There are places where religious liberties are being trampled, where Christians (and members of other religions) are not free to gather and to worship God according to Scripture or conscience. In such places people face arrest or worse simply for gathering to worship. According to the United States State Department, the worst places in the world for religious liberty are: Comoros, Russia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan. They also “designated al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.” Further, though they are not named in this report, it is certain that China is engaged in mass suppression of religious liberties (including the forced imprisonment of 1,000,000 Uighur Muslims). Saudi Arabia has long been a source of concern for its ruthless oppression of Christianity. In the USA, on an entirely different scale, Christians have legitimate concerns about the degree to which the state of California is willing to disregard the first-amendment rights of religious congregations in their fight against Covid-19. Moscow, ID is not on anyone’s list of places about which to be concerned about religious liberty. It is home, however, to a large and aggressive socio-political and religious movement led by a colorful personality. It is known locally, in Moscow as “The Kirk,” after its original and somewhat pretentious name. The congregation is now known as Christ Church. The leader of this movement is a theonomist, who believes that the state should enforced the Mosaic judicial laws of the Old Testament, Christian Reconstructionist, who looks forward to a coming social collapse out of which will arise phoenix-like a “reconstructed” Christian society which enforces those judicial laws. These convicted are undergirded by a their postmillennial eschatology, which anticipates the future Christianization of much of the world. Their leader is also leader in the self-described “Federal Vision” theology, which confesses that every baptized person receives all the benefits of Christ (e.g., election, justification, union with Christ, adoption) provisionally and retains for final justification by sufficient cooperation with grace. He also been the focus of criticism from without and from his his own denomination for a series of pastoral scandals among which involved a pedophile and a rapist. In one episode, he conducted the wedding of a pedophile to a young woman of the congregation. That union produced a child to which the pedophile has confessed, to the court, a sexual attraction. The rape victim, Natalie Greenfield, was 13 when she was victimized by a student in one of the movement’s schools, in Moscow. She tells her story here. Conservative columnist Rod Dreher criticized the leader of the Kirk for his handling of these episodes.
Gabe Rench is a deacon at Christ Church and the owner and co-host of a controversial media company in Moscow—this is the outfit that produced a video trailer in which an orthodox Baptist lawyer and laywoman, Rachael Denhollander, was presented in silhouette, in B-roll footage, while a voice over warns of “demons.” He is also a candidate for political office in Moscow. According to the local paper, the city has an ordinance requiring people to keep social distance when outside and, if that is not possible, to wear a mask. Yesterday, the leader of the movement along with Rench and others staged a publicity stunt in which they defied the order to keep social distance or wear a mask. This was an intentional move on their part designed to push the police to arrest them. Had their intent been to gather to sing Psalms, keeping social distance, they could have done so. They chose not to do so. No civil authority prevented the members and leadership of the Kirk from singing the psalms and praying. The Kirk has been met unhindered for Lord’s Day worship.
Why were a few of the 200 detained or arrested? According to the local reporter,
Rench, a Moscow Republican running against incumbent Moscow Democrat Tom Lamar in November’s election, was one of five people cited by Moscow police for suspicion of being in violation of Moscow’s mask/social distancing order, according to Moscow Police Chief James Fry. Of the five cited, two also were arrested for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer. The fifth, Rench, was arrested but not charged with allegedly refusing to identify himself to police, according to Fry. Fry said the officer who arrested Rench knew who he was but that Rench refused to provide his identification after the officer requested it. Fry said none of the five cited were wearing masks or social distancing.
This is civil disobedience not religious persecution. They could have sung six feet apart and all would have been fine. They chose to defy the order to make a point. That is their right as Americans and part of a hallowed tradition in this country. Civil disobedience also comes at a cost to which anyone who participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s can attest. The two arrests were for resisting an officer. That is ungodly, criminal behavior which is condemned in God’s Word.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience (Rom 13:1–5, ESV).
The police officers of Moscow, ID are charged by law and duty with keeping the peace. Members of the movement chose to protest a law they find unjust, which is their right as Americans, but there is no right to resist or obstruct officers. Were it BLM or Antifa members doing the same one may be sure that there would have been no little tut-tutting in Bucer’s Coffee House Pub, the local Kirk hangout. Nothing about refusing to produce identification, for which Rench was arrested, accords with Romans 13. When Polycarp (c. AD 160) was arrested as an old man (86 years old), purely for the sake of his Christian profession, he cooperated with the cops. He was so godly that they were ashamed that their captain had ordered them to arrest him. When they came, he asked for time to pray and then he fed them. He prayed for them. He went along peacefully and did not resist in the slightest, even though he was on his way to his martyrdom.
Those who follow the local scene know that this is just one of a series of episodes (e.g., this protest) part civil disobedience, part political theater, involving Rench and other members of the Kirk. The stunt was intended to fit a narrative and to generate outrage via social media. Todd Starnes, formerly a Fox News personality, took the bait and tweeted his outrage about religious persecution in Moscow, not Russia but Idaho, in America. That was quickly followed by more outrage, drawing more eyeballs and generating more revenue for Twitter and BigSocMedia. We may suppose that Rench will now get facetime, as they say in TV, in conservative social and mass media to fuel the outrage machine.
(HT: Jules Diner)
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- Moscowid: The Sitler Archive
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- Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)
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- For future reference: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News Story is archived at
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