In the year 257 AD, the Roman emperor Valerian stepped up the persecution of Christians, especially in the city of Rome itself. The principal targets of his campaign were the clergy and laity who came from the upper classes of Roman society.
One of those caught up in Valerian’s persecution was a deacon named Lawrence. Lawrence was in charge of the Church’s property used to support Rome’s poor. Lawrence was offered a deal: in exchange for turning over the property, he would be spared arrest and execution. He agreed, adding that he needed three day to collect the church’s riches.
On the third day, he gathered the sick, aged, widows, orphans, and the poor of the Church, presented them to the official and said, “These are the treasures of the Church.”
He was executed on August 10, 258.
Those who would interfere with our providing for the least of Jesus’ brethren—that is, “the treasures of the Church—are opposing God every bit as much as those who would have us change our message and teaching.
Case in point: Last month Fort Lauderdale became the latest American city to limit the ability of churches and nonprofits to feed the homeless outside of certain designated areas.
Think about that, folks. In some places, if a homeless person tells you he’s hungry and you buy him a sandwich and give it to him, you are breaking the law.
Supporters of the law argue that “allowing ministries and others to hand out meals aggravates homelessness because it lures homeless people away from city-run programs.”
Opponents of the law insist “that the cities that have or are trying to pass these laws . . . are doing it because they want to scrub their neighborhoods clean of homeless people, making [those neighborhoods] more appealing to businesses.”
Either, neither, or both of these explanations may be true. But what is definitely true is that the Church must reach out to those in need of our help.
The first people to be arrested for feeding the homeless in public were two pastors and 90-year-old Jim Abbott, who runs an organization named “Love Thy Neighbor, Inc.” According to Abbott, one of the arresting officers told him to “ ‘Drop that plate right now,” ’ as if Abbott were carrying a weapon.
As I record this broadcast, Abbott and the two ministers face a possible sixty days in jail and a $5000 fine.
“Drop that plate” sounds like a line from a Saturday Night Live skit, but it was the voice of the state telling believers that they could not do what God has commanded them and all of us to do.
Folks, this is every bit as much a violation of religious freedom as the HHS mandate or the New Mexico law that punished Elaine Huguenin for not photographing a lesbian commitment ceremony. And how can we forget what just happened in Houston, where the mayor dared to ask pastors to turn in their sermons.
In all of these instances, the state is daring to tell us what our mission is and how we should or should not perform it.
If Christians don’t protest this intrusion, we’re validating our opponents’ claims that our rhetoric about religious freedom is really about the loss of some privileged status or, worse, all about sex.
And if that happens, we’ll miss an opportunity to show that religious freedom is about our ability to show the world what treasure worth having looks like.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org) that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries