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Dear Evangelical Bible Smugglers and Proselytizers: Don’t Do the Crime, if You Can’t do the Time

tony baretta
Tony Baretta says, Don’t Do the Crime if You Can’t Do the Time

Many Evangelicals have a sense of entitlement. Believing that their God is the one true God, and that their religion is the one true religion, Evangelicals think they have a right to spread their beliefs to the ends of the earth. Many Evangelicals are also flag-waving, right-wing nationalists who believe the United States is a city set on a hill, shining forth the light of Christianity and democracy. Package these things together and what you have are insufferable people who arrogantly think that their beliefs and ideologies are truth and all other beliefs and ideologies are false.

With the above facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that Evangelicals are proselytizers, not only for their brand of Christianity, but also for right-wing American nationalism. As people of THE Book, Evangelicals believe they have been commanded by God to take their peculiar version of the Christian gospel to every tribe, nation, and tongue. In some corners of Evangelicalism, people believe that the gospel must be preached to the whole world before Jesus can return to earth. This is why Evangelicals are known for their missionary efforts. Thousands of missionaries have spread across the globe hoping to win the lost to Jesus. While most of the missionaries serve in countries that already have established Christian sects such as Roman Catholicism, Evangelicals view non-Evangelical Christians as targets for evangelization. Their goal is not to make everyone Christian as much as it is to convert people to their brand of Christianity.

Proselytizing Evangelicals think that every nation should have the same laws and regulations as the United States. These zealots for Jesus travel to other countries, often smuggling in Bibles and tracts, with the express purpose of preaching the gospel to those they deem lost and in need of salvation. If a country’s laws prohibit such things, too bad, the Evangelical says. I’m on a mission for Jesus and his laws are above any earthly laws. Cultural sensitivity be damned, all that matters is spreading the good news of the Evangelical gospel to the ends of the earth.

Every so often, proselytizing Evangelicals are arrested for breaking the laws of the countries they have invaded for Jesus. Most often, these countries are non-Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, nations that have strict laws prohibiting proselytizing. These countries often have laws that prohibit conversion to another religion. In some instances, Evangelicals find themselves behind bars in countries such as North Korea that prohibit religious worship.

When news of their arrests reaches the United States, Evangelicals and their supporters in government quickly claim that the people arrested are being persecuted for their faith. Demands are made for their immediate release. Few Evangelicals seem to understand the idea behind the cliché When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Sovereign states have a right to have their own laws, and it is the height of American arrogance to demand that other countries play by our rules. Yes, North Korea is a totalitarian communist state, but they are an autonomous state, and those traveling within its borders are expected to obey the law. The same can be said for China, India, and Cuba.

Evangelicals arrested for proselytizing are not being persecuted for their faith. To quote the famous fictional detective Tony Baretta, Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time. While their arrests are regrettable, their real crime is stupidity. Blinded by certainty and arrogance, Evangelicals think they can break laws and not be held accountable. The issue is not the justness of such laws. Every nation-state, including the United States, has unjust laws. What I find interesting is that many Evangelicals, thinking the United States is a Christian nation, reject the notion of separation of church and state. Yet, they say they are being persecuted for their faith when arrested in countries that don’t have separation of church and state. Since many Evangelicals want a theocracy, shouldn’t other countries have the right to have a different type of God rule? And if atheism is a religion, as many Evangelicals say it is (and it is not), shouldn’t atheistic states have a right to bar all non-theistic religions? Shouldn’t these countries be permitted to govern themselves according to their own religious beliefs? Shouldn’t they have the right to ban Christianity and Christian law, just as many American Evangelicals want to ban Islam and sharia law?

I have no sympathies for American Evangelicals who are arrested for breaking the laws of sovereign states. If they are found guilty and either incarcerated or executed, their punishment is not persecution. As long as Evangelicals believe that God’s law supersedes human law, then they are going to find themselves in legal trouble, not only in foreign countries, but here in the United States. Those who seized a government building in Oregon were, to the man, Christian. They and their supporters believe they are being persecuted, when in fact they are being prosecuted. Break the law and you will likely be arrested, prosecuted, and punished. This is the way it works in any nation that has laws (regardless of the rightness or morality of these laws).

If proselytizing Evangelicals arrested for their “faith” want to be true to their Christian beliefs, they should quietly and resolutely bear whatever punishment comes their way. Isn’t this what the Apostle Paul did? And as with Paul, if God wants to free “persecuted” Evangelicals, he has all the power necessary to do so. But what do incarcerated American Evangelicals do? They turn to the U.S. government for help, demanding the State Department get them out of prison. Why not just pray and wait on God?

There is real persecution going on in the world. Christians are being executed by ISIS and Boko Haram just because they have the wrong faith. I support our government’s efforts to stop such barbaric and senseless killing. But, this is not the same as what imprisoned Evangelicals proselytizers are facing. The former, in most instances, are not trying to force their faith on others. The latter evangelize non-Evangelicals with full knowledge that they are breaking the law. Their punishment is the direct consequence of their actions.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Anne

    Great post, Bruce! The imprisonment and recent release of Saeed (Calvary Chapel Boise) in Iran fell into this category I believe. As I type the FBI have surrounded the last four at the Mahler refuge here in Oregon. The original ring leaders are part of a Mormon cult. Those remaining just seem bat shit crazy!

