Chaplain Norris Burkes: Diet of worms for the persecuted
Did you ever sing that classic campfire song, “Nobody Likes Me”?
“Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,
Guess I’ll go eat worms.
Long, slim, slimy ones,
Big, fat, juicy ones,
The kind that wiggle and squirm.”
The lyrics from yesteryear’s campfires were sung in a self-deprecating style poking fun at campers who complained of mistreatment.
Today however, some churches use the song’s persecutorial theme as a cry for sympathy against the quarantine rules restricting indoor gatherings.
I hear the tune being promoted by the anti-masking pastors like a whining parody: “Nobody likes Christians. Everyone hates us. Let the coliseum lions loose.”
Promoting this repeating chorus on the local level is Greg Fairrington, pastor of Destiny Christian Church, a Rocklin megachurch. Last Sunday, Pastor Greg interpreted the recent the opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as affirming the church has a “Biblical mandate” to assemble despite the restriction on in-person meetings.
He joins several California pastors who believe that stay-at-home orders amount to “religious persecution.” But does that really line up with the biblical definition of persecution?
Because if it truly constitutes persecution, then I have good news for Destiny members. Jesus promised his followers a great reward for their suffering. But if Greg is bucking for that incentive, he should read the fine print.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The little word “because” is a stipulation often overlooked. Jesus grants the reward only when suffering comes “because of righteousness.”
This means that when religious folks claim to be persecuted, they must first ask themselves if their suffering is a direct result of doing virtuous things.
Churches can only know righteous suffering when they stand alongside those who are hurting. It’s the kind of suffering Jesus endured when he took a stand against the religious hypocrites. It’s the kind of anguish endured by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa.
We cannot say we are suffering for righteousness when our fellowship-hall donut hour is canceled for COVID. Wearing a mask for outdoor worship is not biblical suffering.
In other words, as long as cities are closing convention halls, skating rinks, nail salons and city council meetings, the church cannot claim its persecution badge.
But, Pastor, if you won’t take my word for it, you might consult the COVID “No-masker-pastors” who suffer not because of their righteousness, but because of their foolishness.
Founding pastor of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church, John Hagee, 80, famous for declaring God’s judgment in natural disasters tested positive for the coronavirus.
Greg Laurie, 67, pastor of Riverside Calif. megachurch, Harvest Christian Fellowship positively resisted worship restrictions, but is now recovering from COVID.
Paul Van Noy, 59, the “no masker” pastor of Candlelight Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is happy to be home after doctors initially saw only a 20% chance of survival.
Van Noy survived but Erin Hitchens did not. The 46-year-old pastor from West Palm Beach had dismissed COVID as just the flu. She met her maker in September.
Pastor Mark Price, 62, of Martinsville, Va., also joined the celestial choir. Even with open-air worship, 59 of his church members tested positive for the coronavirus, and 15 of them were hospitalized.
In the meantime, Pastor Greg continues to preach to unmasked congregation. But I must say, with over 6,600 active coronavirus cases in his county, clearly Pastor Greg is not the one suffering for righteousness sake. But if he thinks it might help, I’m happy to send him a bucket of worms.
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