An Avoidable Stunt (Updated)

The City of Moscow, Idaho, which Christ Church (Moscow, ID) expects one day to transform into a bastion of adherence to the Mosaic judicial laws, reports (HT: Alexis Van Horn) about the recent publicity stunt and protests disguised as “Psalm sings:”

From the beginning of the Public Health Emergency Order, the Moscow Police Officers focused on their community policing model by educating and seeking voluntary compliance. Leading up to the event that took place at City Hall on Sep. 23, the Moscow Police have reported 90-95% compliance with the Order. Their education efforts, offering face coverings when people didn’t have them, and requesting compliance have been successful. Before Sep. 23, no situation warranted police officers to issue a citation.

At a gathering of 150-200 people in the public parking lot of Moscow City Hall on Sep. 23, 2020, five persons were issued citations relating to violations of the City’s Emergency Order. The group organizers of the event that occurred on Sep. 23 advertised on social media accounts that they were going to have a gathering on that date and specifically requested that participants not wear masks. The message being communicated was to show a disregard for the Emergency Order. Our police requested compliance, and after a clear showing of non-compliance, our police officers were faced with a situation where they felt an obligation to enforce the lawful Order.

As a result of the citations issued and the arrests that took place, the City Police Officers, City Staff, City Council, and the Mayor have received numerous emails and phone calls expressing disappointment, misperceptions of what took place, and threats. These threats from various groups indicate they are going to come to our City to protest in a manner that may escalate to violence. These groups are from other parts of the country and are threatening to bring in a large number of protesters to our community, which would serve to increase the risk of COVID-19 infection in our area.

Yesterday I warned about the dangers of “narratives” and inflammatory rhetoric. We may be thankful that, so far, the stunt has produced only threats, as disquieting as that may be.

From the city’s report and from the various social and news media appearances made by the Kirk deacon who is running for office, we may be certain that this was a planned as a stunt. The Kirker narrative (which correspondents have relayed in comments to previous essays), that this was just another psalm-sing during which jack-booted authorities decided to crack down, is utterly false. The fifth commandment and the ninth commandment are still God’s Word:

104. What does God require in the fifth Commandment.

That I show all honor, love and faithfulness to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to all their good instruction and correction, and also bear patiently with their infirmities, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg 112 says:

112. What does the ninth Commandment require.

That I bear false witness against no one, wrest no one’s words,be no backbiter or slanderer, join in condemning no one unheard or rashly; but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying and deceit as the very works of the devil; and that in matters of judgment and justice and in all other affairs I love, speak honestly and confess the truth; also in so far as I can defend and promote my neighbor’s good name.

On the basis of the evidence, we are entitled to doubt that Kirker behavior in these episodes been characterized by fidelity to the fifth and ninth commandments.

A Brief Persecution

There was another stunt yesterday but no one was cited or arrested and thus ends the Great Persecution of 2020 in Moscow, ID.

I jest, of course, but there have been times of genuine persecution. Indeed, it is happening right now in Nigeria, in China, in Saudi Arabia, and across the globe. When the early church was persecuted they were required by pagan Roman officials verbally to renounce Christ and to affirm that Caesar is a god (the Romans were polytheists), and to pour out an offering to the gods. Roman subjects and citizens were also required to sign, in front of a government witness, official forms, quite like the bureaucratic forms we fill in, to that effect. Christians who did these things were considered by the church to have “lapsed,” or fallen. When they repented they were usually re-admitted to the church (over the strenuous objections of the Novatianists). Those who refused were known as “martyrs,” i.e., those who gave witness to the faith even unto death. The most famous account of one such martyrdom is The Martyrdom of Polycarp,the core narrative which is true but which was corrupted by later hands. Still, the story is instructive.

One aspect of the story of Polycarp’s martyrdom that is relevant to the current controversy is the witness that he gave to the cops who arrested him. According to the narrator (there were others present), they were ashamed of themselves. Their bosses had put them in a difficult situation. Correspondents with knowledge of the situation in Moscow, ID tell me that there are Christian law enforcement officers (LEOs) in Moscow and Latah County. By refusing to wear masks or practice social distancing, by refusing to produce identification (Terry v. Ohio, 1968), and by resisting arrest, members of the Kirk have put the local police, some of them brothers and sisters in a tough spot. They seem to have given witness more to their cultural agenda than to the Christian faith.

The Kirk’s Witness

Contrast to the approach of the Kirk to that of the Apostle Peter:

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,

14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:13–17; ESV).

Consider also 1 Peter 4:

14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (ESV).

The noun (ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος) that Peter uses in v. 15, which the ESV translates as “meddler,” is difficult and may also be translated “busybody,” or even “troublemaker.” One of the themes that animates Peter’s two letters is his concern that Christians should avoid public scandal of any kind. He has no sympathy for professing believers who get into trouble with the civil authorities because they have broken Roman law. For Peter, as for the rest of the Apostles, the only cause for which a Christian should find himself arrested is for the sake of the gospel or when the magistrate requires us to violate God’s moral law (Acts 5:29). Peter himself disobeyed the secular (and religious) authorities when they commanded him to disobey God. Masks and distancing are not the gospel and the Moscow, ID Public Health Order does not require a Christian to violate God’s moral law. “Maskne” is irritating (it really is!) but it not sin. Muffled speech social distancing are frustrating but they are not sin. The PHO might even be the wrong policy, but it is not sin.

