?
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Or what of the great Christian theologian, Richard Hooker, and his theology of law and evaluation of tyrants?
[God] has given to political societies the power of making laws to govern themselves. Indeed, if any prince or ruler of any kind tries to exercise this power without either an expressly received command from God, or without authority derived from the consent of the people he governs, he is nothing more than a tyrant. . .
For we do not wish that men should be led by the rope of authority like livestock, with their judgments held captive, ignoring reasons to the contrary, and following like a herd, they know nor care not where. Again, we are not saying that human authority should persuade men either against or above reason. ‘Companies of learned men,’ no matter how great and revered, must yield to reason; its force is in no way diminished by the simplicity of the person who invokes it. If his reasons are sound and good, the mere opinion of men to the contrary must necessarily yield.
Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity in Modern English (Lincoln, Nebraska: Davenant Press, 2019), 87, 142.
From Athanasius, Martin Luther, and Richard Hooker—distinct in denominations and time periods—all of them held, in some respect, that irrational laws are no laws at all.
In his Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law, Dr. J. Budziszewski, provides an excellent paraphrase for the modern reader regarding unjust laws:
[Laws] are unjust with respect to their author when they exceed the commissioned authority of the lawmakers. They are unjust with respect to their form when they apportion burdens upon the people disproportionately, even if the lawmakers do intend the common good
J. Budziszewski, Commentary on Thomas Aquinas' Treatise on Law, (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2016), 386. From Summa Q. 96. Article 4.
I don’t quote these great men to demonstrate my authority on the matter, but rather to show that there are greater men than your pastors or your leaders who have shown that law is a subject in which the church is morally obligated to engage — it is not enough to merely consult lawyers and speculate on legal theory. Laws are a moral enterprise based on reason in accordance with God’s natural order. And it is the church’s responsibility to shed the light of reason and revelation on the evils of unjust laws. But how can the church move forward as a beacon of truth against the cloak of evil?
Churches should reclaim their moral authority on law.
This could be done by organizing a volunteer research team to help church leaders discern what is going on in the world. With social media and search engines filtering content to target your already-formed ideas, it is essential to take in information from more than your news feed or cable news. This is especially necessary for the older pastors and priests that may see “fact checkers” like Snopes as a credible resource. Once they have researched a topic sufficiently, they should publicly and internally assert their stance.
2. Uphold the weaker brother and live according to the faith.
Churches need to encourage an authentic faith that informs individuals’ decisions. A church that shuts down the communion liturgy or closes its doors at the behest of government orders is not operating according to God’s law or the historical church’s example. This kind of living will not attract unbelievers to the life of the church. It will label you as hypocrites and cowards in the eyes of the world. At the same time, they must make provisions for the elderly and most vulnerable without compromising the well-being of the healthy and young believers that will carry the cross of Christ after they are gone. We need our leaders to walk in wisdom and prepare the future leaders while not excluding them for following their conscience.
3. Churches need to support the dissenters.
This could be done by opening a fund for the influx of members who may conscientiously object to the vaccine mandate or other unjust laws. Whether you agree with their decision or not, a church must not stand in the way between a believer’s conscience and their desire to honor God (not to be read as an excuse to avoid church discipline in moral matters). The vaccine is a medical innovation, but it is completely reasonable to abstain from an experimental drug. Support the Dr. Ponesses in your church materially and financially. Start discussing other innovative ways to support the dissenting. Post your ideas in the comments below.
4. Begin small groups to discuss evil political ideologies like Communism and Marxism.
One of the biggest lies in the American church is that religious persecution will be obvious. It is not. Read Gulag Archipelago and you will find that persecution of the faith does not come directly, but through ambiguity in the laws. One might say that unjust laws are the very foundation for religious and political persecution in a society. It is the responsibility of the Church to prepare and educate believers in this kind of spiritual warfare, as outlined in the excellent book by Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents.
The church was once an arbiter in the matters of law. May we look to church history and the examples of godly Christian men as we call the church to take up that responsibility once again. Decry injustice, decry the suppression of speech and human will, and support people like Dr. Ponesse. Seek out more individuals who are taking these stands; they exist within your church. Hold them up as an example of how the church can come alongside our conscientious believers and support them in their efforts to stand for reason, justice, and the glory of God.
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