  2. Avatar
    Troy

    It isn’t just Christians that have this problem, a lot of people forget when they travel abroad the U.S. constitution does not travel with them.
    Some of this is pure civic ignorance. People take rights for granted without understanding the legal framework those rights exist in.
    Before you cross a border learn the laws and customs of the country you are going to. Your freedom and in fact your very life may depend on it.
    (As for sneaking into North Korea on a Christian mission, just think of the God cred they get from that…doesn’t matter if they are caught or not!)

  3. Avatar
    Angiep

    As a teen during the Jesus movement of the 70’s I heard many stories of brave missionaries who went to foreign lands to spread the gospel, but who died for their efforts. As well, I heard stories of those whom God “protected” and lived to tell miraculous stories about smuggling Bibles, etc. There was a mystique to these stories, a feeling of respect and admiration for those who were “martyred” or who manifested God’s miracles while converting the lost. I think some today go into these situations thinking God will keep them from harm. After all, they are there because the Holy Spirit persuaded them. Then when things go wrong, they fall back to the human solution of begging the state department for help. I appreciate the way your post explains the difference of current religious persecution of people just because of their faith, vs. facing legal penalties for ignoring a country’s laws.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      MJ, I instantly thought of that young man too. All the signs were there, if only he would pay attention: that he would die if he tried to convert the tribe on the island. His arrogance killed him. Oh, he wrote in a journal that he was scared…but he still let the arrogance of his beliefs override common sense!

  4. Avatar
    Matilda

    Since deconverting, I’ve realised just how much lying-for-jesus happens in missions. Daughter’s church sent a guy to a middle-eastern country with a visa that says ‘Student’ on it, he’s ostensibly studying arabic at a university there. But he’s prominently featured in the church’s missionary news and prayer chain for his courage in evangelising these benighted heathens. In fact, if he’s found breaking the law, by proselytising, he’ll be deported. And come home to a hero’s welcome probably. Unlike any converts who could well be imprisoned or worse. I know of a missionary who is a veterinary college lecturer in a muslim country. Again her church had sent her – on a teachers’ visa. I like to think of her preaching to her students on how to come to jesus as she puts her arm up the rear end of a cow or castrates a pig!

  5. Avatar
    Matilda

    Forgive my commenting twice. It’s a hobby horse of mine. I went to China to visit daughter teaching english there. She’s not a x-tian. I was invited to stay with an american couple, Church of Christ missionaries on ‘Teacher’ visas in another city’s university. They, and another CofC guy, on a teacher-visa, but definitely missionary, lived next-but-one to each other in college apartments. In between their two apartments, lived an american teacher, he was obviously gay, forgive the stereotype, seeing the choice of books on his shelves, his flamboyant clothing etc. But he was the only one of the those three sets of teachers to have integrity, he was on a teacher visa, and that’s all he did, no hidden agenda, no prayer letters home telling of his conquests for jesus among his students. I laugh to think of how disgusted those CofC missionaries must have been to find a gay guy next door and they’re probably still praying their socks off that his ‘gay agenda’ – which of course he doesn’t actually have – doesn’t get him more converts than they did! (To my knowledge, he never had groups of students to his apartment to proselytise for his cause, unlike the x-tians who befriended students and invited them over for ‘supper’ which always sneaked in a bible study. He was the only honest one of those teachers.)

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    American Evangelical Christianity is a sickness that there is no mask to protect us from; there is no clearly defined law to unarm zealots and to command them to stand-down! Instead, USA remains one of the most deluded nations on earth, far closer to the cultic North Korea than they would have us believe. Americans are cultically indoctrinated from birth to regard the flag as equivalent to the Creator of all good in the world, the reason why Earth still exists. They rove over the earth and rob resources, go to war for the that flag and denounce all who even question them. They brag about free speech. Ask Lenny Bruce about that… Ask any darker skinned American about that. Ask any outspoken nonbeliever about that. Ask LGBT+ people about that… The religion spread all over the world by American believers has nothing to do with the Jesus who probably existed. It has to do with greed and power. Bruce takes on that power in this blog post specifically as it appears in American missionary zeal. My family was populated with preachers, missionaries, proselytizers galore. We are Canadian but we were saved by the American Jesus and commit exactly the same evil in missions. Do you Christian men going on vacations to build a school for Jesus think you are doing good? All that you need to do to convince me you are not harming others is to assure me that the Bibles are left home and no spreading of the Gospel occurs in these missions to build and help others. You cannot do that can you…. You take your good fortune dollars and show off to the poor and you tell them its Jesus who did it all. Sick, sick, sick manipulations. You bully and you are proud Marines! Seals! The backbone of freedom! Sick.

  7. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I was in United Arab Emirates a few months ago and was careful not to break their laws. Sometimes we Americans exhibit a certain arrogance when abroad, assuming that other nations should give us a pass to do the things we are accustomed to doing in our own country. But when in another country, we are subject to their laws. Period.

    I thought of John Chau like MJ mentioned – his bullheaded, misguided, evangelical arrogance was astonishing.

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Bruce Gerencser