Tragically, during the Kirk’s history in Moscow, this has been a pattern. The Kirk is not known in the region for its proclamation of the gospel of God’s free acceptance of sinners, in Christ, nor for its charity, kindness, and mercy toward others. Rather, the Kirk is known for trying to take over downtown Moscow, other publicity stunts (this is only one of several—see the documentation below), its continuing culture war against the social and political left in the region (Moscow is home to the University of Idaho), for three plagiarism scandals (1) a book seeking to defend southern slavery as benevolent; 2) a book on justice—I kid you not; 3) An large school textbook), for a scandal over the protection and later the wedding of a pedophile, for a scandal involving the rape of a minor by a student, a gambling scandal, and a general sense of hostility on the part of the congregation toward the rest of the city. The website moscowid.net has been chronicling all these episodes and more for years. It regularly reprints letters to the editors from concerned citizens. In all my years as a Christian I have never seen anything like it.

Some years ago a film maker produced a documentary (it is a large file, give it time to load) about the tensions between the Kirk and the town, which, though now dated, gives one a sense of the fear that Kirk has created in the town. These last two episodes, with the attending publicity, cannot but exacerbate the problem. The leader of the Kirk has described their mission thus: “We are laying the groundwork for the long-term reinvigoration of evangelical intellectual life—and for Christian cultural ascendancy.” I should like to see the New Testament evidence for this agenda. To be sure, all thinking Christians long for a long-term reinvigoration of Evangelical intellectual life but one may be fairly certain that bodice-ripping novels and novels about sexbots (yes, these are two of the literary products of this movement; no one has made any charges of plagiarism yet) are not going to do the trick.

The Kirk And The Culture War

The mission of the Kirk has never been to preach the gospel purely (the Kirk is committed to the Federal Vision theology, which the confessional Reformed churches have rejected as a gross corruption of the gospel), administer the sacraments purely (one may be either Baptist or paedobaptist; they corrupt holy communion by administering it to infants), and discipline (unless singing imprecatory psalms in worship against one’s enemies counts as discipline). These are the marks of the true church (Belgic Confession art. 29). Peter calls us to model Christ’s self-sacrificial love but the Kirk calls its members to dominate and transform. The theology of the Kirk is powered by a triumphalist eschatology (postmillennialism—on this see the Heidelcast series, “As It Was In The Days of Noah“). Peter’s eschatology is rather different. He is not anticipating a social collapse out of which will arise a Christian theocracy (Christian Reconstructionism). His model is that we are live faithfully as pilgrims, as it was in the days of Noah, until the Chief Shepherd of the Sheep returns (1 Pet 5:4).

The Kirk is an creature of the culture war, hence its popularity with evangelical (e.g., The Founders Ministries), Episcopal (Tucker Carlson), and Romanist (e.g., Laura Ingraham) culture warriors. The Kirk anti-maskers have scored culture-war points and gained more notoriety but have they advanced the gospel, the church, or Christ’s kingdom?

UPDATE

The good news is that evangelicals are learning to sing Psalms. The bad news is, that they only seem to want to do it in the cause of the culture war. The stunt is hitting the road and coming to San Diego.

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5 comments

  1. I greatly appreciate the reference to I Peter chapter 4. I remember while I studied to preach that text, sensing in both the context and the syntax that the Apostle was referencing “false elders”. My lexicon somewhat affirmed that interpretation referring to a historical usage, they cite a reference “to the claim by Cynic preachers to be overseers” (BDAG p.47).
    Seems to me a fairly apt nominative for these unruly Muscovites claiming to be presbyters.

    • Aaron,

      That’s an interesting possibility but, in context, ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος comes in a string of nouns that seem to relate to crimes against secular law. In that list a turn to false elders is unexpected and awkward.

  2. Thank you Doctor, I actually didn’t pursue it in the immediate context, but in the broader, a later sermon on chapter 5, particularly to understand the warning against αἰσχροκερδῶς, dishonest gain. This sad story of the Kirkers, particularly as you clearly showed, the stunt and ensuing media capitalization by one of their church officers’ cunning pursuit of a civil office and national notoriety, struck a nerve and remembrance of the broader letter.
    Grateful for your correction, I did not give a very thorough basis for the application.
    I do wonder if Peter was aware of the activities of the Cynics in previous centuries, seems a contextual usage that the Apostle Paul would have been more prone to, but, carried along by the Spirit…

  3. Dr. Clark, this article series is very instructive even to readers in India who are watching the mayhem on the other side of the world. I did watch portions of the Kirk protest and I was rather disappointed with another stunt: they were singing some hymns and calling it a Psalmsing! Just as arrests from unneseccary defiance of authority insults the gravity and brutality of persectuion of brothers and sisters in my country, their singing faux praises insults those of us who do Psalmsings, week after week, in our closets, through the screens, waiting for the blessed hope of our Savior who will come to rescue us from this evil generation. I must say, stunt was in bad taste for some of us here in India atleast.

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